Tag Archives: Scenery

Cicada Summer: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die” やがてしぬけしきはみえずせみのこゑMatsuo Basho, Japan (1690)

Cicada

What a great attitude to have, and especially in the midst of a pandemic! Follow the way of the cicada. Live life as noisily, joyfully and enthusiastically as possible, even if you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. And even if you hate injections. Don’t look, just keep on pressing that camera shutter, and before y’know it, it’s all over!

There’s 4 of these photos, all slightly different, ha ha! 😂

Anyway, this haiku poem by Matsuo Basho really made me laugh, and it feels like it should end in an exclamation mark, cos it is just so true. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die! The cry of the cicada is truly deafening, and it goes on from dawn to dusk, all summer long. On some nights, in the early hours, a sleepless cicada will call for a few minutes and wake up the whole neighbourhood. It sounds like a continuous loud buzz, and apparently can reach 90 decibels, which is a similar frequency to lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and food blenders spinning at top speed. It is the defining sound of summer, and here in Taiwan people say that summer only really starts when the cicadas appear.

This is 20 seconds of their sound I recorded a few days ago down by the sea below St. John’s University. Just listen….

Now in mid-July, the cicadas are coming to the end of their short adult lives. While the tree tops are still full of their sound, down below at ground level, dead and dying adults are starting to fall.

Otherwise they are very difficult to see, though one of our cherry blossom trees finds itself a gathering place (feeding / egg-laying?) for the cicada adults. They let out strong distress calls and take off if someone approaches too close, so I prefer to view them from a distance…

“Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts 2–5 years. After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig where she deposits her eggs. Both male and female cicadas die within a few weeks after emerging from the soil. Although they have mouthparts and are able to consume some plant liquids for nutrition, the amount eaten is very small and the insects have a natural adult lifespan of less than two months. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground and burrow. Nymphs have strong front legs for digging and excavating chambers in close proximity to roots, where they feed on xylem sap. In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then moult, shedding their skins on a nearby plant for the last time, and emerge as adults. The exuviae or abandoned exoskeletons remain, still clinging to the bark of the tree.”

Their abandoned exoskeletons do indeed remain, clinging to the bark of the tree trunks….

They seem like ghosts of time past, and only when you peer inside through their backs, can you see that each one is split open, empty, the body gone. And all around overhead come the calls of the newly-emerged adults shouting down to us to stop wasting our time looking at their empty shells, and instead to look up and see them buzzing around in the tree tops. We’re not down there, they seem to say, we’re up here. Alive and full of hope. Some say they are symbols of resurrection and immortality, the abandoned exoskeletons perhaps reminding us of the abandoned grave clothes in Jesus’ tomb. There are some similarities. But I prefer to think of them more as symbols of transformation, because the nymph, the body inside that abandoned exoskeleton, was not dead, but rather growing and maturing, changing, transforming into an adult. A bit like the caterpillar in the cocoon emerging as a beautiful butterfly.

Anyway, one thing is for sure, absolutely nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die. They have such enthusiasm and passion for life!

It was Gandhi who said, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever’. That’s our challenge!

In the plant world, it’s also coming to the end of the flowering season, with the lotus flowers fading and the seed pods ready for harvest…

And here in Taiwan, we also hope that we are coming to the end to this recent Covid surge. Our case numbers have been going down each week, and we’re now down to less than 30 cases a day, sometimes less than 20.

Overall statistics are 15,378 confirmed cases, of which 13,931 are domestic infections reported since May 15; and 763 deaths, all but 12 of them since May 15 when the current surge began.

As there is still community transmission happening, so the central government has announced that Level 3 alert (of a 4-tier system) continues for a further 2 weeks, but with some restrictions lifted, like the opening of the great outdoors, including parks and mountain hiking trails. Some indoor areas too are opening, like museums, cinemas and some gyms where numbers can be strictly controlled, though with no eating or drinking allowed. The central government also announced the opening up of indoor dining in restaurants, subject to strict guidelines, but all local governments (except for the island chain of Penghu), encouraged by the general public, are treading cautiously and have delayed that decision at the local level for another 2 weeks.

Throughout Taiwan, facemasks are still required outside the home and life continues to be based mostly at home or as local as possible. Facemasks are impossible when swimming, so swimming pools and beaches are still closed. Our local seaside area apparently doesn’t qualify as a beach, so it is spared, and the raised walkway is popular with our local neighbours first thing in the morning for fishing – and exercise. Me too, I’m going every day, usually soon after 5 am, when the sun comes up. Living on the west coast means that we are used to chasing sunsets rather than sunrises, but still, it is possible to get a good view if we get there early enough! These photos are taken from dawn to dusk….

