Tag Archives: St. John’s University SJU Taiwan

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 Meaning is in the Waiting’: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Moments of great calm, / Kneeling before an altar / Of wood in a stone church / In summer, waiting for the God / To speak; the air a staircase / For silence; the sun’s light / Ringing me, as though I acted / A great role. / And the audiences / Still; all that close throng / Of spirits waiting, as I, / For the message. / Prompt me, God; / But not yet. When I speak, / Though it be you who speak / Through me, something is lost. / The meaning is in the waiting.” (‘Kneeling’ by R. S. Thomas)

What a great poem for a pandemic! Though R. S. Thomas was hardly the most cheerful of poets, some of his more melancholic poems, like this one, ‘Kneeling’, seem fitting for a time like this. Like everything else, our church here is closed – so we’re not kneeling in a church as such – but the sentiment remains, many of us searching for meaning as we wait for this pandemic to run its course.

‘The meaning is in the waiting’. Well perhaps, anyway. But really we have little choice but to wait, and so we do just that, wait. And hope. And pray. And wonder about the meaning of life in pandemic times.

Taiwan has now been on Level 3 restrictions since May 15, the day that Taiwan’s recent Covid-19 surge really began. We’ve been more or less grounded in our local areas ever since. The first 3 weeks of the surge were fairly chaotic, but by the beginning of June, things seemed to be calmer, and numbers started to stabilize and then fall. From a height of 535 daily cases on May 17, the general trend in numbers is steadily downwards; we’ve now had several days in a row with less than 100 cases. Today the reported figures are 54 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.

Current overall statistics are 14,748 confirmed cases, of which over 13,300 are domestic infections reported since May 15; and 643 deaths, including 631 since May 15. The vast majority of cases continue to be in the Greater Taipei area, and virtually all of the Alpha Variant. So far, the Delta Variant has appeared only in a cluster of 14 confirmed cases in the far south of Taiwan, but fear of it spreading and / or coming into the country with arriving passengers has led to increased travel restrictions on arrivals from 7 countries where Delta is a major problem, including the UK.

Level 3 restrictions are now scheduled to last until July 12. The government has extended it by 2 weeks each time, so we expect another announcement a few days before July 12 as to what will happen next. Vaccines are slowly arriving, donated so far by Japan, USA and Lithuania, with others ordered through COVAX and direct from vaccine companies. Some have been delivered, but the political and logistical problems are immense, so each actual arrival of vaccines is a cause for much rejoicing. The vaccination program has a clear list of priority groups and is strictly administered, currently they are vaccinating frontline workers, care home residents and those over 75 with their first dose. Vaccination Statistics: Total doses given: 1.93 million, people fully vaccinated with 2 doses: 36,700, which is 0.2% of the population. Clearly we have a long way to go. Thankful for progress so far, the rest of us wait for more vaccines to arrive, then another wait for our turn in the line.

In other good news, there’s been lots of heavy rain in the last few weeks in central and southern Taiwan, and reservoirs are being well replenished. Our worst drought for over 50 years may well now be a thing of the past. The typhoon season is already here, so we hope for more rain this summer. We’ve had rain up here in Greater Taipei as well, it’s so refreshing. And there’s been rainbows too, lots of them! It’s also the lotus season. Check out these nearby fields of delicate pink lotus flowers…

With the end of the school year, so our university campus is very quiet. Much is cordoned off, including our basketball nets and footpaths, gates are locked and there are signs all over with instructions for what to do and what not to do. Usually at this time of year, our student fellowship along with Advent Church members would be busy preparing for our annual summer camps for local children, but for the first time ever, they’ve all been cancelled, so it’s even quieter than usual. Our students have now gone off to find summer jobs, but with all the local restaurants closed, many are finding it difficult. For those in financial need, we are providing meal coupons to keep them going over the summer.

St. John’s University Campus

It’s high summer, with temperatures in their 30’s all day, top 20’s all night and high humidity all the time. Today it says it’s ‘32°C, feels like 40’. This comes just after sweltering our way through the hottest month of May since 1947, average temperature 27.8°C. All that sun means our solar panels, which cover almost every flat roof on the campus, are put to good use…

High summer also means we are inundated with cicadas, famously the world’s noisiest insects. From sunrise to sunset they make their presence felt, it is truly deafening! Inside, I have all windows open to let the breeze through, with electric fans blowing in all directions, rather than relying on air-conditioning. With cicadas chirping and fans blowing, a ‘quiet’ campus is definitely a misnomer. Very nice though to see a kingfisher here a few days ago, enjoying a quiet early morning visit to the pond.

