Tag Archives: Food

Taiwan’s Culture and Stinky Tofu ~ with our friends from Latin America and the Caribbean!😊😊😊

Yes, 3 more busy days out in the last 2 weeks visiting some wonderful places around northern Taiwan with our 18 lovely friends from Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who are here at St. John’s University as part of the “2019 Latin American and Caribbean Countries Vocational Training Project: Electrical and Electronic Engineering 拉丁美洲及加勒比海地區友邦技職訓練計畫-電機工程實務技術英語班”, in association with ‘TaiwanICDF‘.

Last Saturday off we went through the Xueshan Tunnel, Taiwan’s longest at 12.9 km ~ it runs through the mountains from Taipei to the east coast at Yilan. Since opening in 2006, it’s really changed Taiwan’s east coast, with lots of development, tourism and business opportunities opening up. There’s lots of traffic too, especially on a Saturday when everyone is in that tunnel trying to get out of the big city, escaping for the day or weekend to breathe in some fresh sea air and relax….

And so we joined them, but it took us 3 hours (yes, 3 whole hours!) from St. John’s University to get to our first main stop at Lanyang Museum 蘭陽博物館. The museum has really good displays about the local area, and gave us distant views through the haze over towards Guishan Island. Guishan Island (Turtle Island) is actually the protruding top of Taiwan’s only active volcano. Our friends from Latin America and Caribbean have plenty of active volcanoes in their own countries, so it’s good that Taiwan has one to show to visitors too! This is us at the museum…

Lanyang Museum building was “designed by a team led by Kris Yao those design was inspired by the ‘cuestas’ commonly seen along Beiguan Coast. The museum adopts the geometric shapes of the cuestas where the roof protrudes from the ground at an angle of 20 degrees meeting a wall which rises from the ground at an angle of 70 degrees.” Really impressive. I liked it. Not sure about that big apartment building right behind it, but hey, at least the residents must have a good view!

We spent the day driving around Yilan, enjoying local foods and restaurants and seeing the countryside. At lunchtime, the rain started – and poured down for the next 3 hours, so we spent the afternoon visiting the famous Kavalan Whisky Distillery ~ which also houses Mr. Brown coffee. A little secret ~ the Kavalan Sweet Coffee Liqueur is really delicious, and there was plenty of it to sample ~ but shhh, don’t tell anyone. Ah, but it was a fun day!

Then last Monday, we went to the National Palace Museum, Taipei – it is Taipei’s ‘must-go, must-see’ museum on every visitor’s itinerary, but it’s impossible to see it all on one trip. We had 2 hours and saw but a fraction of the displays, though we did have a detailed tour in English about the bronzes in the museum…

In the afternoon we paid a quick visit to Xiaoyoukeng in Yangmingshan National Park to see the smoking – and very smelly – fumaroles in the mist. Not, apparently, as magnificent or as smelly (thank goodness!) as the ones in St. Lucia, but hey, these ones are smelly enough!

And today (part of the 3-day Mid-Autumn Moon Festival), we spent the day south-west of Taipei. Our first stop was the Yingge Ceramics Museum – which may look kind of grim and brutalist on the outside, but inside the museum, the displays are really creatively presented, reflecting its past as Taiwan’s ceramic town – due to its special clay.

We had a short guided tour in English and then I rushed around taking some photos. Even the luggage lockers are ceramic…

We also visited Sanxia Old Street, built in the Japanese era in baroque style and restored a few years ago. We tried all the local delicacies, including pig’s blood cake and stinky tofu – some of which, well, let’s put it this way, didn’t go down too well with some of us! The croissants and ice-cream though were delicious!

After lunch, we went to Daxi Old Tea Factory…..

And then to Cihu Mausoleum 慈湖陵寢 , “the temporary resting place of President Chiang Kai-shek. When Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, he was not buried in the traditional Chinese fashion but entombed in a black marble sarcophagus since he expressed the wish to be eventually buried in his native Fenghua in Zhejiang province once the Kuomintang (KMT) recovered mainland China from the Communists.” We went to see the changing of the guard ceremony that takes place every hour on the hour ~ we were there for the one at 3:00 pm. Wow, it was so hot, bees were buzzing around and we were directly facing into the afternoon sun. But then the honor guard must have been even hotter, after standing for an hour in their heavy uniforms without moving….