The very good news is that Taiwan’s vaccination program has really moved along in the last few weeks with the arrival of millions of doses donated primarily by Japan and USA, plus some ordered and paid for directly by Taiwan. First dose rounds for the over 65s are more or less complete, and vaccination for the next age group, 50-64 year-olds launched today. I was there, very excited, in Sanzhi Junior High School!

It has taken Taiwan a long time to get to this stage in the vaccination program, and not because Taiwan is a poor country. The money is there to pay for vaccines ordered. But questions about Taiwan’s international status, with possible pressure from Mainland China on governments and on the vaccine companies have resulted in long delays. And with local vaccines now on Phase 3 trials overseas, so we continue to wait for them too. But now, Japan and the USA have each sent Taiwan several million vaccines, and smaller numbers have come from Lithuania and Slovakia, at least partly in response to Taiwan’s generosity last year in sending out donations of facemasks around the world. Astra-Zeneca (AZ) and Moderna are the only 2 kinds that have arrived so far, and for our age group only AZ is available for the next few weeks…

It is true that the USA has not authorized AZ vaccines for public use within the USA, and so is sending them all overseas, and while Japan has approved AZ for the over 60’s, the take up in Japan has been low, so they too are sending many overseas. There are plenty of other countries queuing up with their requests for vaccines, so it is good that Taiwan is high on their list. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’, as they say, so most of us are happy to take what Japan and the US don’t want, and people who are worried about the possibility of terrible side-effects are waiting for Moderna in a few weeks’ time. Having waited so long, and watched the rest of the world getting their vaccines months ago, so there is a certain air of excitement as everyone registers online, gets their text message to say to go ahead and book, then choosing the time and place for the appointment – plus show off the obligatory photos, taken before and almost after….

Yes, it’s a great feeling to be finally catching up with the rest of the world in the vaccination program. We have learned from this recent Covid surge that complacency is dangerous, and that we cannot just rely on strict border controls in the future. It is up to us all to do our bit, to work together for the good of society as a whole. Seeing everyone’s enthusiasm to sign up for vaccinations, even AZ vaccine with its famous side-effects, is really quite amazing. Hope is renewed.

Frangipani

It all takes me right back to the cicadas and their enthusiasm to celebrate life, even though they are soon about to die. I guess they don’t worry too much about that. Once they break out of those old exoskeletons and fly off to the tree tops, transformed, so they leave behind all the old stuff that contained and restricted them for so long. For just these few weeks, they are free to fly around and fill the world with their cries as they try and find a mate, and so start the cycle again. For us, the transformation may be less physical. After all, much as we might like to break out from all that contains and limits us under Taiwan’s current Level 3 Restrictions, it is impossible. For one thing, everywhere we go, even in the high humidity and 35°C temps of summer, and even in the remotest place, like the newly-opened-up mountain trails, we still have to wear a facemask. And if people don’t, then we worry about getting too close to them. So, any transformation for us will have to happen in our minds and hearts.

Maybe that’s where faith comes in, as we pray for God to release us from our fears, worries and despair about the pandemic, even as it continues to worsen for our friends in neigbouring countries of Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. May God transform our fears and worries into faith, and our despair into hope and joy. And may we celebrate with the cicadas the joy of just being alive here and now, filled with hope in this present moment!

Advent Church Centre & Labyrinth

Thank you again for your ongoing concern and prayers, all much appreciated ~ and if I have any side-effects from today’s vaccine, I’ll let you know next time. Until then, enjoy this photo of dawn breaking over Advent Church at 5:00 am this morning….. it was such a stunning sight!

(With the exception of the first cicada photo, which I took last year, all photos were taken this month in or around St. John’s University, Taiwan)

PS Updated July 18, 2021: I have since been reminded by my Taiwan friends of the phrase, ‘金蟬脫殼’: 1) lit. the cicada sheds its carapace (idiom); fig. to vanish leaving an empty shell 2) a crafty escape plan. Wikipedia describes it thus: “The cicada symbolises rebirth and immortality in Chinese tradition. In the Chinese essay “Thirty-Six Stratagems“, the phrase “to shed the golden cicada skin” (金蟬脫殼) is the poetic name for using a decoy (leaving the exuviae) to fool enemies.” More food for thought!

🐛 The Very Hungry Caterpillar ….. and other news from Taiwan 🦋

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf. One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar….” 🐛 So runs the opening of one of the world’s most famous children’s books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“He started to look for some food. On Monday he ate through one apple. But he was still hungry…”

It’s been in the news these past few weeks because the author, Eric Carle sadly died on May 23, aged 91.

And what a book it is! The art work in The Very Hungry Caterpillar is spectacular, with layers of brightly-coloured collage arranged in irregular shapes, with holes in the paper where the caterpillar eats through different fruits each day. I’ve read it hundreds of times to children in at least 4 different schools on 3 different continents, and they all love it, as do parents and teachers the world over!

