Tag Archives: R.C. Church

Transformation by Colour @ Kaohsiung 高雄 Street Art ~ and more!

Every city needs some colour, especially if the city concerned is famous for being a city nobody wants to visit.  Or live in.  Or work in. Kaohsiung is exactly that city.  It may be the southern capital of Taiwan and a major metropolis.  But it is also THE city in Taiwan that everybody loves to hate.  Far too hot in summer, far too polluted in winter.  Full of industry, oil refineries, factories and vehicles pumping out fumes all day and all night.  An ugly, horrible, industrial, polluted, over-heated and under-cared-for metropolis, frequently listed in the Top Ten Most Polluted Cities of the World.  My impression has always been that it has almost nothing going for it other than half the country seems to come from Kaohsiung, been educated there or worked there at some time.  So they kinda feel loyal to their ‘home town’.  But then again, most couldn’t wait to leave, from what I had always heard.  Ah, poor old Kaohsiung!

But y’know, Kaohsiung is changing.  Being transformed no less.  By colour!  And not just any old colour.  Walls and buildings are being painted with huge and very attractive murals.  Not just painted with cartoon murals or indecipherable graffiti, though there are plenty of those.  But painted with REAL art.  Really beautiful, stunning, colourful and amazing high-quality works of art in fact.

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Walls are divisive, not just by their nature, but by their utter ugliness.  Plain walls are so boring, but coloured walls, if painted the wrong colour or covered in abusive graffiti may be worse.  But now the walls in Kaohsiung are turning heads, and turning the world upside down by their beauty.  This wall mural is the most recent, dated 2018!

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Much of this transformation is taking place in the area around Weiwuying MRT Metro Station 衛武營 on the MRT Orange Line (exit 5, turn right onto Jianjun 建軍 Road).  Opposite is the Kaohsiung Armed Forces General Hospital, and a bit further along is the Kaohsiung Mosque … 

Across from the hospital and mosque is a large housing estate / apartment complex, housing military dependents, and it is on these walls that the murals have been painted. 

And right next to the MRT Station is the wall of the bus station, and that mural is perhaps the most famous ~ painted to look like a huge bookcase…. 

The walls around the side of the bus station are also painted too…. 

The murals are mostly painted by the Wallriors (for more information see here and their facebook page here), and they are really talented.  Real artists.  Working from cranes and scaffolding.  Supported by the Kaohsiung City government and the local community.  Not only have the walls been painted in that area, but the local community have planted flowers all over, and it’s beautiful!  The old people sit out and chat to each other, and talk to visitors.  Such a friendly place.  You must must must go! 

And if it’s a sunny day, then so much the better.  We went there last Thursday afternoon, and the light was perfect.  It is by far the most amazing place to visit in Kaohsiung!

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But Weiwuying is not the only place with street art in Kaohsiung, there’s plenty more, scattered around, but information offered on the internet is virtually all in Chinese, so get some help if your Chinese language skills are not up to scratch!  And so it was that me and my good friends, Shiu-Chin and Ah-Guan headed off to the sports stadium nearby where there’s 3 wall murals, though the sun was in the wrong place for good photos…. 

And then we went to the Kaohsiung Cultural Center, and after a bit of walking around following Google Maps, so we found 2 more amazing murals, about 1 km apart, but well worth visiting, even though by then it was nearly dark.  Daylight is required to see murals of course. But hey, a sunset on the way was an added bonus!  The first one is by San Francisco-based artist, Mona Caron, part of her series on weeds, titled, ‘Outgrowing‘ (the link also shows videos of the making of the mural), and which government officials apparently claim is the biggest mural in Asia….

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This second one is by Kaohsiung-based artist Bamboo Yang (楊惟竹) of the Wallriors…

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And then there is the newly-famous and very wonderful area called Pier 2 駁二藝術特區.  This is a huge area of old and abandoned warehouses around the Kaohsiung Port area, now all being restored and converted into art spaces, museums, shops and restaurants, with plenty to see and do.  There’s lots of wall murals here too, though mostly of cartoons or weird and wacky designs.  The coastguard ships are here, and there’s a good view of the Kaohsiung Skyline across the water.   There’s also the light rail / tram-line too.  We were there on Wednesday last week, which was a national holiday in Taiwan (228), so the place was packed.  And the light rail was free, the last day.  From March 1 onwards, you have to pay.  But it’s not expensive.  And the whole area has a great atmosphere ~ well worth visiting!