There’s also the Cihu Lake and the surrounding sculpture park where all the ‘removed’ statues of Chiang Kai-Shek are on display….

Our Latin America and Caribbean group of students are so lively and fun, and we’re making the most of their time in Taiwan to take them out and about, showing them the sights and introducing them to Taiwan’s rich culture and history. We enjoy all the delicious (and let’s face it, some not so delicious!) foods on offer at each place, and of course we take a few photos too ~ and I’m grateful that they all think really creatively when I request a pose!

Thanks to St. John’s University for planning all these great trips. Already looking forward to the next one ~ coming soon!

Pentecost & Dragon Boat Festival 2019!

A bumper weekend here in Taiwan ~ with an extra day off on Friday for the Dragon Boat Festival. YES!

Today is Pentecost ~ the day we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem, 40 days after His resurrection and 10 days after His ascension. The colour associated with Pentecost is always red, and it so happens I just love red! Today at Advent Church @ St. John’s University, the 2 flame trees are still in flower (see the 2 photos above, taken on May 30) ~ and nearly everyone was wearing something red. And it looked beautiful! So beautiful in fact, that we had a group photo of us all, that’s the one at the top. We also had the Gospel reading in lots of different languages, which was a blessing, helped considerably by our Malaysian students who are very multilingual. And one of our Taiwan students, Zhong-Yu was baptized – he lives locally, so he also went to our local junior-high school next door, and he’s well-known to us all. Thanks be to God!

Meanwhile, out on the streets, the local townships of Tamsui and Sanzhi are celebrating Dragon Boat Festival this weekend with 3 days of parades of deities and gods. For followers of traditional folk religion, this weekend is a busy time of cooking and making offerings to the ancestors. It’s also a time for family reunions. Here at St. John’s University, 2 of our delightful church members, Ming-Chuan and Meng-Zhen spent all of Friday cooking a delicious dinner, and in the evening they invited our Malaysian students plus some of our chaplaincy staff to a wonderful gathering, & me too….😊😊😊!

The traditional food for Dragon Boat Festival is zhong- zi 粽子, made with sticky rice, filled with meat, eggs (or even red beans for a dessert) and wrapped in bamboo leaves or other large flat leaves, and boiled or steamed. But there was also plenty more – all yummy!

Taiwan is in the middle of the Plum Rainy Season, so the weather is always unpredictable, and for this weekend, it was mostly forecast to rain every afternoon in the mountains. On Friday it was 32°C, but ‘feels like 41°C’ said my phone. It was indeed very hot. Phew! I went up Guanyinshan 觀音山 (616m – but felt like triple that 😫😫😫!!) This is what the mountain looks like from Tamsui MRT Station, just a small pimple of a hill. But on a hot June day, feeling like 41 °C, it is massive! The trail starts just across the river, just above sea level.

The trail to the main peak is called the Ying Han Ling trail (硬漢嶺步道) or the “Tough Guy Peak” – because it’s where the police used to do their training. But that’s not all. Coming along the ridge to the left are another 6-7 smaller humps, all very steep, and all either with steps or ropes going up and down. It’s hard on the legs and hands (take gloves!) but it’s great fun. Difficult to photograph, cos it’s really steep ~ and a little hot, but it’s worth it all…

The whole trail took 5½ long, hot hours, and the highlight was seeing the view at the top…

And the hydrangeas, in full bloom all over….

And this is Taipei down below…

On Saturday, I decided the best way to beat the aching limbs was to go up another hill – and this time off I went to Xiangshan, Elephant Mountain, over on the other side of Taipei, up behind Taipei 101 ~ plus the range of hills behind it, which lead up to Jiuwu / 9-5 Peak 九五峰 (402m) and Muzhi mountain 拇指山, on the same trail. The weather was mostly cloudy, so it was a bit cooler, and after Guanyinshan, this walk was really a piece of cake. Only 3½ hours to complete the whole trail – normally it’s hard work in the heat with all the steps, but hey, compared with the day before, it was easy!

And now back to sea-level, recovering from all those exertions, and the weekend would not be complete without sharing with you a few photos of what’s going on locally, well, in Sanzhi. The fields are full of water bamboo, seaweed is drying in the sun, the waterwheels are busy, and the sun is shining!