At its heart, this is the story of the life cycle of a butterfly 🦋 but along the way the children learn all sorts of other things, like the days of the week, colors, numbers, names of fruits and exotic things to eat. They even learn about healthy eating, and what happens if you’re greedy and eat too much – because after 5 days of eating nice healthy fruit, the caterpillar then spends Saturday gorging himself on chocolate cake, ice-cream, pickle, cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake and watermelon. Not surprisingly, that night the caterpillar has a stomach ache. The next day, Sunday, he eats a nice green leaf and feels much better. Even the adults smile at that bit. After all, who of us can honestly say we haven’t been there, done that? Yep, we can all identify with that Very Hungry Caterpillar!

When Eric Carle was asked about the story, he said that as a child, he was scared of growing up. Aren’t we all? But like the caterpillar, we will all grow up in time. Our childhoods are left behind and we become adults. So it is a book of hope. Growing up is something of a transformation, and what better symbol of transformation than a butterfly. When asked about the inspiration for all the bright colours in his art work, Eric Carle talked about his childhood in wartime Germany where the only art permitted was that sanctioned by the Nazi party, used in propaganda. He never saw bright colours until his high school art teacher showed him his forbidden collection of Impressionist paintings. It changed his life and determined his future.

“With many of my books I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents, or should represent; warmth, security, toys, holding hands, being held. School is a strange and new place for a child. Will it be a happy place? There are new people, a teacher, classmates – will they be friendly? I believe the passage from home to school is the second biggest trauma of childhood; the first is, of course, being born. Indeed, in both cases, we leave a place of warmth and protection for one that is unknown. The unknown often brings fear with it. In my books, I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.” (Eric Carle)

Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, and currently in Taiwan, along with many other countries in Asia, we are in the middle of a major Covid surge. Many of our family and friends in the USA or Europe have already been through what they hope is the worst of it all, and now some of them are using the same language as the butterfly, as they talk about emerging from their cocoons of lockdown and isolation. Some have emerged as beautiful butterflies, but many have faced sickness, grief, financial problems, family breakdowns, depression, loneliness, hatred, even death. Some feel grateful to be alive and appreciate their new freedoms and experiences, others have lost so much and cannot move on. Many are angry with society, neighbours, colleagues, government leaders, even with God, for letting them down. Some have lost their faith; some have stopped feeling part of a church or fellowship group. From afar, we have watched this happen to those we know personally and those who share their thoughts and feelings for the world to see. Are we ready if it should happen to us?

While many countries were in lockdown, we in Taiwan were living the life of the caterpillar, eating, drinking and enjoying ourselves. Life was so relatively ‘normal’ for us this past year – we could have meals in restaurants, coffee with friends, classes, church events, outings, hiking trips, holidays, family gatherings. Taiwan was so safe, nobody felt the need even to be vaccinated. But now we find ourselves having to stay home – and restricted in what we can do, where we can go and who we can meet. Our social events are all cancelled for the foreseeable future, we can only meet online with friends and family. It’s almost like we are being forced into our own cocoons. Could this be our time for transformation?

This is only our 4th weekend under Level 3 restrictions (of a 4-tier system) to try to get the Covid surge under control. In that time, it’s become clear that some were very well-prepared and the transition has been smooth. Kudos to Taiwan state schools, teachers, parents and children, who were given one day’s notice to close and move all classes online, and they’ve done it. Children may be going goggle-eyed with so much online study, but they are busily occupied all day long and learning important things. My neighbour tells me that PE class for her 10-year-old son last week consisted of him helping with the housework – and taking a photo to send to the teacher to show what he’d done. Ha ha, that’s my idea of PE too! It’s much more of a challenge for our church kindergartens and others like them, given that kindergarten style of teaching is less intense and children learn so much from play and discovering things for themselves, rather than spending all day long online in different lessons. Our teachers are making videos and sharing activities for the children to do, but the challenges will increase over time if school fees are not paid. Some government help is coming, but like most things, it’s never quite certain until it’s actually arrived.

Spider Tree aka Sacred Garlic Pear (Crateva religiosa)….

While many people are working from home, many more could be working from home if their employers would trust them enough, and if employees didn’t feel obliged to prove their loyalty by willingly going into work, even if it means traveling on public transport across the city. Many workplaces have divided into 2 teams, with half coming in one day, the other half the next. Not surprisingly, Taiwan’s work culture has come in for a lot of scrutiny.

Although Greater Taipei is by far the worst affected area of Taiwan, the hotspots are all in the densely-populated inner city and suburban areas. Out here in the countryside, although officially part of Greater Taipei, it’s much better – so far anyway; we shall see. There are now QR codes to scan for everything, from entering convenience stores, supermarkets, banks and workplaces to going on any form of public transport: either scan the QR code, use a pre-registered card, or write out your name and contact details. Every place has obligatory temperature checks, and of course facemasks are compulsory outside the home. But even with so many precautions, there are still some very vulnerable places and weak spots, like the traditional markets that are all still open – though numbers of stall holders and shoppers are controlled, then there’s the large care homes dotted along the coast, and the student / migrant worker dormitories. Our student classes are all online, so most of our students have returned home for the summer, but the overseas students are still here, plus some whose homes are in downtown Taipei – their parents tell them to stay here where it’s safer.