The other famous place in Kaohsiung that has undergone major transformation in the last few years is the Love River 愛河.   The river flows through the heart of the city, and for years was famous as a badly-polluted (and therefore very misnamed) stinky canal. But it too has been transformed.  The water has been cleaned up, parks run along the river banks with performances going on, restaurants, coffee shops, bars etc, and it is a pleasant place to spend an evening.  We were there on Wednesday night last week.  And Thursday night.  And Friday night too!  All for the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival, which finished this past weekend, but which saw thousands and thousands of people coming along to see the lanterns and the light show and the performances.  It’s the Year of the Dog and the old name of Kaohsiung was ‘Takau’ in the Taiwanese language (Chinese: 打狗). The meaning of the associated Chinese characters is “beat the dog”, so there were even more dog lanterns than ever.  And lanterns mean colour, colour and more colour!

And what else to see in Kaohsiung? A must-go place is the Formosa Boulevard MRT Station 美麗島站 (Meilidao) famous for its “Dome of Light”, the largest glass work in the world – designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.   I love it! 

And if you still have time and energy, check out some churches.  Right next to the Love River is the R.C. Holy Rosary Cathedral, apparently the oldest RC Church in Taiwan (though Wanchin Basilica RC Church in Pingtung may also be the oldest, depending on whether you date the church from when it was established, constructed, or rebuilt!) Anyway, the cathedral was first established in 1860 and rebuilt to its present dimensions in 1928.  I saw it very early in the morning, and very late at night, both times in the murky darkness,so this is the best view I got ~ actually it is completely overshadowed by nearby high-rise buildings, so really unless you know it’s there, you won’t even notice it! 

And the Taiwan Episcopal Church has 2 churches in Kaohsiung – the very beautiful St. Paul’s Church in the Sanmin area of the city…..

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And St. Timothy’s Church, not far from Formosa Boulevard MRT Station, 30 minutes walking distance apart.  Lovely clergy and very welcoming people in both churches. Well worth visiting too! 

So Kaohsiung is now my new favourite city.  It’s true it’s too hot in summer, but at this time of year and after a winter of terrible endless rain and cold up here in the north, well, y’know, Kaohsiung seems extra-attractive. Just look at all this colour! 

And the people are so friendly.  On an early morning walk around the city, everyone greets you.  Nobody does that in Taipei.  Or even Taichung.  Only in the countryside does that happen in northern and central Taiwan.

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But Kaohsiung, major city that it is, is oh so friendly!  I just love it!

PS: Updated May 28, 2018 – see Part 2, revisiting Street Art locations in Kaohsiung, discovering there’s even more street art than before!

Happy Chinese New Year’s Eve 2018!

What a beautiful dawn and sunrise this morning, viewed from the 8th floor of St. James’ Church, Taichung!  The start of a day of gorgeous weather!

One of the great traditions of Chinese New Year is catching up with old friends, often those not seen for a whole year or even longer.  I’ve been riding around Taichung on a u-bike all week doing this – and today was special, because I visited Fr. Toon Maes, CICM, at St. Paul’s RC Church, Taichung, where he is enjoying the sun after all those cold, wet and windy years up near us on the northern coast in Jinshan!  He’s 86, and in charge of a church which has about 120 people in the mass on Sunday.  His church is beautifully decorated for Chinese New Year…

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On Tuesday I visited another RC priest friend, Fr. Joy, MM, based at Tanzi Migrant Church, just north of Taichung and working with the Filipino migrant workers, who are mostly employed in the nearby export processing zone.   He has a huge church of thousands, and lots of outreach and social programmes….

