Tag Archives: Scenery

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2020!

Or as I prefer, the West-East Vertical Traverse! This is THE mountain challenge for all those looking for a day out from Taipei, an 11-hour hike over the 10 mountains in the Yang-Ming Shan range that lie just above Taipei City. It’s effectively a ridge walk, total 26.25 km (16.3 miles), 1,817 m (5961 ft) of ascent and over 53,000 steps in total. And totally worth it!

This post is an adapted version of my previous trip published here on October 28, 2019, but updated because I’ve just done it again, yesterday, April 18, 2020, and also because all 10 summits are now open to the public. The photos below are those taken yesterday too (except for this one, added as a further update, taken on May 1, 2020 of the view of the whole ridge, as seen from Taipei City, actually taken on the Shezidao Bridge at 7:00 am, far left is Mt. Xiangtian).

Yang-Ming Shan range taken from Shezidao Bridge, Taipei City, 7:00 am, May 1, 2020

Spring or autumn is the best time to do this hike, because summer is Qixing too hot (and it rains nearly every afternoon) and winter is too wet. You need a number of dry days before the actual day, otherwise the paths are slippery, especially the roped ones. So yesterday fitted the bill exactly!

The first time I did this hike was in May 2018 (see that account here), but by the next time, in October 2019, the route had slightly changed, with one of the summits (Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 ) closed to the public – to avoid the cattle, which are actually a mix of water buffalo and Tajima cattle, after someone was killed by one. The Mt. Zhugao summit marker post was moved to the highest point on the Lengqing Path, and renamed Jixinlun 雞心崙. Now it’s all open again, though the Jixinlun summit marker is still there – but it is hardly a real summit, so the big challenge lies in including Mt. Zhugao back in the itinerary once again. So that’s what I did yesterday – and just made it on time!

Fortunately the whole hike can be done in more manageable and smaller sections – it divides nicely into 4, which can be done over 4 days or 2. If you take the harder option, and do it all on one day, be prepared for aching limbs for 3 days afterwards – it’s hard work! Check out yesterday’s elevation record….

On each of the summits, there is a marker post, and on the top of each post is a Chinese character in metal ~ use a pencil and paper to do like a brass rubbing (or just take a photo!) Put together in order and these characters make a phrase. The 10 Chinese characters are: Mt. Ding (“陽”), Mt. Shiti (“明”), Jixinlun (“山”), Mt. Qixing East Peak (“東”), Mt. Qixing Main Peak (“西”), Mt. Datun Main Peak (“大”), Mt. Datun South Peak (“縱”), Mt. Datun West Peak (“走”), Mt. Miantian (“活”), and Mt. Xiangtian (“動”). The whole phrase, 陽明山東西大縱走活動 translates as the ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse Activity’. These are the 10 summit posts (left to right in the order I did them), though with Mt Zhugao instead of Jixinlun ….

Although it is titled the East-West Traverse, and the marker posts are numbered in that direction, actually it is easier to do it from west-east, mainly because of the times of the buses. The east end of the hike is a place called Fengguikou 風櫃口. The bus stop is about 1 km down the road from there, at a place called Fengguizui 風櫃嘴. The bus is the small city bus M1 (市民小巴1) from Jiantan MRT Station, and there’s not many of them! Every morning, the first bus leaves Jiantan MRT Station at 6:10 am going up to Fengguizui, taking about 30 minutes. The next bus after that is 10:10 am, so don’t miss it! The Taipei MRT opens at 6:00 am each day, so for those of us further away, it’s impossible to get to Jiantan MRT Station so early.

You also need to know that the final M1 bus of the day from Fengguizui down to Jiantan MRT goes at about 6:10 pm. That is the one to get! If you miss it, you have to walk down much further to Shengren Waterfall Bus Stop where there are many buses, but the road is long and winding, and the short-cut paths are steep – plus by then it’ll be dark, so timing is everything! The other reason for finishing at Fengguikou rather than starting from there is that the final part of the hike may be be long (6 km from Qingtiangang 擎天崗) but it is the least steep part of the whole hike, and after a long day going up and down, it’s nice to take things a bit more easily!