Living on a university campus means we still have access to fresh air and exercise, and just 10 minutes’ walk down the hill brings us to the sea. While all the famous beaches further north up the coast are closed off, our modest little seaside area (it hardly qualifies as a beach, but still) is accessible, and ideal for early morning walks before the sun comes up. The government has done a lot to discourage people from going out unnecessarily, like closing off footpaths, trails, parks, school campuses etc., and allowing eateries, restaurants, convenience stores etc. to only sell takeout meals. So we do go out, but wearing a facemask discourages strenuous exercise, as it’s so hot. Fortunately the rainy season has come upon us this past week, and it’s a bit cooler – grateful that it will help to bring some relief to our serious drought.

Also well-prepared for the sudden Covid surge and the move online were our churches. Level 3 restrictions for the Greater Taipei area – and the cancellation of all religious events, with no more than 5 people meeting together indoors, 10 outdoors – were announced on Saturday May 15, so there was not much time for our clergy to prepare for the following day, Sunday. A few days later and Level 3 was imposed throughout Taiwan. By Pentecost, May 23, all our clergy had put together a plan for their congregations to worship online, either livestreaming their own service or joining one of the others. By last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we had 16 livestreamed online services happening around the diocese, and I watched them all. Yep, all 16! Well OK, I watched a part of them all, and took screenshots as each service progressed…

For today’s service, well I watched myself, giving my usual First-Sunday-of-the-Month sermon at St. James’ English Service, Taichung, which was pre-recorded. Actually, the first part of this blog post, the bit about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, was adapted from today’s sermon. This is me in action – OK, next time I’ll slow down! We followed it by virtual Coffee Hour.

At 2:00 pm each day, there’s a press conference by the government’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to announce the previous day’s confirmed cases (domestic & imported), deaths, numbers of cases in each city / county, and updates about the vaccine situation. So far, the daily confirmed cases is fairly stable, usually 300-500, and 10-40 deaths, with the vast majority of cases in the Greater Taipei area. The original hotspot in Taipei continues to be the old red light area of Wanhua, spreading outwards from there.

Current figures: “Taiwan has confirmed a total of 11,298 COVID-19 cases, of which over 9,900 are domestic infections reported since May 15, when the country first recorded more than 100 cases in a single day. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the country has risen to 260, including 248 since May 15, CECC data shows. As of Thursday, Taiwan had administered 621,322 vaccine doses, all of the AstraZeneca brand, for a country of 23.57 million people.”

A large donation of vaccines arrived on Friday from Japan, more are coming from the USA, plus there’s the locally-developed vaccines that may be ready in the summer. While people are fairly united in tackling the pandemic situation on the ground, they are not united when it comes to expressing opinions about government action (or inaction) in this present surge, plus the vaccine shortage. Politics is so very divisive. Please continue to pray for us. Thank you!

And wishing you all a Happy Dragon Boat Festival for next weekend!

(All photos in this post were taken in the last few weeks at St. John’s University, Taipei – or down at the sea just below the campus)

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2021!

Ten summits, ten hours, 25 km, 1900m elevation gain ~ and special sights: frost on the grassy area that is Xiangtian Pond, azaleas, cherry blossom – and lots of people doing the same all-day hike. Perfect weather, sunny all day although cold in the early morning. For 2019’s report in much more detail, see here. These are my instagram photos of the Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse (actually west to east) yesterday ……

Highly recommended hike, but I’m aching all over today ha ha!

Time for Just a Taste of Taitung 台東!

High mountains, steep valleys, suspension bridges, hot sun, blue sea, white surf, yummy sugar-apples, pink cherry blossom, betel nuts, indigenous people, dancing, art, mountain villages, lots of churches, cheeky monkeys waiting to steal your lunch, impressive scenery ~ all these and more are waiting to welcome you all to Taitung 台東!

Where even the local post office is decorated in indigenous style!

Taiwan’s far distant SE county is separated from the rest of the country by the central mountain range, so it’s always been the most difficult to get to – especially for those who don’t like tortuous winding roads over mountains or slow train journeys. But now there’s a brand new road and tunnel much of the way from Pingtung – yes! These are the views driving along Taitung’s coast….

Chinese New Year is a great time to visit Taitung because the rest of Taiwan can be cold and wet in winter – but while Taitung might be a bit wet, it won’t be very cold and it certainly won’t be that endless miserable cold that haunts Taipei and the northern coast all winter long, don’t I know it! 😭 In summer though, Taitung can be very hot – so winter is THE time to visit! There’s even a few cherry blossom out in the mountains…..