And the lotus flowers are out all over Sanzhi too. I took these on Thursday early morning last week….

And then there’s lots of the Singapore Daisies (Sphagneticola trilobata) or wedelia, which unfortunately are on the “List of the world’s 100 worst invasive species” – which is a great shame, cos they are stunningly beautiful, and look great covering up old walls!

A great big thank you to all who made our Dragon Boat Festival so special, and thanks be to God for good weather, welcoming friends, delicious food, beautiful countryside, spectacular mountains, and lots to see and do. May God’s Holy Spirit continue to fill us each day. Wishing you all a happy and blessed Pentecost 2019!

台灣聖公會台南天恩堂60週年感恩禮拜 Grace Church, Tainan 60th Anniversary Celebrations ~ Thanks be to God!

Yes, we all gathered on Saturday May 11, 2019 to celebrate – and to give thanks to God for his many blessings to Grace Church, Tainan over the last 60 years!

(taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu)

Tainan 台南 is Taiwan’s ancient capital and oldest city, located on Taiwan’s SW coast, and “initially established by the Dutch East India Company as a ruling and trading base called Fort Zeelandia during the period of Dutch rule on the island. After Dutch colonists were defeated by Koxinga in 1661, Tainan remained as the capital of the Tungning Kingdom until 1683 and afterwards the capital of Taiwan Prefecture under Qing Dynasty rule until 1887, when the new provincial capital was moved to Taipei”. The city is famous for having a huge number of temples (incl. the Confucius Temple, built in 1665), forts, museums, churches and Tainan Theological College, plus its food – it’s THE place to go for delicious everything!

Not surprisingly it’s also where quite a few of our retired clergy have settled, and when our current Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai, retires early next year, then they will also move back to Tainan. Bishop Lai studied at Tainan Theological College, his wife, Lily is from Tainan, her sister and family are there, and Bishop Lai was vicar of Grace Church, Tainan from 1986-2001, from where he was elected as bishop. So they know the city well, their friends are all there and they look forward to returning home!

Grace Church 天恩堂 was established in Tainan in 1959, initially in rented buildings, then in 1981, under the then-vicar, Rev. Michael T. H. Liu, a piece of land was bought, and they moved to the present site on the east side of the city. Much of the land in the area was owned and run by the Taiwan Sugar Corporation as sugar-cane plantations and with a processing plant. These days, Taiwan’s sugar is nearly all imported, and the land is now mostly used for housing, schools and parks.

At the beginning of the 1980’s, there was no mains water supply at Grace Church, and life was very basic. Grace Kindergarten was built on the site, with the plan being to build a church building on the same site at a later date. So far, that hasn’t happened, and the church congregation continues to worship in one of the kindergarten rooms. The plot of land for the church building is currently part of the kindergarten playground area, covered in grass. There is some money in a diocesan fund for building the church, but much more will be needed; and the promise from the diocesan standing committee is that the process can start once the church is full each Sunday for worship. A great challenge for everyone! Nothing daunted, the current vicar, Rev. Philip J. L. Ho has increased the congregation considerably in the almost-3 years he has been there, with large numbers of youth coming along. Average Sunday attendance in 2018 was 40 people ~ so the congregation are becoming hopeful that a new church building is on the horizon! This is Philip, and one of the young people…

On Saturday, we celebrated the 60th anniversary with a service at 10:00 am ~ I counted about 120 people in the main group photo and they came from all corners of the country, though of course mainly the centre and south. It’s quite a way from Taipei to Tainan, even by high-speed rail, and most had traveled there the night before to be ready on time. I traveled there with folks from St. James’ Church, Taichung in their minibus, and as it was we left at 7:30 am from Taichung. We arrived at Grace Church just in time for me to rush along the street, buy some coffee and get back again in time for the service to start! At the main gate on ‘welcome duty’ was Clark, son-in-law of retired priest, Rev. Samuel Liao….

Clark’s wife, Ms. Liao Sung-Jen was inside, playing the organ to a packed church…

And Clark’s mother-in-law (Ms. San Su, Rev. Samuel Liao’s wife), was in the choir, and they all sang so well and so joyfully, in their beautiful blue choir robes, and wonderfully led by churchwarden, Mr. J. L. Lin on his guitar… Hey, Grace Church Choir are really good!