So all in all, I think it’s better to start at the west end of the hike, which is at Qingtian Temple 清天宮登山口 and walk eastwards. The bus you need is the S6 (小6) bus from Beitou MRT, and there are lots of buses all day long, and lots of people on a weekend all queuing for the early buses! Get there early. The earliest I could get to Qingtian Temple on Saturday was at 7:15 am. Qingtian Temple village has a temple or two, a public toilet and a large noticeboard with a map. The whole trail is very well-signposted as long as you know the order of the mountains. The trails on Yang-Ming Shan were mostly built in the Japanese Era, and they were built to last forever, mostly of stone. This is the view from Qingtian Temple Trail-head over towards Guanyinshan…

The trail from Qingtian Temple to the first summit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 takes just over an hour, going via the usually-water-less Xiangtian Pond. The path is nearly all in the trees, and among the bamboo, so it’s shady – but also slippery in wet weather…

On the way, you pass the Memorial Stone to Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito, erected in honour of his visit to the area in 1923 and his marriage the following year…

I was on the grassy summit of Mt. Xiangtian (949 m) by about 8:40 am – check out the Oldhams Azalea (Rhododendron oldhamii) – endemic to Taiwan and in flower all over the mountains at this time of year….

Twenty minutes later, I reached Summit 2, Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) at 9:00 am. There’s a viewpoint and raised rest area there, 2 huge microwave reflectors and views down to St. John’s University and the whole northern coast – but it was hazy. No problem, it saved me time not taking so many photos, and time was a bit of the essence!

Taking the path straight down from Mt. Miantian leads back to the main path. Turn right for about 10 minutes heading to Miantianping 面天坪, where there’s a pavilion always full of people enjoying a day out. The path up to Mt. Datun West and South Peaks (and eventually to Mt. Datun Main Peak) starts here, on the left. The Datun Mountain range 大屯山 lies ahead. This is the steepest part of the whole hike coming up. Bring some cheap gloves to cling onto the fixed ropes that are provided to help you haul yourself up and down. Yesterday it was very slippery, and without ropes would have been a nightmare. But be prepared for aching arms and shoulders!

The ascent of Mt. Datun West Peak 大屯西峰 is steep and exhilarating, with lots of large rocks to get over. The top (985 m) is mostly rocks too, and the descent is equally steep, so it’s better to go down backwards. At the bottom, head on to Mt. Datun South Peak 大屯南峰, which is a shorter but even steeper climb than West Peak…

However once you get to the summit (959 m), that’s it with the ropes (and the gloves), they won’t be needed any more on this hike. The descent is much easier. The path brings you out ready to hike up to Mt. Datun Main Peak 大屯主峰, which is a bit of a slog up endless stone steps. The summit (1076 m) is high up above the path, there’s a viewpoint, and it’s the top of the road for the cyclists who like to come up on their bikes from Taipei. On Saturday, it was mostly foggy, so no views, but on a clear day the views of Taipei are great. You can drive up here by car, but not during the butterfly season, which is happening now. By then it was almost 11:30 am. 5 mountains down, 5 to go. We’re half way along – yes!

Then follows a long walk down from Mt. Datun Main Peak, either by road, or by path to the Anbu Entrance. I took the path, it comes out at the road, and there you turn right. Heading to the next big mountain, Mt. Qixing ~ and it is easier (but definitely not so pleasant) to walk along the main road. There are buses, cars and cyclists coming from all directions, but following the trail along down below the road is mossy and often slippery, and takes ages. I walked along the road – to the junction, then cross over and turn left, walk up to the car-park and up over the small grassy hill – spurred on by the call of the coffee shop at Xiaoyoukeng!

At Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑遊客服務站, the fumaroles were spouting forth tons of yellow and white sulphur gases, stinking the place out. They are fun to check out. There’s also a visitor’s center (with maps, displays, water machines to refill water bottles, and friendly National Park people to answer all your questions), toilets and coffee shop. Due to the coronavirus precautions, like all government buildings, there is someone on duty to check temperatures of those coming in to the center to fill up the water bottles – and you need to wear a face-mask. Face-masks are also compulsory on all public transport – never go out without one!

From here, spurred on by coffee, it’s time to launch forth up the highest mountain of the day, Mt. Qixing 七星主峰. The newly-restored path is beautiful. This is always the place with the most people, and the youngest people – groups of students, young couples and families. And yes, it was heaving, but it’s not a difficult climb, in fact it’s fairly manageable even for people more used to walking in high heels on city streets, hence the vast numbers of people going up at the weekends. I got to the top (1120 m) at about 1:30 pm, and there was a line of about 30 people queuing to take photos at the big summit post.

