Tag Archives: Scenery

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.

The next morning, Tuesday July 21, we left early and drove further up the mountain to the Guanwu Forest Park Trailhead to start our big expedition. Here begins the very long, and let’s be honest, painfully tedious Dalu Forest Road 大鹿林道 which winds its merry way, mostly downhill, for a seemingly never-ending 19 km to Madara Creek Trailhead 馬達拉溪登山口. It feels never-ending not because it’s unpleasant – in fact the scenery is stunning – but because such a road is not really suited to wearing climbing boots, and rucksacks are heavy, even though we’d all pared down to the bare minimum ~ still mine was probably 10 kg with sleeping bag, mat and water added. Laisun meanwhile was carrying over 30 kg, including all the food, pots and pans and gas canisters that we would need for 8 of us for 4 days!

Until Typhoon Morakot hit in August 2008, it was possible for private vehicles to drive up the Dalu Forest Road to the Madara Creek Trailhead, but after the typhoon washed away the road, the whole trail and therefore access to the mountain was closed off until 2015. When it opened up, it was forbidden for vehicles to use the road, and now everyone has to trek along the road on foot. We did see motorcycles on the track, they were ferrying supplies to the Madara Creek Trailhead, from where the extremely strong and capable young men of the Atayal tribe carry huge loads up the mountain to the 99 Mountain Hut.

We walked for 4-5 hours along the Dalu Forest Road, starting about 9:00 am, but we didn’t get all the way to the Madara Creek Trailhead on the first day, instead we decided to stop overnight at one of the huts on the road, the one at the 15 km mark. The huts are there to provide basic shelter, but other than that, there is no electricity, no toilets, water is from a nearby stream and they also cannot be booked overnight. Officially we were supposed to be camping, but, well, by early afternoon, we were tired, aching and the heavens were about to open with a massive thunderstorm, as happens every afternoon in the high mountains in summer. So we were very grateful that one of the huts was empty and we could rest our weary feet for the night.

On Wednesday morning, July 22, well rested and refreshed (and with our sleeping bags stored in the hut ready to pick up on our return trip), we were up bright and early, starting out about 6:30 am for the remaining 4 km to the end of the Dalu Forest Road. There is a very steep short-cut downhill at the 17 km mark which cuts the final 2 km off the road walk, with ropes provided to help you down, though it’s much harder to balance with a rucksack, I can tell you!

Down at the Madara Creek Trailhead is another hut and also toilets with running water. It’s there that the path crosses the river on a red footbridge and the great ascent officially begins. Down below the bridge are the remains of the old suspension bridge that was washed away in a typhoon in 2012, which also took out part of the National Park office there which is still clinging on, though badly damaged and now unused.

The path up is mostly steep, 4 km and 1,000 meters of ascent, all forested – including the famous hinoki cypress at higher altitudes.

We had a few rest stops of course….

The Atayal porters do the trip in an hour, we took 4 ½ hours, but even with rucksacks, hey, we got there by lunchtime! The ‘there’ we were heading for was the 99 Mountain Hut 九九山莊, named after it’s altitude of 2,699 meters above sea level.

We were there for 2 nights, like nearly everyone else on the trail. There’s room for 300 people to stay overnight in large bunk dormitories or in smaller circular huts, which is where we stayed, and warm sleeping bags can be hired. Very cosy! The younger members of our group approved the row of toilets as being clean, with water streaming along under them washing away the waste, but each person has to take all their own rubbish, including used toilet paper, back down the mountain themselves. Electricity is available for overhead lighting for about an hour in the evening, but there are no plugs for recharging phones and although there is running water, it’s cold, and nobody takes a shower. In fact, do not expect a shower for the whole 4 days. As everyone is in this together, nobody gets too worried! It was 16°C during the day up there and about 10 at night, so it was OK, not too hot, not too cold. Meals can be booked at the 99 hut, or you can do it all yourself, and bring your own food and stoves. Laisun was in his element cooking up delicious meals with numerous dishes supplied for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Over the 4 days, we had steak, sausages, duck, chicken, rice, noodles, vegetables, soup, eggs, bread, and plenty more. And when he wasn’t actually cooking, he was boiling up water for us to drink during the day. We just had to supply our own snacks and drinks, like coffee – ah, such luxury!