We managed to spend a few days there last week, February 8-11, fitting in our visit just before Chinese New Year. My good friend, A-Guan from St. James’ Church, Taichung, and another friend, Shiu-Chin from Grace Church, Tainan organized everything ~ and off we went! The place we always like to stay is Bunun Leisure Farm 布農部落 in Yanping Township 延平鄉, in the mountains above Taitung City. There are 5 villages in Yanping, mainly Bunun Indigenous People. Bunun Leisure Farm is near Taoyuan Village 桃源村, and was set up by Rev. Bai Guang-sheng in 1995, after serving 11 years as Presbyterian pastor in the village church. Through the “Bunun Cultural and Educational Foundation”, his aim was to develop a sustainable tourism industry with a Bunun flavor, including performances, weaving studio, coffee shop, guest houses, restaurants – and it’s still going strong! This is us with Rev. Bai….

There are plenty of other places to stay in Taitung of course, but Bunun Farm has a great atmosphere, lots of art and culture, the food is grown and produced locally, they employ lots of young people who are so friendly and always recognise us from previous visits ~ so, all in all, it’s a very meaningful place to stay. Their dancing and 8-part singing are very famous too, with daily performances….

Ah, it’s a great place!

This time we also visited Taoyuan Village, about 15 minutes walk away ~ we went very early in the morning. As it was just before Chinese New Year, so people were out and about cleaning their homes and streets ready for the festivities. Rev. Bai said there’s over 100 children in the elementary school and over 60 in the junior-high school. There’s 2 main churches, RC and Presbyterian, but also some other smaller churches like True Jesus Church. Taoyuan Village is the centre of the Yanping Township government so there’s lots of government buildings too. And plenty of brightly painted buildings – ah yes, I love it!

We spent last Tuesday, February 9, visiting the coast, working our way from Taitung northwards to Dulan and Donghe, where the cheeky monkeys were hanging out at Taiyuan ….

And the next day we visited the very remote and tiny Shanli Train Station and nearby Kalito’od Church 山里福音教會 in Beinan Township, where sugar-apples are growing everywhere, and also loquat (pipa). The fruits are covered in paper bags while they mature, to stop them being eaten by hungry animals ….

In a nearby noodle shop, the very creative owner, now aged 80, had taken all the used disposable chopsticks left by customers – to make wooden models. Most impressed!

And early on Chinese New Year’s Eve, in torrential rain, we said goodbye to Bunun Farm and set off back to the west coast. By the time we got to the southern part of Taitung and up into the mountains, the sun was out!

Special thanks to A-Guan and Shiu-Chin for organizing such a great trip, doing all the driving and booking and arranging ~ I just took photos! It was fairly non-stop action all day long, and we certainly made the most of it all. Taitung though is a very laid-back kind of place, where even the dogs and cats lie on the station platform enjoying their morning nap…

Grateful for safe travels and, in this pandemic – while so many other countries are in lockdown – that we are able to travel freely around Taiwan with little problem, armed with just face-masks to wear in shops, restaurants and crowded areas. Many people in Taiwan did suspend their Chinese New Year travels after worries about a cluster infection of about 20 people spreading from a hospital in Taoyuan a few weeks ago, but it seems to have been contained, which is good news for all. We are grateful that the government and health authorities continue to do a great job in this time of crisis, which has caused so much suffering worldwide. Our prayers continue for all those affected .

The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go ~ to Yangmingshan 陽明山 with Tze-Foun 子寬 and Dong-Gua 冬瓜!

You just can’t beat a fine Saturday on Yangmingshan. And especially in the company of 2 very strong young men! A cold start, but sunny and dry all day, very muddy in just one place, but otherwise perfect. The 2 very strong young men who came with me yesterday are former students here at St. John’s University (SJU). Tze-Foun子寬 (in dark red) from Malaysia graduated 18 months ago and one of his dreams has been to go mountain climbing in Taiwan, while Dong-Gua 冬瓜 (in the black T-shirt) is from Taiwan, and last went up Yangmingshan when he came with me about 5 years ago. Both are now working full-time so fitting in exercise is a challenge – but if they hadn’t come with me, I think they were just planning to go to the Taipei Game Show instead. Yangmingshan is just so much better!

So, Saturday was THE day. Weather forecast perfect. We left SJU on the first bus at 5:45 am. From Qingtian Temple, just above Beitou, we did the western circuit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 and Mt. Miantian 面天山, then the 3 of the Datun range 大屯山 West, South and Main Peaks and back via Erziping 二子坪. On the top of Mt. Miantian, we met 2 SJU alumni (photo below), and there were lots and lots of people everywhere, ah yes, we talked to everyone! After all, it’s not every day that a group made up quite like ours goes mountain climbing together. And survives to tell the tale – and still smiling!