About 20 minutes later, I got to the top of the Mt. Qixing East Peak七星東峰 (1107 m). From there, the descent is long. I got to the Lengshuikeng Visitor’s Center 冷水坑遊客服務站 at about 2:45 pm, time to refill the water bottles and cool down. But time was moving on – gotta get to that bus! But first I had to go to Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 via Jixinlun 雞心崙, the highest point on the Lengqing Path. You walk eastwards from the visitor’s center on the path, cross the bridge and turn right towards the pond. At the pond, turn left up the steep steps. At the top of the steps, turn right, and about 5 minutes later is a viewpoint, and the marker is positioned there. Then on to Qingtiangang 擎天崗, which was also full of people. Everyone was there to relax on the grass, eat picnics and see the cattle. There were plenty of big fat buffalo, all lazing around, and all very smelly – these ones in the photo are Tajima cattle…

Eight summits down, two to go. At this point many people give up and go home by bus. The next section and challenge is to cover 6 km (plus a further 1 km by path / road to the bus stop) to get to the eastern end of the trail at Fengguikou. But this is also the nicest part in many ways. The trail alternates between forest and grassland, finally getting to the summit of Mt. Shiti / Shitiling 石梯嶺 (863 m). Beautiful! By then I was running very late, and only got to the final summit, Mt. Ding 頂山 (768 m) at 5:20 pm, so it was non-stop action from there, on down to Fengguikou Trail Head 風櫃口登山口. At the car-park, there’s a path immediately to the right that goes from the trail head to cut off the winding road.

I arrived at the Fengguizui Bus Stop just as the bus appeared – it goes up to the terminus, turns round and comes back and picks up all the people at about 6:15 pm. Five minutes later and I would have missed it, and would have faced a long walk down that steep hill to the Shengren Waterfall bus-stop. Phew, was I relieved!

This is a highly-recommended but a bit-of-a-killer hike and I am expecting to be aching for the next week! Very grateful for cool-ish weather, not much sun, hardly any real mud, ropes, dry paths, friendly people, hot coffee, easy access, good and cheap public transport, friendly and knowledgeable National Park staff, clear signposts, spring flowers, energy, free time and strength – and especially in this time of the coronavirus when so many other people in the world are in lockdown, grateful that here we are, free to do a whole day of hiking in the mountains. Thanks be to God!

Above the Sea of Clouds: Taiwan’s Elections from afar…

Yesterday was THE day!  The weather forecast was sunny, warm and dry, it was a very rare free Saturday and the beautiful Yang-ming Shan Mountains above Taipei were calling.   At 7:00 am, it was just light as I set off on the trail upwards into the clouds, complete with gloves for the roped sections ahead, and plenty of coffee to keep me going.  Ever hopeful that the forecast would be right, I ventured forth – and so it turned out to be, at the top of Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) where there are 2 huge microwave reflectors, I could look down onto a massive and beautiful sea of white clouds covering the whole of the northern coast, including St. John’s University and most of Taipei City.  Misty memories came back of the last time I was on Yang-ming Shan at the end of October 2019 to do the ‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-mIng Shan East-West Traverse’ ~ a killer hike and yes, mostly done in the mist. Yesterday turned out to be beautiful weather all day – cloud down below, blue sky above. And so the good weather continued – onto the summits of Mt. Datun 大屯山, Datun west, south and main peaks. The skies were blue, the clouds were white and the views were incredible.

And there were hardly any people.  Usually on a sunny Saturday all through the year there will be thousands of people on Yang-ming Shan hiking, walking, enjoying the hot springs, relaxing with family and friends.  After all, it is just so easy to get there from Taipei City by car or public transport, so there is really no excuse for NOT going!  But not yesterday.  It’s true that one of the roads was closed for repair after recent heavy rains, but even so, there were hardly any people anywhere to be seen.  Even Erziping with its famous lake and picnic site in the swirling mists had only a few people there…

Later, I did find out that one of my friends was following the same route as me, but a bit later in the morning – and by the time she got there at lunchtime, the sea of clouds had dispersed a bit.  And it was a bit of a surprise to bump into one of my adult students on the top of Mt. Datun, although Yang-ming Shan is that kind of place – anyway, it’s her who kindly took this photo ha ha! 