Meanwhile back outside at the entrance, and we had special gift packs to take home and friendly people there to welcome us!

During the service, there was a gift presentation to former clergy in charge of Grace Church, 3 of them were there in person, and the other 3 were collected on their behalf …

taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu

The children meanwhile had activities planned for them in the vicarage front room, led by Kathy, daughter of Rev. Philip Ho. Nancy, Philip’s wife was also in action organizing things and taking photos…

from ‘台灣聖公會天恩堂 The Episcopal Grace Church, Tainan, Taiwan Diocese’ Facebook Page

And so to the service….

After the service we had a buffet at Grace Church, and I tried to get photos of all the dishes before people started to eat. So much to eat and all so delicious. See, Tainan is truly Taiwan’s food capital!

And we had lots of photo-taking with lots of good friends. Firstly, the family of Rev. Charles C. T. Chen – he and his wife are currently in the USA, but their 2 sons, 2 wives, 3 of the children and one mother-in-law were there for the anniversary celebrations – and also to celebrate Mother’s Day, which was the following day, Sunday!

This is retired priest, Rev. Luke H. S. Chen (second left, in green) and his wife, brother and some of his family…

And a group from St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi…

Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu is an ardent photographer and also senior warden at St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung. He kindly sent me some of his photos to use here, including the group photo of us all in the church, posted at the top. Here he is, with his wife (left) and church member, Lynn (right)!

And lots and lots of everyone else!

And check out these happy people enjoying their meal together, mostly from St. James…

A big thank you to Rev. Philip Ho and all at Grace Church, Tainan for a wonderful celebration event, and especially to Almighty God for His faithfulness these past 60 years. And in God’s grace, we pray for the next 60, for all the outreach, especially among young people, and for the building of a new church, all to the glory of God!

Delights of Sabah 沙巴 @ Kota Kinabalu 亞庇!

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Yes, five days in Sabah is nowhere near long enough, but hey, it’s way way better than no days at all!  And what a great place for five days ~ hot and sunny (and nowhere near as humid as Taiwan at this time of year), lots of tropical flowers, trees, birds, fruits, foods and scenery to enjoy, with much to see and do…

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And so it is that on my way to the UK from Taiwan, I have come to Kota Kinabalu (known as KK), the capital of Sabah, East Malaysia, to visit my good friends, Evelyn and her family.  My last visit to Sabah was in the summer of 2006, way too long ago. KK has changed a lot in that time. New buildings everywhere, new roads, hospitals, high court, university buildings, airport, new infrastructure projects.  All is new, new new!

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New traffic jams too, or maybe just more noticeable – just don’t go near a school when parents are collecting or delivering their children. That means from about 6:00 – 8:00 am, and 11:00 – 1:00 pm. And again about 3:00 pm. Plus the normal rush hour as people go to work and then home again. Long lines of cars and school buses ~ and some of the early-bird parents are delivering their children to school soon after 5:00 am! Traffic, traffic, traffic.  All very patient and very orderly.  Actually, as a place to visit, the fact that the traffic drives on the left is a great preparation for driving in the UK. Taiwan drives on the right, and UK on the left, plus Sabah has roundabouts, which Taiwan doesn’t – so, hey, welcome to KK!

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But not all is new, new, new. The old buildings in downtown KK are still well-preserved, and many recently restored. Some of the buildings are newly-painted in wonderful colours and wall murals. I love colour, and KK has Colour with a capital ‘C’.

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As we drive around, I’m like, “Hey, slow down, stop the car, I just gotta check out that building, that wall, that artwork, stopppp!”

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“Kota Kinabalu (Chinese: 亞庇 Yàbì), formerly known as Jesselton, the state capital of Sabah, Malaysia, is located on the northwest coast of Borneo facing the South China Sea, with a population of 452,058 (2010 census). In the 15th century, the area of Kota Kinabalu was under the influence of the Bruneian Empire. In the 19th century, the British North Borneo Company (BNBC) set up a settlement, and development in the area started soon after that; the place “Api-api” (the name still used by the Chinese today) was later renamed after the vice-chairman of BNBC as “Jesselton”, and officially founded in 1899.  This is the famous Jesselton Hotel, built in 1954….