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In case you’re wondering, both Fr. Joy and Fr. Maes did actually hold small Ash Wednesday services yesterday.   But in fact, Joy told me that Lent has been postponed in the local RC Churches, due to Chinese New Year coming this week.  After all, it’s really quite extraordinary to have Ash Wednesday – all that fasting and ashes – one day, followed the next day (tonight, Chinese New Year’s Eve) by the biggest family feast of the whole year!  So I think it really makes good sense to delay Lent for a week.  Not just delay Ash Wednesday, but actually Lent itself.   I know it’s supposed to be 40 days, but hey, a few less really won’t make much difference.  Otherwise people won’t know whether they’re supposed to be piously fasting, thus annoying all their family or friends by not participating in the New Year celebrations, or the alternative – eat, drink and be merry and then feel guilty afterwards! And we really don’t need any more guilt in this world and in the church, in my humble view at least.  In the Taiwan Episcopal Church, it’s been left to individual churches to decide, and in St. James, the church council decided not to hold a service – as everyone was so busy getting ready and travelling.

And of course, having no Ash Wednesday left us all free to focus on Valentine’s Day instead ~ and in connection with Valentine’s Day, you must read this BBC News report about how some of Taiwan’s little green traffic light men down in Pingtung have got girlfriends in time for February 14….

Taiwan’s pedestrian crossing men get girlfriends – BBC News

Isn’t that wonderful?!

Red is the colour of Chinese New Year ~ and isn’t this doorway beautiful?  Saw it in Taichung yesterday.  And so, wishing you all a very Happy Chinese New Year!

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Have good celebrations, wherever you are – we’re off on a little trip ourselves tomorrow.  See you in a few days ~ but for now I’m off for Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner ~ yippee!

Welcoming old friends from afar…. from St. Paul’s RC Church, Daya Rd, Taichung!

Welcoming Rev. Toon Maes 馬世光神父 CICM and church members from St. Paul’s RC Church, Daya Rd, Taichung 台中市大雅路聖保祿天主堂 to visit Advent Church today!

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CICM, the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scheut Mission) was started in Belgium just over 150 years ago, and has quite a group of priests in Taiwan from Belgium, Congo, Cameroon, Philippines and other countries.  Fr. Toon Maes is with CICM from Belgium…. and he is AMAZING – he just has so much energy!

Fr. Maes was born in 1932, came to Taiwan with CICM in 1959 and has been here ever since!   He used to be based at Jinshan Church and responsible for our local Sanzhi RC Church, plus Laomei Village, but a few years ago he took on a new challenge and returned to Taichung, where he’d been some years before.  It is through his vision and encouragement that until now, we are still doing outreach in Laomei.  And today he brought all his church members to visit us in Advent Church.  We had such a great time together.  Wonderful!

Long may our ecumenical links bring forth blessings to all!

Angkor Wat 吳哥窟 and Siem Reap 暹粒市, Cambodia ~ oh, and nice crunchy spider for dinner!

Think of all those historic buildings in the UK: Durham, Norwich and Exeter Cathedrals; Rochester, Windsor and Warwick Castles and even my lovely CMS link church at St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton, Darlington.  And what do they all have in common?  Well, they were all being built at roughly the same time as the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Cambodia.  Now, how’s that for Interesting Fact Of The Day, eh?

Angkor Wat has become such a symbol of Cambodia, that it appears on its national flag. How about this?

Angkor Wat is considered to be the largest religious monument in the world ~ the ruins cover an area over 400 sq. km.  It was originally constructed by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as a temple of the Hindu deity Vishnu, and gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.

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400 sq. km?  That’s 248 sq. miles.  Imagine that!  That’s what I was interested to see – the sheer size and immensity of the whole complex.  Buildings stretching for miles into the forests in every direction.  Jungle, in fact.  Angkor Wat is so immense that you can even buy a 7-day pass to see it all.  7 days!  Or a 3-day pass even.  But me?  I had only one day.  One day to see a little bit of the whole, just a glimpse.

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The way to do it is by overnight bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, 6 hours and very comfortable.  As buses go, that is.  That was me this past Sunday night.  On Monday morning, there I was, bushy-tailed but very bleary-eyed, with a nice tuk-tuk driver who got me to the ticket office at Angkor Wat by 7:00 am, where I was just awake enough to peer at the camera in time for my photo.  It’s US$ 37 for a one-day ticket, with photo attached.  Had yet to even brush my hair.  Ha ha!  Now I have a permanent reminder of what I look like after a night on a Cambodian bus.