Kudos to Dong-Gua whose endurance levels were 100%, he persevered and completed the whole circuit, despite apparently not having done any exercise for the last 2 years, nor having any breakfast on Saturday morning, as well as breaking the sole of his boot on mountain No. 3, ripping his trouser leg wide open on mountain No. 4, and surviving more or less only on chocolate and coffee until midday. He never feels the cold and spent all day in a T-shirt, while the rest of us were well done up – check out his boot below!

Kudos too to Tze-Foun who put in 100% effort, with tons of energy, enthusiasm and patience, and despite longing all day for his lunch and getting leg cramp in the last few hours, he now has all sorts of ideas for taking his friends up the same route, and has lots of people already interested for the next trip. He’s shared his experiences widely with everyone at church today, oh he was so excited ~ his coming on our trip was such a blessing!

Gotta smile though, we all have aching legs today, even though yesterday was slow going and we hardly worked up a sweat all day. Ah but it was fun! Last time I did that circuit, in August last year, it took nearly 6 hours, with 4 hours 30 minutes of moving time. This time it took us 9 hours, and moving time was the almost the same, 4 hours 20 minutes. Speed is not everything, but we did have a lot of rests for Dong-Gua to recover his energy! Hey, the guys were so lovely, and we were all so happy to finish in one piece. And they did get very creative with the sticks they found to help them along!

A great day out, thanks guys!

And we came down to the cherry blossom at the Qingtian Temple bus stop, just coming out and looking beautiful!

中秋節 Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Celebrations 🌕 St. James-Style!

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, when the moon is believed to be at its biggest and brightest for the whole year, has just been and gone, and it was quite some festival! As it fell on Thursday, October 1, so Taiwan had a 4-day holiday weekend ~ traditionally a time for family reunions, moon-gazing, barbecues, eating mooncakes and pomelo fruits. Even Teddy was celebrating, as children do – with the pomelo peel on his head!

Family reunions mean travel – as everyone heads home – which means traffic jams and long queues to get anywhere, but hey, it’s all worth it! It also means family outings to resorts, the beach, countryside, mountains, restaurants, shopping, coffee shops or wherever. Our area here on the NW Coast is always full of traffic on weekends and holidays – including the Harley Davidsons who roar up to the beach each weekend. This was the scene early on Thursday, while the guys were having breakfast…

Near the beach is the Shuang-Lien Care Home, and I started the Moon Festival by visiting my good friend, Mrs. Hsu – she’s always pleased to see me, and in case you’re wondering about Covid-19 precautions, we took off our facemasks only for coffee and this photo below. Visitors are welcomed in the communal areas, with temperature checks, facemasks on – especially when moving around, and booking is required in advance with limited numbers at one time. Thankfully, Covid-19 continues to be under control in Taiwan, and work and schools continue more or less as normal, but the closure of the borders and mandatory, closely-monitored 14-day quarantine for citizens and residents returning to Taiwan means that family members overseas are largely grounded – overseas. Many with elderly parents here are therefore unable to come back and visit, so Mrs. Hsu has not seen any of her 3 children or grandchildren since just after Chinese New Year. Fortunately, they are all very good at keeping in touch with her, and she’s always very cheerful and so appreciative of all their love and support. In the photo, taken with her helper, Linda, we’re in the middle of saying hello to her family, hence the expression!

On Thursday afternoon off I set for Taichung. Of course every seat on every bus, train and high-speed rail was sold out weeks ago, but hey, I still gotta go! So, don’t be put off by lack of a ticket, the answer is to head across Taipei to Nangang, the High-Speed Rail terminus, buy a non-reserved ticket and line up for a train leaving about 30 minutes later. I was No. 8 in my line, so a seat was waiting for me, but behind me were many people wishing they’d got in line earlier. By the time the train left Nangang every seat was taken – and all those queueing up at Taipei had to stand.

I spent the weekend at my old home of St. James’ Church, Taichung ~ lured by the fact that the first Sunday of each month is my Sunday for doing the sermon at St. James’ English Service, so I had to go anyway – but went 3 days early, invited by all the wonderful people there. It’s actually the 4th time so far this year that a long holiday weekend has coincided with the first Sunday of the month, so my visits are many and often!

The kindergarten display boards outside St. James were showing the children’s art work for the Moon Festival, they’ve clearly been learning some of the history and myths around the festival, including the moon rabbit – just love ‘em!

St. James always knows how to organize events and celebrate, so I was invited to join in too. Thank you, all you lovely people of St. James! Rev. Charles C. T. Chen invited me to dinner on his wife’s 85th birthday – then all the family came along too – their second celebration meal of the day, having also had a special birthday lunch only a few hours earlier!

I was also welcomed to join the youth group and young adults’ barbecue at St. James, always a great event!