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Jesselton became a major trading port in the area, and was connected to the North Borneo Railway, but was largely destroyed during World War II. The Japanese occupation of Jesselton provoked several local uprisings, notably the Jesselton Revolt, but they were eventually defeated by the Japanese. After the war, BNBC was unable to finance the high cost of reconstruction and the place was ceded to the British Crown Colony. The British Crown declared Jesselton as the new capital of North Borneo in 1946 and started to rebuild the town. After the formation of Malaysia, North Borneo was renamed as Sabah. In 1967, Jesselton was renamed as Kota Kinabalu, Kota being the Malay word for Fort and Kinabalu after the nearby Mount Kinabalu. Kota Kinabalu was granted city status in 2000”…. (adapted from Wikipedia).

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So there you have it, the history of KK in 2 paragraphs. What it doesn’t say is that KK is a multilingual, multicultural city, with Chinese, English and Malay (known here as ‘Bahasa Malaysia’ meaning ‘national language’) all spoken widely and often all mixed together in one conversation, plus lots of other local languages spoken too. My friend Evelyn speaks Hakka language with most of her family, Mandarin Chinese with her grandson, English and Chinese at work and church, and Malay for everyday use in the town. Amazing! The churches are similar. Lots of services in all different languages, Hakka, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Malay, English and Filipino. There’s churches of every denomination. Very noticeable, cos many are big.  And big means spacious, with beautiful grounds. And there’s lots of mosques too. In Sabah as a whole, Muslims are 65%, Christians 26% and Buddhists 6% of the population. These are the 2 most famous mosques….

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And a temple with a very prominent pagoda….

The Anglican Church of Sabah (part of the Province of SE Asia) was originally very much connected with the British colonial government, with English services run for the colonial government officials, and large numbers of clergy from overseas, also many schools. High Church style. By 1905, Europeans and Chinese communicants were reported as being ‘in considerable numbers.’ In 1959, the new All Saints Church was consecrated on reclaimed land in the centre of town, and in 1962, All Saints Church became a cathedral, when the Diocese of Borneo was separated into two dioceses, Kuching and Jesselton. This is the cathedral today….

In 1962, the assistant bishop of the Diocese of Borneo, Bishop James C. L. Wong (1900-1970) became the first bishop of the Diocese of Jesselton (renamed in 1963 as the Diocese of Sabah). This is significant for us in Taiwan because Bishop James C. L. Wong left Sabah in 1965 to become Bishop of Taiwan, Taiwan’s first bishop of Chinese descent. Between 1965 and his death in 1970, Bishop Wong devoted himself to establishing St. John’s University, Taipei – and after his death, he was buried under the altar in Advent Church. OUR Advent Church!  From the All Saints Cathedral book, ‘Moving Forward’….

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Evelyn’s daughter, Audrey and her husband, Rev. Paul Lau and their son have recently moved to Christ Church, Likas, KK and it turns out that they are now living in the very house where Bishop Wong lived during the time he was Bishop of Sabah. The building has had nobody living in it for the past 12 years and has recently been renovated. Next door is a derelict building that served as the diocesan offices from Bishop Wong’s time, awaiting a fresh vision and renovation.

The current diocesan office building is right by the cathedral, with this sign….

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Back in the old days, Sabah was a high church diocese, then moved ‘downwards’ and ‘outwards’, and in recent decades, Sabah has been strongly influenced by charismatic renewal. Worship is mostly lively and contemporary, and most churches have a strong focus on outreach and evangelism.  Paul and Audrey invited me to worship at Christ Church, Likas earlier today….

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We went to the Mandarin Chinese service at 7:30 am ~ it has to be early as it’s followed by an English service and then Malay.  Paul was preaching, and I was warmly welcomed by everyone – including the rector, Archdeacon Moses Chin (next to me in the photos below).  In the late afternoon, they were expecting the bishop for a ground-breaking service and blessing ~ to build a pavilion for outside activities, hence the balloons!