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October is the rainy season in Cambodia and the night before they’d had a big rainstorm at Angkor Wat.  So Monday morning was cool and overcast.  Good weather for a day touring round temples.  Grey sky and dark buildings are not easy to photograph, but they kind of fit the mood of the place….

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Anyway off I set around the temple. There’s a whole lot of walking and a huge number of very steep steps.  Loved it!  My friends had told me that their one regret was not having a guide, so they had no idea what they were looking at.  So for one hour, a guide in a uniform came round with me and explained everything and answered all my questions.  He told me how the sandstone and laterite stones were carried from a quarry about 60 km away by elephants and chariots.  He told me that most of the Buddha statues were headless because people were so desperate for food during the years before, during and after the genocide that they cut the statues’ heads off to sell them.

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He told me what everything was and why it was there.  He set me up for the whole day.  Because after Angkor Wat main temple, there are lots of other temples to look at.  The temples are all under restoration, and it seems that every country is helping out, each one assigned their own temple. I saw signs indicating temples being restored by Japan, France, India and China, plus different universities assigned to take care of the archaeological digs.

That’s one temple down, a zillion more to go.  So off by chariot (sorry, tuk-tuk) along a road lined with statues, passing by the elephants….

Bayon Temple comes next ~ “the most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes.” And this all leads on to the Elephant Terrace.

On to some more temples – where there were rocks carved as snakes all over.  “The snake symbol is depicted as the hooded cobra or naga. Not only is the naga-serpent the most prominent motif found at Angkor, but the word “Angkor” itself is derived from the Sanskrit nagara, meaning “city,” from the root naga. The common etymological derivation of the two words underlines the link that exists between the symbolism of the snake and that of the “holy city.” Today, the stone nagas watch silently over every major edifice in the city.”

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But the best temple was yet to come.  Known as the Tomb Raider Temple, because that’s where the movie was filmed, Ta Prohm is THE BEST!

“Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm is in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors.” And lucky India has the job of restoring it.

You MUST MUST MUST go there! It really is amazing. As you can see, there were even wedding couples posing for photos! And outside were people playing music who had been injured in landmines …..

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And so to lunch.  I chose mine based on colour.  After a morning of Tomb Raiders ‘n doom and gloom and the like, I needed some colour.  Ha ha. It’s chicken curry in a coconut.  And Cambodia beer.  Gotta try the local stuff.  This is it!

And then the sun came out.  Another temple. The last!  Oh, and a lake….

Time for something else.  The tuk-tuk driver suggested I might like to visit the local Killing Fields Museum at Wat Thmei, located in a monastery and temple.  This is not for the faint-hearted.  More on this in my next post about the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh.

After all those dark and gloomy temples and then the Killing Fields, I thought a church was in order.  Going round Phonm Penh, I had only seen one church in all the time I was there, the Khmer Rouge had destroyed them all.  I asked if there was any church around Siem Reap.  Any church of any kind I said.  Yes, said the driver.  And off we went.  Turned out to be St. John’s Roman Catholic Church, where a dear Japanese sister was sweeping the church floor and a catechist was cleaning downstairs.

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If I remember correctly, the catechist said that these days there are about 30,000 Roman Catholics in Cambodia, and 50+ priests, of whom 7 are Cambodians and the rest are foreigners, including their own priest who is from the Philippines.  They even had a leaflet there in English, which said that the church was built in 2004 and the parish also serves several churches in the floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake.  They are part of the diocese (apostolic prefecture) of Battambang, which is twinned with the RC Diocese of East Anglia, UK. And St. John’s Church itself is twinned with the deanery of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.  Ah, it’s a small world ~ Suffolk, I love you!

And so to Siem Reap, which was bustling with tourists.  Lots of places to eat, and lots of choices.  Ha ha, my dinner menu was spiders, scorpions or snakes.  Take your pick!

Time enough to enjoy the late afternoon and night life of Siem Reap…..

And finally to the bus stop for the overnight bus back to Phnom Penh.  Bus departure time 11:00 pm.  (If you’re interested in the bus, get all your info here.)  No shower for a while yet though!

And finally, guess which delectable dinner option I chose?  This one….