My good friend, Ah-Guan invited me to join their St. James fellowship group on a trip to Xinshe, up in the hills above Taichung, and yes Charles and MaryJo came too…

Plus we had a visit to a mushroom farm where you can pick your own mushrooms – we even had mushroom ice-lollies! Not bad, not bad!

And we finished that day at a very special coffee place, run by some friends of one of our group in the front yard of their home, located down some very narrow streets in a very rural village, surrounded by vineyards and coffee bushes. Mr. Hsu runs the coffee business with his very lovely Cambodian wife, Ms. Gao, who made up lots of their home-grown coffee for us to enjoy, and shared about her life these last 20+ years in Taiwan. Oh yes, and we sang some karaoke, including the most famous Moon Festival song (more or less the only one I can sing in Chinese!) originally sung by Teresa Teng, 月亮代表我的心 “The Moon Represents My Heart.” And my forever favourite for these occasions, ‘You are my sunshine!’ Ah yes, the atmosphere was really wonderful, it was really the highlight of the day!

Where else did we go over the weekend? Well, we saw the big wheel at Lihpao 麗寶樂園 when we visited the outlet mall for lunch … don’t ask about the bus getting there in all that traffic and how long it took. No photos of traffic jams, but hours and hours is the answer! But hey, buses in Taichung are virtually free of charge – so just sit back and relax!

The most beautiful place we visited was definitely Gaomei Wetlands 高美溼地, where we went on Sunday afternoon, by bus again – to the west coast. The boardwalk leads out to the mudflats, and everyone loves watching the fiddler crabs – see the crowds!…

And finally, on Monday afternoon, off I went about an hour south of Taichung to Yuanlin, Changhua. First stop was to try some tasty Ba-Wan 肉圓 Meatballs, famous local Yuanlin produce – and to check out the local scene…

Then I met up with Rev. Philip Ho and his wife Nancy, who had driven 90 minutes NNE-ish from Grace Church, Tainan, and we went to Chung Chou University of Science and Technology 中州科技大學, Yuanlin, to lead a service in English for a group of overseas students there. Philip led the service, including Holy Communion, I did the sermon, same as the day before at St. James ~ The Kingdom of Fruit (that’s Taiwan!) vs The Fruits of the Kingdom (Matt. 21:28-46). 🤔

There are about 60 students studying at Chung Chou University who are from Eswatini (Swaziland) and Uganda, and the service was timed for after their classes finished, about 5:00 pm. This is a new monthly venture that started last semester at the request of one of the people working in the university international office who knew Philip from her previous work at St. James. Philip is extremely energetic and really good at relating to young people – and overseas people too, so he’s the ideal person! The students run their own Bible Study fellowship groups and some travel far on Sundays to find a church service in English. They were great – and really appreciated us coming! Two young men, both named Solomon, one from Eswatini, one from Uganda, along with Everest from Uganda are celebrating their birthdays about now, and Philip and Nancy had brought along a cake. Thanks be to God for this new ministry!

Ah yes, I have so many happy memories of the Mid-Autumn Festival 2020! Thanks again to all at St. James for making it so special!

Happy Buff-Selfie Day You-Biking @ Taipei!

Yes, it’s New-Buff Day, which means it’s also Buff-Selfie Day!

So, the story goes like this. Over the last few months, Taiwan has done really well in handling the Covid-19 pandemic and in supplying face-masks to the rest of the world. I offered to help out family and friends – and so far have sent out 8 packages of over 500 real genuine Made-In-Taiwan face-masks to family and friends in the UK.

Very delighted to receive a Hot-Weather ‘Buff’ as a thank you gift in return, with a request for photos wearing it. A ‘buff‘ is a tubular piece of material for wearing as a head or neck covering; some people are also wearing them as required face-coverings in the pandemic. I am wearing one just to keep the sun off my face, they also keep the cold out in winter. This one is special for hot temps, with UV protection. Wore it yesterday on my You-Bike ride to work at the diocesan office.

Took zillions of selfies, but selected just 10. Thought you might like to see them too – posted more or less in order. Gives an idea of life on a You-Bike in Taipei!

My route is from Tamsui along the bike path by the Keelung River to Shezidao Bridge 社子大橋, around Shezidao, along to Dadaocheng 大稻埕, and into Taipei to the diocesan office, which is near the CKS Memorial…. 27 km.

Coming home my route goes up along Zhongshan North Road 中山北路 to the bridge near the Grand Hotel to rejoin the bike path to Tamsui… 23 km.

6:00 am start, arrived in Taipei about 8:00 am, after many stops for photos. And traffic lights. And to let buses pass. And to drink water. And many more! Left after the temperatures started going down a bit about 4:00 pm and got back to Tamsui about 6:00 pm. 50 km round trip. Very hot!

New Buff is great, keeps the sun off, and let’s air in, which is the main point – and it’s much cooler than what I was wearing before.

And the colours are my favourites! Happy Buff-Selfie Day!