And the reason for there not being many people up in the mountains?  Election Day!  Down in Taipei and all over the country, people were lining up since 7:00 am to get in and vote in Taiwan’s 2020 Presidential and Legislative Elections.  Campaigning has been going for months, and it couldn’t be livelier.  Billboards, loudspeakers, TV appearances, campaign rallies, it’s been pretty non-stop all day long, and they cover every aspect – so it is impossible not to be involved.  Held once every 4 years, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was standing for a second term. 

Taiwan has no postal voting or voting by proxy, so the 14 million citizens who were qualified to vote had to travel home to the place of their household registration, which meant a mass exodus out of Taipei for the weekend.  St. John’s University and all other universities finished their term on Friday, allowing students to return home to vote.  Thousands more came home from overseas, combining the election with a pre-Chinese New Year visit to family and friends.  Democracy and the right to vote are cherished, and the level of enthusiasm was clear.  Yes, it was a very BIG day for Taiwan!

Thankfully voting went peacefully, and by early evening, it was clear that President Tsai had won a second term.  She received 8.2 million votes, 57% of the ballot, which is over a million more votes than she got first-time round in 2016. Her main rival, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) won 5.5 million votes, 38 % of the ballot.  The DPP also won a majority of seats in the Legislature with 61 seats, the KMT took 38, and smaller parties took the remaining 14. 

We give thanks to God for safe and smooth elections yesterday, and please do keep President Tsai and her government in your prayers as she starts a second term. For more information, see the following news reports:

Taipei Times: 2020 Elections: Tsai wins by a landslide and 2020 Elections: DPP maintains its legislative majority

The Guardian Int’l Edition: Taiwan election: Tsai Ing-Wen wins landslide in rebuke to China

BBC: Taiwan election: Tsai Ing-wen wins second presidential term

And Taiwan’s next big event, coming up soon: Chinese New Year! Spring is coming too. The cherry blossom was coming out yesterday, and there are ponkan trees everywhere covered in fruits…

Ponkan 椪柑 ‘Chinese Honey Orange’ – a citrus hybrid (mandarin × pomelo), and just so delicious!

Must-Visit: Badouzi and Shenao Elephant Trunk Rock!🐘🐘🐘

Taiwan’s N. E. Coast on a sunny day is THE place to go, and especially Chaojing Park 潮境公園 at Badouzi 八斗子 in Keelung, and Shenao Elephant Trunk Rock 深澳象鼻岩 in Ruifang. They make for a great day trip from Taipei: it’s become a must-see, must-go place for everyone. And not wanting to miss out on what’s going on, so we had to go too!

From St. John’s University, that area of Taiwan’s NE coast is about 60 km away, that’s 90+ minutes drive on a good day, but at least double that if you go by public transport – that’s us! There’s 2 ways to go, either round the northern coast through Keelung on the No. 862 bus – but on a Saturday morning that bus is slow and full of people going shopping in Keelung – so instead, we went through Taipei, by bus and MRT to Yuanshan, where we took the No. 1579 bus, which runs every 15 minutes from Yuanshan MRT Station, destination Badouzi. It takes an hour, avoids us changing in Keelung and is really comfortable, a win-win!

Badouzi area has lots of little ports full of fishing boats, many with lights for attracting squid on night-fishing trips…

We headed first to Chaojing Park… plenty of hills to climb, cafes, playgrounds, things to see and do, even a red temple…

It turns out, in this article here that, “This rugged headland ….. was an island until the 1930s. The Japanese colonial authorities filled in the trench between the island and the “mainland” so they could build a power station. The plant burned coal until 1981. Much later, its shell was re-purposed into part of the marine museum”. That museum is the ‘National Museum of Marine Science and Technology‘ (國立海洋科技博物館), but we had no time to go there – we were too busy enjoying the fine weather outside! The views below are from Badouzi across the bay towards Shenao in the foreground, while in the far distance are the mountains surrounding the old mining town of Jiufen, once known as ‘Little Shanghai’, and now a major tourist destination – I was there only a few weeks ago. Just don’t go to Jiufen on a weekend, especially by bus, you’ll never get out!