The Anglican churches in both Taiwan and Sabah run many kindergartens, and have worked together in past years to help support each other, and give training to teachers. Over the years, my good friend, Mrs. Grace Liu (wife of Rev. Michael T. H. Liu) from Taiwan has been on 6 visits to Sabah to help lead training seminars for Sabah teachers. On one memorable trip, she was the only passenger on the flight! While I was at St. James’ Church, Taichung, Evelyn and another teacher from Sabah came to St. James for 6 weeks to learn and experience St. James’ Kindergarten. That’s how we know each other. And that’s how I came to visit Sabah twice while I was at St. James. On those visits, we went to Sandakan, Ranau, Kudat, Beaufort, and with a friend from Taichung, the 2 of us climbed Mt. Kinabalu, (4,095 m /13,435 ft), Malaysia’s highest mountain – and just higher than Taiwan’s highest mountain, Yushan (3,952 m /12,966 ft). That was quite amazing, a never-to-be-forgotten adventure.  But that’s a whole other story, sorry!

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Evelyn is principal of Good Samaritan Kindergarten, KK, known as “Tadika Anglikan Penampang”, after that area of the city, and their priest-in-charge is Rev. Chin Pit Vun – whose brother-in-law, Rev. Joshua Ng, is ministering in the Episcopal Church in California and is known to us from his visits to Taiwan. Ah, it’s a small world! Here’s Rev. Chin and me – welcoming me to his church!

Under the previous bishop of Sabah, Bishop Albert Vun, a prayer station, ‘Kokol Prayer Summit’, was established up in the mountains outside KK, and Paul and Audrey took us up there to visit. It is built in the shape of the cross that Jesus carried on the Via Dolorosa. What a place.  Stunning location!

That area has retreat centres and churches of different denominations, as well as hotels and resorts. We visited one of them to see the sunset…

And while in Sabah, never forget the food. Tropical fruits like durians are one of the highlights – a whole durian market exists for people to enjoy the delights of durian ~ if you can stand that smell!

Then there’s tons of small restaurants and supermarkets offering everything imaginable. This was a small selection of what we enjoyed….

So, a big thank you to Evelyn and her family for their warm welcome and hospitality, plus all the meals – and trips out here and there.  It was fun!  This is Evelyn’s son in his truck…

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And I mustn’t forget the dogs.  Actually they belong to Evelyn’s grandson, but they are just such a bundle of high energy!

Sabah is a great place, with very lovely kind-hearted people, and so many things to see!  These are the street scenes and some of the sights…

So, as I prepare to leave KK tomorrow for London, thanks be to God for a wonderful 5 days in this beautiful country ~ let me end with these 2 photos taken last night on the beach, with all the people playing with bubbles, while they waited for the sunset!

So goodbye to Kota Kinabalu ~ and especially to Evelyn and her family. Here we all are having dinner this evening.  A big THANK YOU to you all!

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Alangyi Historic Trail 阿朗壹古道 and Paiwan 排灣族 Harvest Festival 豐年祭 @ Nantian Village, Daren Township, Taitung 台東縣達仁鄉南田村, Taiwan

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Yes, the Alangyi Historic Trail 阿朗壹古道 is THE trail to hike!  And especially when the sea and the sky are blue, blue, blue ~ like they were on Saturday ~ YES YES YES!

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The Alangyi Trail runs maybe 8-10 km along the S.E. coast of Taiwan, and walking it takes about 4-5 hours ~ from the very southern tip of Taitung County across into Mudan Township 牡丹鄉, Pingtung County, finishing at Xuhai 旭海 Village, famous for its hot springs and grassland.  The trail is significant in that it is the only section of the whole Taiwan coastline where there is no road. No road means no cars, no lorries, no coaches, no random tourists, no 7-elevens (always a sign of economic development!) ~ and to preserve the natural environment, the area is established as a nature reserve, and strictly managed.  But this only happened after years of protests and disputes about whether to build a road or not.  Fortunately wisdom prevailed, and the Alangyi Trail is just fantastic!

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Nowadays, only 300 people are allowed on the trail per day, permits are required, a guide is needed per 20 people and there are police on duty at either end of the trail.  During the summer, the temperatures are boiling hot, and there are few people hiking on the trail.  In fact, we only met one other group, 30+ youngsters from Changhua – going in the other direction.  Fortunately we had a nice breeze to blow us along!  A typhoon was slowly heading towards Taiwan, but still far off, and as often happens a day or two before a typhoon, the weather was really great (as I write this on Wednesday morning, 3 days later, the typhoon is roaring around outside as it passes northern Taiwan)!