Sunrise from St. John’s University with the solar panels on the library building in the foreground

Just outside the campus on the road to the sea, the abandoned buildings, like this old factory, add to the silence, reminders of times gone by….

while down at the sea, below the campus, the rhythm of the day is decided by the tides as much as by the sun. At one end of the small bay is an abalone farm, where the abalone are kept in tanks of bubbling water under black mesh…

and at low tide, the workers go along to the other end of the bay to collect up the seaweed which they then feed to the abalone.

I had no idea what an abalone even was until I came to Taiwan, but they are served here at banquets for Chinese New Year and wedding receptions. It’s a kind of sea snail, with the most beautiful mother-of-pearl shell, with a row of 9 little holes in the shell. The small abalone grown in Taiwan are known as Jiu-Kong 九孔 lit. nine holes (Haliotis diversicolor). It takes months for these small abalone to mature, and then it’s all over in about 30 seconds, the time it takes to eat one at a banquet. What a life for a poor abalone.

Also down at the sea are several old pillboxes, part of the original coastal defence system. Now no longer in use, one of them has been painted up. I wonder how those soldiers coped, stationed there all year round on lookout duty, guarding the coast, really just waiting in case something happened, always hoping that it wouldn’t. You really gotta wonder how they found any meaning in all that waiting.

I’m preparing a sermon for this coming Sunday, and I’m struck by Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 12. After appealing to God 3 times in the midst of his suffering, he hears God saying to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Those words gave Paul a completely new perspective on life, and gave him the strength to face all the terrible things he was going through, knowing that ‘whenever I am weak, then I am strong’. So relevant for us too today. May God give us grace to endure in this pandemic and beyond.

My second cousin, Kate and her husband have formed Sweet Talk Radio, and just released their latest video. I love it! Written during lockdown in Los Angeles, it kinda fits here so well. Take a listen…

For now though, my focus is on this coming Sunday, when the university has announced a major power cut to last most of the day. Now that’s a challenge. Normally I have a choice of 18 online services to keep me busy on a Sunday morning, and that’s only those of the Taiwan Episcopal Church. But this Sunday, there’ll be limited battery life, no Wi-Fi, no iced coffee from the fridge, no electric fans or AC, and of course no other place to go where it might be a bit cooler, since we’re generally grounded. God give us grace to endure indeed!

And now I’m off for my daily prayer walk round the labyrinth. Walking is more my thing than kneeling. The meaning may be in the waiting, but it’s also in the praying too. Thanks for all your prayers for us, and please continue!

(Photos all taken locally in or around the campus of St. John’s University, Taiwan in the last few weeks)

🐛 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)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Earth Day Vibes!

Green is the colour for Earth Day, of course! So here I am at our local elementary school all in green, for a day of fun and games with all 6 classes of children (photos taken by the school for their website). We were reusing empty plastic water bottles, and trying to get them across to the other side of the room by any means – but without touching them. It’s much harder than it looks, I can tell you!

Earth Day Vibes are not all fun and games for everyone however, and down in central and southern Taiwan, the earth is far too dry, and the drought is turning out to be extremely serious, the worst for over 50 years. Check out this very good BBC report here. Water is now cut for 48 hours a week in Taichung and all places south, so it’s a nightmare for those affected. Taiwan can claim to be the world’s most mountainous island, terrain is so steep that reservoirs are few, and water just seems to run straight off. There are very few long meandering rivers down south ~ the rivers are mostly short, and water goes directly into the sea. The reservoirs there are running out of water. Up here in the north, we have plenty of rain, but we’re praying for rain in the centre and south. It’s a bit ironic really seeing as we’re a small island surrounded by vast deep oceans on all sides. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink….

The Deep Sea World by 許自貴 Hsu Tz-Guei, Taichung Art Museum

Like much else in Taiwan, water is heavily subsidized by the government and apparently we have the second lowest water prices in the world. Sounds good, but of course it leads to a lot of wastage, plus much of the infrastructure is old, and 14% of water is lost through leaking pipes. Now the government is subsidizing famers not to irrigate their land to grow rice, so that the water will be available for local industries. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: it’s a big challenge for governments too.