Next stop was Badouzi Railway Station, possibly Taiwan’s most scenic railway station – though there’s also a similar view from the one at Duoliang in Taitung, it’s also right on the sea, so, well, it’s a bit competitive!

The railway was built to serve the local mining industry of coal, gold and copper, but these days it runs for tourists, and we happened to arrive at Badouzi Station just as one of the hourly trains was in…

Then a bus turned up and we got on and headed to Shenao Fishing Port. From a distance, the cliff face looks a bit like a face outline of a very unfriendly giant…

There were lots of fishing boats – and fishermen relaxing on a sunny Saturday afternoon…..

Shenao is a major stop for tour buses – and for people going to see the Elephant Trunk Rock, at the end of the promontory… an impressive sight eh?!

Until last year, unbelievably, the whole rock – the head of the elephant – was completely open to people walking all over it, until someone fell off and was killed in October 2018. Fortunately it is now roped off and a lifeguard is on duty. Most of the visitors are older rather than younger, and there is no fixed path to get there, so everyone staggers from rock to rock – we even met one lady in high-heeled shoes! 🤔 The rocks are the same as at Yehliu, all mushroom shaped – and that is Keelung Island in the distance..

The views over towards Jiufen are spectacular…

From there we tried to get back to Keelung, but after waiting ages for a bus, a lady taxi-driver pulled over, and as she had a cross in her windscreen too, so we went with her to Keelung where she dropped us at the Miaokou Temple Night Market – the journey cost about NT$ 300, but there were 3 of us, so it was well worth it. She said buses are few and far between on weekend afternoons, and they are all full and take ages cos there’s so many people trying to get home. Anyway, she started out as one of only 2 lady taxi drivers in Keelung 30 years ago, but now there’s 50-60 of them. That’s quite a lot of lady taxi drivers for such a relatively small place like Keelung. She was just starting work that day, she works mostly late afternoons and well into the night, cos there’s more customers then, and yes she’s a committed Christian. She had quite a testimony! And she told us the best things to eat at the night market too – crab, oyster omelette, sandwich, pao-pao-bing and tempura. We tried them all except the crab. Very good! And from there we got the No. 862 bus back to St. John’s University, which took 90 minutes – in the dark.

Y’know, it always seems a very long way to Taiwan’s far NE coast past Keelung; it takes ages to get there and back, but it’s worth it, especially on a sunny day! The weather was really amazing. Warm and sunny but with a nice breeze. I had my 2 friends, Ah-Guan and Miao-Shia with me. It was their idea to go, but my cellphone that got us around ~ ah it was fun! They are from Taichung in central Taiwan – where sadly these days they say there are hardly any days with a deep blue sky – it’s all hazy, cos of the poor air quality. Anyway, they’re so happy to be here!

And the highlight of the day? It must be that elephant rock, oh and the views over towards Jiufen. What a place! We have an elephant rock here and an elephant mountain in Taipei. So if you like big grey animals, do come and visit! This was the wall mural in Shenao …

Ah yes, we just love our elephants! 🐘🐘🐘

富貴角燈塔 Fuguijiao Lighthouse @ Taiwan’s Northern Tip!

Only 12 km up the road from St. John’s University is the northern tip of Taiwan, easily accessible by bus and then a 15-minute walk, which leads to the Fuguijiao Lighthouse 富貴角燈塔 .

The original lighthouse was built by the Japanese in 1897, apparently the first one built in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era ~ this one was put up in 1962. On the lighthouse compound are unused lookout posts, pillbox-style and the lighthouse is right next to an army base, but the grounds have been open to the public since 2015. It’s famous for its foghorn, much in use during winter. On a sunny day, it’s pretty spectacular – these photos were taken a few days ago, just after 4:00 pm – check out the lighthouse sundial.

Just wishing every winter day on Taiwan’s northern coast could have weather like this!

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!

From Latin America and the Caribbean to St. John’s University, Taiwan ~ Welcome!

Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines ~ all countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and all countries that have sent some of their very lovely people to participate in 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”, hosted by St. John’s University (SJU). Welcome! The official opening ceremony was on Friday August 16, when everyone was welcomed by SJU vice-president, Dr. Wang, on behalf of President Ay (see photo above) and the different groups posed with their flags….