Every day, the main concern was not if, but when it would rain, because if possible we didn’t want to be out there in it! Every day by about 12 noon, the fog was already rolling in, and by about 2:00 pm, it started raining heavily, with thunder and lightning. This went on for an hour or two, then it all stopped, the fog cleared and both nights we were at the 99 hut, there was a magnificent sunset.

The sunset-viewing hill, just above the 99 hut, also happens to be the place where there is a phone signal, so it seems the whole camp went up there after dinner. I switched my phone off completely for the whole 4 days, but all those around me were busy calling family and friends, posting photos and live updates of the sunset. It really was spectacular watching the clouds part, then the sun’s reflection on the sea, and finally the sun descended from below the clouds and turned the sky all orange. A fitting way to end the day.

And that was the end of the day, because after dark at about 7:00 pm, there really wasn’t much else to do but sleep and get ready for a very early start the next day. The next day was the day we were finally going to see the mountains we had come for, and we would be spending the whole day on the top of the mountain ridge.

Thursday July 23 was THE day! It also happened to be the 27th wedding anniversary of Jasmine and her husband, and we even found them a place to celebrate, on the top of the mountain ridge where stones had been arranged to form the words “I love you” and the numbers 2020 07 23, that day’s date. But that would come later, first we had to get up very early, along with everyone else in the whole camp, and set off. ‘Very early’ means we arranged to have breakfast at 3:00 am in order to leave at 3:30 am – so that we could get to the top of the ridge and along to all 4 mountains and back before the rain came again. The pressure was on!

As we set off, the sky above was filled with stars, and the whole Milky Way seemed to be on display for us, plus a few planets thrown in for good measure! We were led by our headlights, and it was steep, but as our main luggage was now at the 99 hut, so we only needed day packs, and boy, are they so much lighter! As we went up, down on our left were the shimmering lights of Taiwan’s west coast cities, Hsinchu, and further south towards Taichung. At 4:45 am, we got our first real live sighting of Dabajianshan (the rounded one centre left) and Xiaobajianshan (the pointed one centre right). It was a big ‘wow’ moment!

Soon the sun came up, and by 7:00 am we had the most glorious views of the whole mountain ridge…

Another ‘wow’ moment was looking to the left of Dabajianshan to see Dongbajianshan東霸尖山 of which there seemed to be 5 separate rounded mountains, very dramatically lined up in a row…

There was more to come, as we walked down through the forest path and up to the base of the rock face of Dabajianshan. That’s the place for the photos, our first Baiyue of the trip, whoopee! The rock face is just incredible, and from nearby, it’s possible to see that there must be a whole colony of swifts / swallows living there, as they’re all swirling around in the sky. Jasmine’s husband had brought along his mini-drone which he sent up to whirl around the mountain taking photos of us down below. The swifts were a bit uncertain about the drone, as was a butterfly, they came and circled around it checking out the strange object in their midst!

The metal frames there lead up to the edge of the rock face, from where we walked along, under the overhanging rock, past the rusted metal barriers that had once protected climbers in the past, now no longer in use. Soon we could see Taiwan’s east coast in the distance, with Turtle Island off the coast at Yilan, and further to the north, we could see Yangmingshan, the mountains above Taipei. We also passed the ‘I love you’ stone arrangements….

And so to Xiaobajianshan, tr: ‘Small Chief Pointed Mountain’. This is famous as being the most exhilarating part of the 4-day trip, as the top third of the summit has ropes and steep drops and ledges and all sorts of excitements that you need to get over to get to the top. We left our bags down on the ridge and it took us about 20 minutes to scale the rocks to the top. It was great! The summit was the highest point we actually climbed that day, 3,418 m.

And so back down again, which was a bit scarier than going up, and even though it was only 9:00 am, already the clouds were gathering, fog was starting to roll in and we had to get a move on.

Walking along back the way we came, we saw some beautiful Alpine flowers…

But by the time we turned around to get our last look at Dabajianshan and Xiaobajianshan, they were already disappearing into the fog!

This is our 3-minute drone footage on YouTube of that section of the trip – the music really adds to the atmosphere – do look at it, it’s great. Spot us walking along below the rock-face on the way back looking like little ants!