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Ha ha!  The spider!  The girl selling it said it was the best choice, as it was crunchy.  It’s true.  It was crunchy.  Very crunchy.  And what’s more, I lived the tell the tale, and am still in one piece all these days later! So, be adventurous and daring ~ and GO FOR IT!

(This is Part 2 of 3 about my visit to Cambodia.  Part 3 coming soon……)

聖雅各愛心園遊會 St. James’ Preschool, Taichung, Charity Bazaar 2017!

And what an amazing event it always is!  After weeks and weeks of preparation, it all came together on the day, and Saturday was THE day, YES!

Always held on the Saturday morning of the weekend before Mother’s Day, and always held in aid of charity, and always fun!  (This is last year’s report here – that was an amazing event too). This year’s event seemed even busier – and maybe even more fun! Well, all except for the poor pig who was on the spit soon after 6:00 am ~ but hey, it was delicious!

This year’s 2 charities are the after-school classes and ministry of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Keelung, and 安德啟智中心 St. Andrew’s (Anders) Training Center, Fuli, Hualien. The latter is run by R. C. priest, Fr. Yves Moal 劉一峰神父, who came to Taiwan from France in 1966 at the age of 25, and has been ever since.  Fr. Moal’s project is to build a nursing home for elderly physically and mentally challenged people – he has also been in the News (see here) recently for being one of the first foreigners in Taiwan to receive a Taiwanese passport while keeping his original nationality. Many congratulations!  He is trying to raise NT$ 80 million, but has started building in faith, and hopes to finish by the end of the year.  Fr. Moal’s representative, Bo-Jun 練柏均 came to the bazaar on Saturday ~ here he is presenting Bishop Lai with a certificate of thanks….

St. Stephen’s Church also sent along our good friend and former St. James’ teacher, Huang-Min and a group from their after-school program.  Yes, I just LOVE St. Stephen’s Church!  Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin and her team work so hard to help the children and local community.  The children played and sang to us…

There were hundreds of things going on all morning – so it was difficult to know what to see next!  We started with performances from the preschool children, then a prayer from Rev. Lily Chang and a short talk from Bishop Lai, and then each of the VIP visitors hit the big gong and put their donation in the box.  Then everything started in earnest – there were performances all morning from different groups of children, teenagers and adults. Rev. Philip Lin, dean of St. John’s Cathedral and former rector of St. James, also came with his wife, Linda and family. Linda is still active in running the community service program that she started when they were at St. James, but most significantly, their son, Daniel is a great yo-yo expert and performed for us, along with his coach, Harry who is No. 6 yo-yo performer in the world.  Yes, #6 in the whole world!  A great performance from them both!

Another highlight were the Taekwondo Team.  Amazing.  I could have watched them for hours!

And yet another highlight was watching Yasmin and her group acting out their version of the The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Every time I come to St. James, she’s doing something different – The 3 Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood, but this was extra special.  The caterpillar’s face was oh so expressive and the kids (and parents) were just so involved, and everyone was so happy when she emerged as a butterfly!

Dozens of local companies and businesses gave of their time and energy to help us raise money, everything from ‘Happy Hair’ haircuts to coffee to sausages (sold by our good friend, Feng-Mei’s brother-in-law and his daughter, who’d come from Taoyuan for the occasion) to children’s paintings.  All in aid of a really great cause.  And all organized by Shin-Chia, Teacher Ruby who has spent months planning everything and did such a great job. Helped of course by Principal Susan, Language Institute director Yu-Mei, all the teachers, children, parents and the local community, and supported by Preschool Supervisor Luanne, her husband and senior warden Samuel, Rev. Lily Chang and all at St. James’ Church, Rev. Sam Cheng, plus of course Bishop Lai and Mrs. Lily Lai.  Here’s Ruby on the morning of the event!

And finally I must mention Li-Mei, Teacher Vicky, who with one of the other teachers were the MCs for the event – Li-Mei comes from Hualien, and it turns out that her mother comes from the exact same village where Fr. Moal is building the nursing home.  She reminded me that she had taken me to that village a few years ago to visit her grandparents. Yes, I remember, ah, we had such a great day!  Here we are on Saturday…..