PS Sept 4: Since publishing the above post, I’ve received a request for a photo of the You-Bike! This is a friend and me a few weeks ago on the same route, with the bike in the photo – it’s the best bike-sharing scheme ever, and very cheap!

Happy Buff-Selfie Day You-Biking @ Taipei!

Almost On Top Of The World @ Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 3,492 m / 11,456 ft!

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!”

And so, inspired by Dr. Seuss, off we went! To Dabajianshan no less!

Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 (Dàbàjiān Shān, tr: ‘Big Chief Pointed Mountain’) at 3,492 meters, 11,456 feet, up in Hsinchu County, part of Shei-Pa National Park 雪霸國家公園, is variously described as ‘one of the most iconic high mountains of Taiwan’, a ‘fearsome triangular tower summit with vertical walls on all 3 sides about 150 meters high and 100 meters wide’, looking like a ‘large barrel of wine, cold and daunting’, and a ‘huge, towering block of rock that thrusts out into the sky’. The Japanese called it “The Wonder Summit of the Century” and they were the first to officially record an ascent to the summit in August 1927. Dabajianshan is so famous, so iconic in Taiwan that the mountain is even pictured on the NT$ 500 note ….

One of several photos posted here courtesy of Jasmine Yu

The indigenous people of the area, the Atayal and Saisiyat, believe Dabajianshan to be sacred, the birth place of their ancestors. For safety reasons it is now illegal to climb the rock face to the summit, but climbing as far as the base below that rock for a photo with the mountain sign is counted as having reached the top…

From Wikipedia: “The first half of Dabajian Mountain is a medium grade hill with about a 35° incline. The top half is an almost straight up rock face. The mountain’s steep grade and unique features were mainly formed by wind. The mountain is composed mainly of greywacke – a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark color, and poorly sorted angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments or lithic fragments set in a compact, clay-fine matrix. Greywackes are mostly grey, brown, yellow or black, dull-colored sandy rocks which may occur in thick or thin beds along with shales and limestones. They are abundant in Wales, the south of Scotland, the Longford Massif in Ireland and the Lake District National Park of England; they compose the majority of the main alps that make up the backbone of New Zealand.”

Taiwan has 286 peaks over 3,000 m in altitude, and of these, ‘The 100 Peaks of Taiwan’, known as the ‘Baiyue’ 百岳 are the famous ones that everyone hopes to climb. These 100 peaks were selected not necessarily just for altitude, but also for their uniqueness, danger, height, beauty and prominence.

There are 4 Baiyue on the Dabajianshan ridge:
1) Baiyue No. 28: Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 3,492 m / 11,456 ft
2) Baiyue No. 36: Xiaobajianshan 小霸尖山 3,418 m / 11,214 ft
3) Baiyue No. 53: Yizeshan 伊澤山 3,297 m / 10,817 ft
4) Baiyue No. 86: Jialishan 加利山 3,112 m / 10,210 ft

Most hardened climbers do this trip to the Dabajianshan ridge in 3 days and 2 nights, but everyone says it’s hard work. We chose to do it by splitting day 1 into 2 days, and so we went for 4 days and 3 nights. The total length of the whole trail is about 60 km, and I read that the total elevation gain (ie how much we climbed) is 2,437 meters.

But first, let me rewind to a month or so ago when my good friend, Jasmine Yu very kindly invited me to join her 2020 family mountain trip; and I was delighted to say ‘YES!’ We went with our regular friendly mountain guide, Laisun, who led us on our first mountain trip way back in 2011, and except for last year when we couldn’t go at all, we’ve been going with him every year since. Back in 2011, Jasmine’s children were then aged 10 and 13, and over the years, we’ve also included grandma and many aunties and uncles, a few cousins and friends too. Possibly the most memorable trip was in July 2017 when we went to Yushan, Taiwan’s highest mountain (see that report here). This year, the older generation decided not to join us, but we had a great group of 8, Jasmine, her husband, their son and daughter, son’s girlfriend, a cousin, Laisun and me; that’s 4 older ones and 4 younger ones. Yes, it was fun! Jasmine and Laisun organized everything from applying for permits, the itinerary, accommodation, transport and advice on what to take. And what to wear too – we all had new T-shirts (of different colours but the same style) to wear on the summit!

And thus it was that we met at 7:00 pm on Monday July 20 at Tamsui MRT Station and set off in a minibus heading to Hsinchu County and the remote Atayal Town of Chingchuan 清泉 where we spent the night (and enjoyed a really good breakfast too!) at the Chingchuan RC Church Hostel. The Jesuit priest there, Fr. Barry Martinsen 丁松青神父 from California is very well-known in Taiwan, having served here for over 50 years, along with his brother, who died just a few years ago. The church was open, and is decorated with Atayal pictures on wood around the church at ground level. Hidden behind the altar was an Atayal Jesus breaking bread ~ I especially liked that.