The whole project is organized by the ‘TaiwanICDF‘ ( Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund) a government-funded organization: ‘In its pursuit of international cooperation, and to advance the Republic of China’s diplomatic interests, the founding principles of the TaiwanICDF require the organization to pursue a mission of “working for humanity, sustainable development, and economic progress.”’

Their visit lasts 11 weeks, and the 18 participants (16 men, 2 women) have signed up for the English-language program, while a further group are coming next month for the French-language program, mostly from Haiti. They are mature students, some are teachers of electrical and / or electronic engineering in vocational institutes, others are in private enterprise; all hope to upgrade their skills to better serve their people back home ~ and to make the most of the visit to broaden their horizons and expand their knowledge of Taiwan. They are very committed, seriously keen and very enthusiastic about making the most of their time in Taiwan. So far, they’ve had introductory language classes and calligraphy, and have already started on the formal (but very practical) engineering classes ~ hydro-power, indoor wiring, plumbing, industrial control power distribution, electronic technology and solar photo-voltaic systems, plus visiting companies and institutions related to their training. So far, so good, and they are all very positive about everything!

I offered to help on some of their outings ~ on their first full day it included health check-ups and a visit to the local supermarket, Carrefour for stocking up with supplies. On Saturday August 17, we all went on a sightseeing tour of the local town of Tamsui, visiting the Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort San Domingo, Aletheia Univeristy and Tamsui Old Street to discover the history, and get to know the area. It was very hot ~ but breezy, yeah!

Last Friday, I went with the group to visit the 2019 ‘Taipei International Industrial Automaton Exhibition’ at the Nangang Exhibition Centre on the other side of Taipei. It was really high-tech stuff, full of robots and machines that could do all sorts of amazing things, and in the afternoon, we met up with one of our alumni for a tour of the Siemens exhibition.

Tropical Storm Bailu was due to cross Taiwan on Saturday, and on Friday afternoon, it was typical pre-typhoon weather, alternating rain and sun ~ and it so happened that after the Expo at Nangang we went with the group to visit Taiwan’s highest building, Taipei 101. What views ~ and what rainbows! It was incredible.

Actually, we were standing right in the centre of the rainbow, which went round in almost a whole circle – but my camera couldn’t get it all in one photo. This photo below was taken at the same time and posted on the official Taipei 101 facebook page, so you can see what we were really looking at – a real wow moment!

Yesterday, Monday, we had a sightseeing trip to Taiwan’s NE coast, up above Keelung, to the old mining towns of Jinguashi, Jiufen, Shifen and Jingtong. A real luxury to go everywhere by coach for the day rather than on and off public transport, as it was hot, hot hot! We had a wonderful day with a very professional guide, and we saw and did everything. The trip was originally planned for a Saturday, but due to the crowds, it was changed to a Monday, and still there were lots of people around ~ with a really good atmosphere… fun!

So a very big ‘Welcome to Taiwan’ to all our visitors. We’re all really looking forward to more trips out and about, and discovering all the wonderful delights that Taiwan has to offer – YES!

Kinmen 金門: Transforming War into Peace @ The Home of the Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses!

My first ever visit to the Kinmen Islands – YES!

Artillery Shells, Kinmen

Kinmen 金門 (aka Quemoy / Chinmen / Chin-men), one of Taiwan’s farthest-flung islands, is where the 823 Artillery Shell Bombardment 八二三炮戰 happened in 1958 as part of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, when an estimated 450,000 artillery shells were fired at the Kinmen Islands. It’s also where the Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai had his vision in 2016 to transform some of those artillery shells into crosses, a symbol of hatred and war now transformed into a symbol of love and peace.  The Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Workshop 金合利, founded in 1963 in Kinmen, uses the discarded artillery shells to make high-quality steel blades for both kitchen and ornamental use. Maestro Wu, grandson of the founder, now runs the company, and he kindly offered his expertise to work with Bishop Lai on the design and production of the prototype crosses.  To produce lighter-weight crosses, he suggested using moulds, and this was done by sending the artillery shell steel to another factory elsewhere.  This project of the Taiwan Episcopal Church has now been fully realized, and while I was in the UK on home leave this past year, I presented Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses to many church leaders. This included acting on behalf of Bishop Lai to present one to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Bishop Lai himself led a delegation from the National Council of Churches of Taiwan to the Vatican in December 2017, where he was able to present one to Pope Francis.   This is Maestro Wu’s workshop in Kinmen – the smell of the smelters in the workshop is really strong!