So a big thank you to all of St. James who worked so hard to make everything go so smoothly ~ and thank you to Bishop Lai and all the visitors who came especially for the event. There were at least 5 groups of us who came from northern Taiwan, including Teacher Tiger and her husband. Plus lots of former teachers who left many years ago, they came back with their families – wow, it was so good to see them again!

Thanks be to God for a really great day, fine weather and lots of energy and fun!

PS: updated May 22 ~ and the grand total raised is NT$ 457,000 (US$ 15,000 or £ 11,600) …. wonderful!

Happy Chinese New Year from Beautiful Bangalore, South India!

Rarely, possibly once in a lifetime, does such a wonderful opportunity come along ~ a chance to take 2 of my very good friends from Taiwan along with me to visit my many very good friends in South India ~ YES!   The opportunity came at Chinese New Year, and with the blessing of the bishop of Taiwan, Bishop David J. H. Lai and the rector of Advent Church, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang and all our friends and church members, off we went!

God has blessed me with many good friends in Taiwan, and my 2 traveling companions were 2 of the very best!  Shu-Jing 薛淑靖 is my colleague here at St. John’s University Chaplain’s Office, and Hui-Ling 許惠苓 is Bishop Lai’s secretary and my colleague in the diocesan office in Taipei. Both are the first, and so far only Christians in their families, both are devoted long-time members of Advent Church, and very importantly, both very good friends with each other. So there was certainly never a dull moment on our whole trip ~ and rarely even a quiet one!

We set off together on Saturday January 21 for Bangalore, at the invitation of my very good friend from Tanzania days, Jyothi.  Jyothi welcomed us all so warmly and graciously, willingly giving up 2 weeks of her valuable time to take such good care of us all.  I first visited Jyothi in Bangalore in February 2013, also for the Chinese New Year holiday, along with New Zealand friend Ruth.  This was my second visit, but the first ever for Shu-Jing and Hui-Ling.  And what a great welcome we had from Jyothi and all her friends!

We arrived in Bangalore in the middle of the night and got to bed at 3:30 am, but a few hours later we were upright and wide-awake, all ready for the main 8:30 am service at St. John’s Church, Bangalore, part of the Church of South India (C.S.I.)  We were there along with 600 others – and 300 in the Sunday School.  The latecomers have to sit on chairs outside, there’s so many people.  Amazing.

Amazingly also, the new pastor of the church, Rev. G. Wilson, studied for a year in 2004 at Tainan Theological College in Taiwan, and was delighted to tell us how much he loved Taiwan, and what wonderful people the Taiwan people are!  One of his many gifts is preaching, and everyone enthused about his sermon after the service.  Here we all are, posing for photos!

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We met so many of Jyothi’s good friends at the church, including Asha and her family who took us all out for breakfast straight after church.  Oh yes, and Nancy (and her daughter – both looking stunning in the above right photo) who was to accompany us on our 2 big trips! Then to lunch with Rhena and her family ~ ah, Bangalore people are so welcoming!

The next day, we were up bright and very early, along with Jyothi and Nancy, in time to watch the sunrise from Bangalore Station as we set off for the 10-hour train journey to Kerala.  There’s nothing boring about spending 10+ hours on a train in S. India, we met and talked to everyone, smiled and played and laughed with the babies, took photos of and with everyone, ate, drank and even shopped onboard.  Ah, it was such fun!

The terminus is at Ernakulam Jn, and from there it’s a short drive to Kochi (Cochin), the centre of the Indian spice trade for many centuries and the first of the European colonies in colonial India, first occupied by the Portuguese in 1503.