But not all is bad news down south. Yuanlin 員林 is a small town in central Taiwan and the government there has a Hollyhock Festival this month. Ah, it’s beautiful! On a weekend, the place is full of people coming to take photos and buy things at the local stalls. It really lifts people’s spirits to see all the flowers, and especially in the midst of this terrible drought.

Both the drought and the deadly train crash on April 2 on Taiwan’s east coast have dominated the domestic news recently, with public transport safety reviews and much discussion on cultural attitudes towards safety issues. Taiwan has done a really excellent job so far in keeping the country safe from Covid-19 (1,097 confirmed cases, 12 deaths), mostly through strict border and quarantine controls, testing and tracing, but in many other areas of safety, much still needs to be done.

Hydrangea chinensis 華八仙 in bloom on Yangmingshan

Taipei is blessed to have something the other cities in Taiwan don’t have, and that is a long meandering river that goes right through the heart of the city, from the mountains in the east westwards to the sea at Tamsui. And all along the river on both sides are bicycle paths. So if I need to go to Taipei, and the weather is good, then my idea of fun is to ride one of the shared bicycles, ‘You-Bike’ from Tamsui to Taipei along the riverside bike paths, starting very early in the morning. Takes 90 minutes or so each way, and can be very hot, but hey, it’s definitely worth it – and the roads once I get into the city are not too bad. These are some of the Earth Day Vibes from recent trips in the last week or two…..

I usually like to end the bike ride at Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf….

That’s also the terminus for the new Danhai light rail system. The trains are full of children’s book characters and fun art. Hey, we do things differently in Taiwan, there’s always something to make you smile! I took these photos at the terminus before everyone got on the train. Check them out!

Meanwhile down on our local ‘beach’ below St. John’s University, much work has been done by the local council upgrading the walkway. It’s now becoming a major place for sunset walks and gatherings, and it’s also where we did our fun run last week.

Looking back from the far end….

So last week was officially our annual celebration week for St. John’s University (SJU) 54th anniversary. Most of the large formal events were cancelled as a precaution in the pandemic, but one event that did go ahead was the 3.5 km fun run. Always the highlight for us every year! Our chaplain, staff and students wore our light blue student fellowship T-shirts, then we received yellow T-shirts as prizes. All first and second year students had to take part, plus we had others in fancy dress or indigenous outfits, along with some seniors from our community classes – in total over 600 people. A few staff joined in, with T-shirts available for the first 5 men and 5 women. The weather was perfect, and we ran round by the sea too. I was asked by our SJU reporter to take some photos as I ran, and she used some of them in her article (see here). Ah it was really fun, and check out the photos to see how we all did. Ha ha!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle also applies to my birthday celebrations which have been going on for the last month. With the global pandemic, Tomb-Sweeping Festival and Easter weekend, plus the train crash and now the drought, so I had other things to focus on and therefore reduced and delayed somewhat. Thanks to Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and his family, plus good friend A-Guan and all those in St. James’ Church, Taichung for the delicious birthday meals…

And we had a good time celebrating April birthdays in Advent Church, SJU Student Fellowship and the diocesan office too. Special thanks to Mei-Mei Lin for the huge birthday cake and candles…

Then a few days ago, we lost one of our beloved church members, Huei-Wen. Although she had been ill for a while, she didn’t want anyone to worry, and so, even in her last few weeks, didn’t want anyone to know. She didn’t want anyone to be sad or mourn either, and in our rector’s sermon today, he shared about how she continued to be joyful right to the end, always smiling at the nurses and showing her appreciation to them. We remember how she always came to church meetings with tea-eggs and tofu snacks for us to enjoy, how she ran the schools outreach work from Advent Church, and how she took such good care of her small grandsons. And how she made me laugh always wearing high open-toed sandals, even in the middle of the coldest winter! We give thanks to God for her life and deep faith, and pray for her family. May the joy of Christ that filled her also fill each one of us, and may we always be ready to share that joy with all those around us.

So belated greetings to you all for Earth Day 2021, and hope you’re working on how to reduce, reuse and recycle in your own home and community ~ and how you can push the government and elected officials to make this a priority. Y’know, those children were having such fun playing with old plastic water bottles that some said they were going home to practice. They loved it! Bringing joy, fun and happiness to others, and especially children, doesn’t need to cost a whole lot of money, and the burden of saving the earth can be shared with others in our community ~ so let’s go!