But y’know, until now, I had never actually visited Kinmen.  So you can imagine how excited I was when Bishop Lai invited me to join this church visit to Kinmen for 29 members and friends of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, from May 20-22, 2019!  His purpose on this visit was firstly to visit Maestro Wu to thank him for his help…

Secondly to visit the Zhaishan Tunnel翟山坑道 in Kinmen to sing our specially-composed Artillery Shell Cross hymn, and thirdly to visit Dadan Island 大膽島, open to the public only since March 2019.  This is everyone in the Zhaishan Tunnel….

Thanks be to God that, through His mercy and grace, we accomplished all that we wanted to do in Kinmen!  But as we arrived at Songshan Airport in Taipei City on Monday May 20 at 7:00 am to check in for the 8:00 am hour-long flight to Kinmen, we wondered whether we would even get off the ground.  The Plum Rains were here in full force; outside was torrential rain (in fact we learned later that flash-flooding caused St. John’s University to cancel classes that day), while we also heard that Kinmen Airport was closed and over 1,000 people had been stranded in Kinmen overnight waiting for the weather to improve.  The 7:00 am flight to Kinmen was first delayed, then cancelled, and we feared ours would be next. Down south in Kaohsiung, 7 of our group were already stranded at the airport there as their flight to Kinmen really was cancelled, so all they could do was wait on standby for a spare seat.  Our group at Taipei was 22 people, far too many to all get to Kinmen on standby if our flight was to be cancelled too.  Aaaah!  Then suddenly at about 8:30 am, the announcement came that we could proceed to check in our luggage and onwards to boarding.  YES!

And our group from Taipei have arrived at Kinmen!

The skies were dark as we started to fly west over the Taiwan Strait towards Kinmen.  But as we got closer, blue sky emerged up above, and by the time we arrived, the rain had stopped.  But it did continue to rain on and off all day, mostly heavily.  Fortunately our group from Kaohsiung also all managed to get there in the end, although it took until about 2:00 pm before the last 2 arrived.  Here we all are, united at the ceramics factory – possibly our only group photo of 28/29 of us (taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu, one of our group) …

Like many islands in this part of the world, Kinmen has a complicated history.  “Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949, the government of the Republic of China (ROC) under Chiang Kai-shek began withdrawing its forces from mainland China to Taiwan. However, ROC garrisons remained stationed on the islands of Kinmen and Matsu, located off the coast in Fujian Province.”  In fact, the Kinmen Islands were so heavily militarized that, at its peak, an estimated 100,000 troops were stationed there.  Many hundreds of thousands of Taiwan men have done their military service in Kinmen, including our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang. For years, military service was 2 years, so Kinmen made a deep impression on those serving there.  These days, the total number of military personnel in the whole of the Kinmen Islands numbers less than 5,000.  What a difference! But there are the remnants of army bases, equipment, museums, guard posts and military memorials all over Kinmen.  Many of these more obvious memorials are standing right in the middle of roundabouts – guess it makes moving military equipment easier if there’s a roundabout rather than a sharp corner, anyway Kinmen has more roundabouts on that one single island than I have ever seen in the whole of the rest of Taiwan. 

Kinmen is located in Xiamen Bay, at the mouth of the Jiulong River, 227 km west of Taiwan, but only 10 km east of Xiamen.  Xiamen is a huge port city in China, population 3,500,000 (census of 2010), and formerly known as Amoy – it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912.  The main Greater Kinmen Island is shaped like a dumbbell or a butterfly (depending on your imagination); the narrowest part is 3 km wide, and at the widest part, east-west, it is 20 km.  There’s also the neigbouring island of Small / Lesser Kinmen 小金門, and the much smaller islands of Dadan, Erdan and more. 

Sadly Kinmen has been very badly deforested by all the political chaos, civil wars and centuries of pirate attacks, so instead of being protected by its forests, it is now famous for its northeast monsoon winds that roar around all autumn and winter and make cultivation very difficult.  All over Kinmen are Wind Lion God statues, originally installed to protect against wind damage, and now also believed to protect against evil spirits… 

And then there’s the cows – like roundabouts, it seems as if there’s more cows in tiny Kinmen than in the whole of Taiwan.  They’re on every grassy bit of field, all individually tied up and with their own bucket of water, and all with their own personality!