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It is truly an amazing walk, with incredible views!  Is it easy?  Yes.  Is it difficult?  Yes. Both / and!  Much of the walk is right down near sea-level, along the upper part of the stony beach, but at the rocky promontory that is called Guanyin’s Nose 觀音鼻, everyone has to ascend 150m to go up and over the top and down the other side.  It is very steep, so ropes are supplied to grab onto, and there’s steps in some places.  But hey, the views are spectacular – and see the turtle-shaped rock down below!

For centuries, the Alangyi Trail was used by the local indigenous peoples to get from place to place along the coast.  The local indigenous people in that area are mostly the Paiwan People 排灣族 (pause here while you open that link to the Wikipedia site to read about the Paiwan People – it’s fascinating)…. Wonder if in years gone by, they enjoyed this stream as much as we did at the end of the trail?  Yes, we got soaked, but it was oh so refreshing!

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My good friends from Advent Church, 選櫻 (Hsuen-Ying, Grace) and her husband 生豐 (Sheng-Feng, Simon), invited me to join a group of their friends (mostly Grace’s former high school / college classmates and their families – all very lovely!) who they had invited to spend the weekend visiting Grace’s home village of Nantian, in Daren Township, Taitung (台東縣達仁鄉南田村).  This is Grace and Simon… as romantic as always!

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Grace is Paiwan, Taiwan’s second largest indigenous group, and Simon is Amis, Taiwan’s largest indigenous group – who mostly live further north in the Hualien area.  These days there is a certain friendly rivalry between the different tribes / groups ~ although in the past, things were not always so friendly!  Both Grace and Simon work at TamKang High School, Tamsui (as did 2 others in our group), and the school has a teddy bear mascot that travels around with them all over, including on the Alangyi Trail!

Nantian Village is the southernmost village in Taitung County, and runs along a single road between the mountains and the sea. Most people coming to Taitung from the west coast do so over the mountain road from Pingtung, this is the first area they reach on the east coast.  For cyclists on the round-Taiwan circuit, it’s a welcome relief to get over the mountains and down to the coast. But the only people passing through Nantian itself are on their way to the northern entrance of the Alangyi Historic Trail.  Within a few minutes of starting the trail, there’s a river, and that is the border between Taitung and Pingtung – and it is just over that river that the police have a checkpoint to check permits.

And what else is going on in Nantian?  Well, there’s fish farming, mainly for shrimp, there’s a camp site, small guest houses, a cement factory out on the main road, 2 Presbyterian churches, and a beautiful stony beach.  In the past, the stones were big and well-rounded, so people collected them up and carved them for sale.  These days, apparently the coast has changed, the sea level is rising, the stones are much smaller, and well, it’s not easy to make a good living.  Many of the local people have moved away to the cities looking for work – and return for festivals, and some in their retirement.

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Some scenes of Nantian and the local area, starting with the chief’s stone…

There’s an interesting bamboo art work installed there too, ‘The Vector of the South‘ 南方以南 ~ the bamboo looks like waves coming up from the shore, over the seawall and across the fields….

Grace’s elder brother, who we call ‘Da-Ge’ 大哥 (literally ‘big brother’) returned to the family home 10+ years ago, after quite some time in northern Taiwan, to take up his responsibilities as one of the chiefs of the Paiwan Tribe.  He is just so lovely!  He kept us entertained with stories, songs and jokes, and he and his wife are such committed Christians, sharing their faith, testimonies, choruses and music with everyone!  They, together with relatives and members of the village, welcomed us into their lives for the weekend ~ they were just so hospitable and generous.  By inviting us to join their village for the weekend, we could learn so much about their culture and traditions, and they were able to get some income from taking care of us ~ such visits are officially known as (starting with their Paiwan name), ‘Jakisuvung Cultural and Educational Eco-Tourism’ 家給蘇豐文教生態旅遊.  We stayed in a local guest house (B&B), which was run by the lady who was our guide for the Alangyi Trail, and whose younger sister was Grace’s former classmate!

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The Paiwan Harvest Festival 豐年祭 is an annual event in many Paiwan communities, celebrating a successful millet / rice harvest, and copious amounts of millet / rice wine are on offer!  It involved a whole weekend of activities in Nantian Village, starting on Saturday morning with the official opening ceremony when VIPs from the local government, the elected official representative from Taitung County Council, tribal chiefs and many others came along. There was dancing and singing too….