We had to go back on the same route as we came, but first we headed to Zhongba Hut, where we had left our cooking stuff on the way up in the morning, and where Laisun cooked up some noodles for lunch. Yum yum! On our way up in the morning, we had passed signposts to the 2 remaining Baiyue mountains, leaving them for the return trip in the afternoon. By 12 noon, we were up on the summit of Yizeshan 伊澤山 3,297 m, which is only about a short detour from the main path. On a clear day, the view would be great, but it was already foggy, apparently it’s quite normal for this time of year.

We had one more mountain to go, and the skies were turning darker and darker. The detour to Jialishan 加利山 3,112 m would take us about 40 minutes round-trip, but despite the threat of rain, still we just had to do it!

In the event, 6 of us took the detour, and though we got there fine at 2:00 pm, it started to rain the moment we left the summit and we had to move quite quickly. Back on the main path it was already raining hard, and even though we all hurried to get dressed up in our rain-gear, it was already a bit late, and well, we were very wet! But then, what is a mountain trip without a bit of rain? And thunder? And a lot of fog? We headed back down to the 99 hut in the rain, with distant thunder, and got safely back there about 3:30 pm, exactly 12 hours after starting out that morning…

And amazingly by the evening, the skies had cleared and we had a glorious sunset with hardly any fog to be seen! The whole sky was orange and pink. It was really such a beautiful way to end such an amazing day – and such a wonderful trip.

Friday July 24 was our final day, the day of the great descent from the 99 hut, all the way back to the Dalu Forest Road and so to the trail head and back home. We started very early, breakfast at 2:30 am and by 3:30 am we were all packed up and with our headlights on, ready to descend to the creek. We met 9 porters coming up in the dark with their massive loads, also groups starting their ascent, and later on, on the uphill forest road, we met lots of people heading along and up to the 99 hut, and many asked us about the rain and what time we had started out. The 4 younger people in our group all sped along, as did Laisun, now relieved of much of his heavy load – well, the food anyway. We were the group at the back, stopping at most of the rest stops and counting every 0.1 km as we passed each of the route markers! Just grateful we had left so early, so it wasn’t too hot, and it didn’t rain. We got back to the minibus at the Dalu Forest Road Trailhead at about 12 noon, relived to be back safe and sound, and so happy!

A very big thank you to Laisun for his calm leadership, flexible pace-setting, delicious cooking and being so willing to carry everything; he was heading back out to the high mountains later on Friday with another group, actually some of Jasmine’s former colleagues, who were going to climb Nanhu Big Mountain. He commented that due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, his mountain-climbing business had been badly affected earlier in the year, but now that restrictions have eased, people are once again venturing forth up the mountains – and as nobody wants to travel overseas for the foreseeable future, so they are using their holidays to climb Taiwan’s high mountains. This is Laisun in action….!

Another very big thank you to Jasmine for being so willing to include me in their family group, even to supplying the group T-shirts – and for keeping me up to date on how many Baiyue I have climbed since 2011; it’s now 22 in total, and all with Jasmine and her family! This was not the first time we had applied for permits for this trip, the other times had been unsuccessful; so thanks to Jasmine for her persistence in not giving up! I also really appreciated Jasmine’s husband for being so enthusiastic about taking photos and videos on his camera, GoPro and drone, and grateful to the younger generation for their willingness to help out, washing dishes, taking photos, fetching water, and generally cooperating and fitting in with the timetable – after all, getting up at 2:30 am for breakfast is really not everyone’s idea of fun 😮😃 – just don’t mention to them about the mouse at the 99 hut that ate its way through their Oreo biscuits! This is the group playing cards one evening…

Most of all, thanks be to God for his protection and safe-keeping. This is the typhoon season, so we were a bit worried; we had also heard from friends that they had climbed all the way up to Dabajianshan, only to see it shrouded in thick fog, and then it had rained all the time on the descent. In fact, every morning we had really good weather, no typhoon was forecast, and where was the wind? There was none! This time, everything went so well, and we are grateful for God’s grace and mercy throughout the trip. Yes, a big thumbs up, it was a great trip!

There is really not much in English on the internet about hiking Dabajianshan, but for further information, the following 2 blog posts are recommended:

How to hike Mount Dabajian-Part 1 – 大霸尖山 / Part 2 October 2019

Hiking in Taiwan: Dabajianshan (大霸尖山) 4-Day Solo Hike August 2017

‘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!