We spent 3 nights in a really great guest house in Fort Kochi and visited the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, one of 8 basilicas in Kerala and oozing with history – like everywhere else we visited! Also the Chinese Fishing Nets, and then the Paradesi Synagogue.  This was THE most fascinating place to visit (do check out the Wikipedia page on the Cochin Jews), though no photos were allowed inside. There’s been trade going on between India and Israel since the days of King Solomon, mostly of peacocks, teak, ivory and spices.  The synagogue guidebook says that the first Jews probably arrived in Kerala in King Solomon’s merchant fleet, and “the oldest Tamil word found in any written record in the world appears to be the word for peacock in the Hebrew text of the Book of Kings and Chronicles. The old Tamil word ‘Takai’ became in Hebrew ‘Tuki'”.  These days virtually all the Paradesi Jews have moved to Israel, and there are only 5, 2 men and 3 women, remaining in Kochi (others from the wider Cochin Jewish community remain, but their numbers are dwindling fast too).  We had the honour of meeting one of them, Sarah, who was seated in her living room, next to her shop, where she sells traditional Jewish embroidery. She sang to us one of the ancient songs ~ it was beautiful!  And to finish the day, after a bit of spice shopping over near the CSI church in Ernakulam, we went to St. George’s Mar Thoma Church (facebook page here), founded in 1913, and looking stunning in the sunshine!

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We also went on a boat tour of the famous and very beautiful Kerala backwaters, floating along all morning and disembarking to visit 2 small business ventures, one converting clam shells into lime for use in such things as whitewashing and pharmaceuticals, and the other, the coir industry, converting coconut fibre into ropes.  We were in a group with other tourists, including several independent travelers from Israel and a Punjabi family – parents, daughter, and newly-married son and daughter-in-law ~ it wasn’t a honeymoon they said, this was their ‘family-moon’!

And our final stop was a performance of Kathakali, a traditional ‘story-play’ form of classical Indian dance, which included us watching the make-up session and then a demonstration of how the all-male team use their eyes and hands to convey meaning. Amazing ~ those eyes!

And so back to Bangalore by train, but this time in an A/C compartment, which is definitely more comfortable, but oh so boring by comparison to the one on the outgoing journey to Kerala!

Friday in Bangalore was a day of rest, and our first chance to go to visit my good friends, Varghese and Rachel, Kerala friends from Birmingham days – so wonderful to see them. And then a meet up with Rhena who took us shopping.  The world’s best shopping assistant!  And what a great way to spend Chinese New Year’s Eve – shopping!

On Saturday, the first day of Chinese New Year, we set off by car, again with Jyothi and Nancy, with Driver Joseph at the wheel, for Coorg (Kodagu) ~ a 3-day trip to Madikeri and Mysore, NW of Bangalore.  Met our very first Chinese-speaking group en route, 7 adults and 3 children, all Chinese expats living in Bangalore and working in the IT industry, on their way to Mysore for the weekend.  On the way, we stopped to visit the famous Hindu Temple, Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangapatna, dedicated to a manifestation of the god Vishnu, which saw us join a huge long line of several hundred pilgrims, all of them there to pay homage. No photos inside, this is the outside….

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The journey from Bangalore was uphill all the way to our destination, Madikeri, altitude 1170 m, followed by a visit to Abbey Falls, where we joined thousands of people on a busy Saturday afternoon, including 200 girl guides and boy scouts and their 23 teachers, who all became our best friends within 5 minutes!  Photos galore!  We visited all the sights of Madikeri, the old fort, the viewpoint at Raja’s Seat, the toy train – and did plenty of shopping for spices and coffee.  Note the petrol station pumps covered in tinsel that we passed en route!

Next day was really the highlight of the 3-day trip, and a visit to the Elephant Camp at Dubare.  In 2013,  we had visited but at the wrong time of day, but this time, we were right on time to see the elephants eating and drinking in the river.  Spectacular.  Loved it!

And this was followed by another highlight, the Tibetan Settlements at Bylakuppe, including the Namdroling Monastery – the largest teaching centre of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, with over 5,000 lamas (both monks and nuns), a religious college and hospital.  We met a large group of pilgrims from Himachal Pradesh, the neigbouring state to Tibet, who loved posing for a group photo!

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And so to Mysore via the garden centre for Nancy to buy some plants (from then on, we could always spot our vehicle by the orchids in the back window!), an afternoon visit to the Brindavan Gardens and evening visit to Mysore Palace, all lit up at night, and open for tours during the day.  Loved it!  We also visited St. Philomena’s Cathedral, the Chamundi Hills and Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, before arriving back in Bangalore in time to hit the Monday night rush hour. Ah, such fun – or not, as the case may be.  Anyway it was an experience.  The drivers are amazing, and there are so few accidents – we saw only one minor one on the whole trip!