🌸🌸 Yes, the Cherry Blossom’s Out! 🌸🌸

The dark pink cherry blossom is in bloom all over Taipei, looking spectacular! Everyone says it’s even more beautiful than ever ~ maybe because of the very cold start to January ~ with 2 separate days of snow on Yangmingshan, the mountains above Taipei. Whatever the reason, the world has become pink, and it’s beautiful!

The cherry blossom season up at Yangming Park (in the Yangmingshan National Park area) officially started today, and today was also the first day of our holiday for New Year…

This is the cherry blossom at St. John’s University, taken yesterday…

And at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Taipei on Wednesday…

There’s also plum blossom just coming to an end – also in CKS Memorial and over at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park too….. This is the ROC national flower, the focus of much poetry and art, and commonly used for girls names: 梅 Méi

And there’s even a few daffodils coming out today at Yangming Park ~ spring must really be coming. YES!

One week to go to Chinese / Lunar New Year / Spring Festival ~ on Friday February 12. Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

It’s the Year of the Ox (ox / cattle / cow: 牛 pronounced ‘niú’ – hence the pun for ‘new’) so wishing you all a

Happy 牛 Year!

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!

Advent Church & St. John’s University Charity Fundraising 2020 @ 天主教福利會 ‘Cathwel Service’, Shenkeng 深坑, Taipei

Cathwel Service (Cath-wel is short for Catholic Welfare) 財團法人天主教福利會, is the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services, founded in 1949, originally to help unmarried mothers and their children. It continues its ministry helping disadvantaged women and children; many of the children have special needs, others have various disabilities. Some will be adopted by families in Taiwan, some by families overseas (you’ll find lots of info about their experiences of international adoption via google), others will remain at the centre until they reach adulthood. Currently there are about 40 children living at the centre, called Jonah House – with different age children on different floors. We visited yesterday, and saw some of the youngest children, and met some of the staff. All the other children attend local schools during the day. Despite the cold temperatures and rain outside, everyone there was so warm and friendly!

Our visit came as a result of our Christmas 2020 Charity Fundraising Events at St. John’s University (SJU) and Advent Church, which raised a total of almost NT$ 250,000 for the charity (see the previous post for details of our charity bazaar). Thanks be to God ~ and to everyone who contributed!

We visited as a group of 8, representing both SJU and Advent Church. We were also able to collect the official receipts, which will be distributed to all those who made a donation, so that they can file their tax returns. The Cathwel Service CEO, Ms. Yen-Chi Ting, presented an official Certificate of Thanks in the chapel, first to our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and then to Mr. Ming-Chuan Chen, our Advent Church senior warden.

And us altogether…

The chapel is stunning! It is in the basement area of the building along with the carpark, but it is below an open area above. I gather it used to be a fairly traditional RC chapel until it needed renovation due to a badly leaking roof last year.

Fr. Fabrizio Tosolini (杜敬一神父) is an Italian RC priest who has taught the Bible for many years at Fu-Jen RC Seminary, Taipei. Many of our clergy have also studied there under him, including our SJU chaplain, Rev. Wu, so he was able to describe to us the meaning of each picture. Fr. Tosolini is a member of the Missionary Order of Saint Francis Xavier and also a very gifted artist. He painted the pictures that decorate the newly-renovated chapel, which was completed and opened only last month, December 2020.

The picture above the altar is of Jesus, his mother and his disciple, John. The writing on the 2 long red pieces of paper was done by the children. On the left, words of Jesus: ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you because you have revealed the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven to little children’, and on the right it says, ‘If you fall in love, stay in love’ (from the Arrupe Prayer, attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, which starts ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God’, and is also very popular as a song).

On the right-side wall, there is a line of 14 small paintings, serving as the Stations of the Cross…. check out the eyes!

On the left wall and at the main entrance are other paintings, mostly much larger…..

This organization is based in Shenkeng 深坑, on the SE edge of Taipei, an old coal-mining town on the edge of the mountains. They have a large building right on the main road in front of Shenkeng Old Street. This is the mosaic version!

Shenkeng Old Street is famous for its stinky tofu and every other kind of tofu. This is it!

After our visit to the centre, we just had to visit the Old Street for some of the famous tofu, plus other dishes ~ kindly hosted by Ming-Chuan and his wife…. It was all delicious!