The main event of the day was the archery competition ~ wow, they are so skilled!  Every village has a team and they were all there, competing all morning.  Women, men, old, young, everyone took part; apparently they practice for hours – and it shows!

We even had a go ourselves, though we only shot from half the distance – and still managed to miss, ha ha! But Grace, who said this was her first time to try, got a bull’s eye, first time.  Actually it’s not a bull, it’s a mountain pig!

And then we all went off up the river, through the river in fact, wading upstream until we came to a clearing where we had a really fun Paiwan-style barbecue.  In fact, 3 days later and I can still smell that smoke all over!

The following day, the community spent the morning killing and preparing the pig, and certain other ceremonies.  The main event of the festival for us was on Sunday evening. Just beforehand, the heavens opened, the rain came down, and they decided to relocate to the village community centre. Da-Ge’s wife and the ladies of the village had been cooking all afternoon, and there were huge amounts of delicious Paiwan-style food. “Must try everything”, they said. Just don’t ask in too much detail what everything is – and remember that nothing in that mountain pig goes to waste!  Ah, I had a great time!

Most of the people were there in traditional Paiwan costumes, and we had flower head rings….

And there was dancing.  There’s always dancing at festivals, and we joined in too.  I filmed the following video for 5 minutes before I got down and joined the end of the line!  Do watch – and keep an eye on the blue bucket of millet / rice wine 小米酒 in the middle of the table, and the ‘waiters’ who go around serving everyone!

And this was the final dance – just for the community themselves… watch to the end, but I had to stop filming at the final minute, I was laughing so much!

On Monday morning, our group had a chance to visit Da-Ge’s home and try on some of their traditional Paiwan costumes.  There is apparently no special significance to the colours, blue, red, black – it’s personal choice.  We also had a chance to wear the chief’s headdress, which is, oh, so heavy!  The rules are that at ceremonies and festivals, only the chief and his family can wear the headdresses, but in their home and for photos at other times, anyone can try them on.  So we did!

We also visited a massive huge tree, Bischofia javanica (considered sacred, hence the red ribbon).  That’s where we learned all about the local ecology and more.  Teddy came too!

What else?  Well, actually I had arrived a day earlier than most of our group, and together with Grace and Simon, the 3 of us went to visit the newly-opened social welfare center run by the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross 聖十字架慈愛修女會 (known as the Maria Theresia Social Welfare Foundation 財團法人台東縣私立天主教聖十字架瑪利德蘭社會福利基金會) in Shangwu Village 尚武村, Dawu Township 大武鄉, which is very near Nantian ~ in fact it was in Dawu that Grace went to junior high school.  And the first person we met when we arrived at the center there was one of her old classmates. Ah it’s a small world!  This is their church and fruit growing in the garden. The fruit is Morinda citrifolia, known as cheese fruit / vomit fruit / starvation fruit, and I can tell you it is totally 100% disgusting!

In December 2016, St. John’s University and Advent Church raised NT$ 325,000 (US$ 10,000) as part of our annual fund-raising project and donated it to the sisters (see that blog post here) for their ministry.  They were planning to convert their kindergarten classrooms into a day care center for elderly local people.  Thanks be to God that the work is completed, and the official opening ceremony and mass was held on June 16, 2018.  We couldn’t go to the ceremony, but we were able to visit on Friday instead.  They are still waiting for the final permission from the local authorities to be able to use the new buildings, and we had a tour – they are so light, bright, well-equipped and fully furnished.  It was so good to meet Sr. Miljenka Schnetzer 宋玉潔修女 again, she arrived in Taiwan from Switzerland in 1979, and has been in Shangwu since 1992….

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We also visited the famous train station at Duoliang 多良, famous because if you stand there long enough a train will come out of the tunnel and pass by – such a pretty photo-op ha ha!

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And then there were the sunrises over the sea – 2 of them in fact.  On Friday we got up and left at 4:30 am to see the sunrise from the high viewpoint…

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And then again on Monday morning, when there was more cloud – the only sign that the typhoon was coming.  Great that we could still see Lanyu and Lyudao Islands from up there (but too far away to appear in the photo)….

One of the main highlights of the whole weekend was meeting Grace’s family, especially her big brother and his wife and family.  I had dinner at their home on Friday evening.  They are so friendly and welcoming!  This is Da-Ge and Simon…

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