For me, the most interesting things in Kinmen are the old houses.  There’s old houses all over Taiwan, but nothing like the ones in Kinmen. I expected to see a few, but there are thousands.  Most of them are well-preserved and still inhabited, others have been converted to guest houses and holiday cottages. Their style is traditional Fujian, with swallowtail or horseback-shaped ridges on their roofs.  They are stunning – and I couldn’t get enough of ‘em!

Tourism is now a major source of income for Kinmen people, and being so close to Xiamen means that trade with China is booming.  The water supply even comes from there, via a pipeline, installed in 2018. The Kinmen government has invested a lot of money in developing the islands for tourism and trying to attract their people to move back from Taiwan and China. Business is good, and there are supermarkets and department stores, big houses and luxury developments.  Kinmen is also famous for the production of Kaoliang wine, made from sorghum, and at this time of year the fields of sorghum have just been harvested.  Food production also includes oysters, and out on the beach at low tide are vast oyster farms – the sky was hazy, but in the distance we could just see the skyscrapers of Xiamen.

On our arrival on Monday May 20, we went to the visitor centre, to the Zhaishan Tunnel (constructed between 1961-66 to keep military boats safe from attack), where we sang our artillery shell hymn, to the ceramics factory and then to Shishan (Mt. Lion) Howitzer Front獅山砲陣地 where we had a demo of artillery shells being fired from the Howitzer, which has a firing range of 17 km, and was used in the 823 Artillery Bombardment.  In the torrential rain, we also visited the cultural park.  Most of these places were inside – so fortunate – seeing as the rain kept on pouring down!

We were staying at a guest house called 璞真民宿, located in Jinning Township, in the NW of Kinmen and owned by Mr. Kao, a relative of one of our church members in Taipei.  He arranged all our itinerary for us, and we also very much enjoyed his wife’s home-cooked breakfasts – and the chance to use his main room for evening worship. Here he is with Bishop Lai, drinking tea…

Early on Tuesday morning, I was up early to walk around the area. Fields of peanuts, tractors, temples and so many old houses to take photos of – oh yes, and a deer ranch! 

On our third day in Kinmen, I was up early again for sunrise over the fish farms, and walked along to the nearby villages of Nanshan and Beishan…

And the very nearby Li Guang-Qian General Temple 李光前將軍廟. General Li Guang-Qian was the highest ranking officer in the Battle of Guningtou, and his statue is now installed as the main deity…. 

“The Battle of Guningtou 古寧頭之役, also known as the Battle of Kinmen 金門戰役, was a battle fought over Kinmen in the Taiwan Strait during the Chinese Civil War in October 1949. Commanders of the PRC People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believed that Kinmen and Matsu had to be taken before a final assault on Taiwan.  The PLA planned to attack Kinmen by launching a first attack with 9,000 troops to establish a beachhead, before landing a second force of roughly 10,000 on Greater Kinmen Island, expecting to take the entire island in three days”. But the PLA completely underestimated the number of Nationalist ROC troops on Kinmen, and they landed at high tide so their vessels were beached and they couldn’t return for reinforcements. By the third day they had run out of food and ammunition.  “The failure of the Communists to take the island left it in the hands of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) and crushed their chances of taking Taiwan to destroy the Nationalists completely in the war”.   

Just near the village of Beishan, where much of the fighting took place, is the marker for the Battle of Guningtou, in front of one of the houses badly damaged in the battle… 

Nearby is the Guningtou Museum and its famous Peace Bell…

We also visited the oyster farm at low tide and the nearby beach…

And also on our trip, we visited the Deyue Tower, and the old houses belonging to the overseas Chinese community…

Also the Juguang Tower, Kinmen’s iconic landmark, built in 1953 as a memorial for Kinmen’s fallen soldiers in the Battle of Guningtou 4 years earlier – seen as a token of Kinmen’s spirit, and for many years used as an image on Taiwan’s postage stamps. And I just love the Kinmen telephone boxes, with the Chinese characters for Kinmen 金門 above…

We visited Rushan Visitor Centre and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Memorial Hall 蔣經國先生紀念 (ROC president 1978-1988) where there were displays of military might, and quite surprisingly a lovely pine forest to walk around in.