Tag Archives: St. Mark’s Church Pingtung

🏮Chinese New Year Blessings @ Pingtung 屏東: The Place to Be!🏮

Pingtung: yes, it’s THE place to be for Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year / Spring Festival)! Everywhere is beautifully and creatively lit up with lanterns, and the temples and streets are busy. Although the pandemic has meant less travel than usual and the cancellation of many large events, there’s still plenty of things going on, and most people are wearing face-masks most of the time, and staying away from too many crowds….

It’s also THE place to be on normal days too ~ there’s so much to see, so much to do! Highlights include the Confucius Temple, and Xianmin Cultural Park – containing the old sugar factory and paper mill, both of which have been restored – it’s a good place to visit at night, and there’s street art all over!

Pingtung is Taiwan’s far distant SW county, famous for everything that northern Taiwan is not – meaning hot sunny days, mild nights, sandy beaches, coconut trees, fields of rice and fruit, high mountains, indigenous culture, Hakka villages, wide streets, a slow and unhurried pace of life – and of course its traffic lights!

Pingtung City has over 30 sets of animated traffic lights where the little green man is proposing to his girlfriend on the red light and they’re walking hand in hand on the green light. In 2018, they introduced another 30 or so sets of traffic lights where they’re expecting a baby, and walking along as a family. Such fun! Check out this Taipei Times article here all about it. All so appropriate for Valentine’s Day this past weekend. Pingtung is just such a romantic city!

I was there for Chinese New Year, from February 11-15, kindly invited by good friend, Ju-Zi 菊子 ~ she’s the very lively chair of the church council at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Pingtung. Ju-Zi took me on the train to visit Zhutian 竹田, home to mostly Hakka people, and famous for its historical train station from the Japanese era, and the coffee shop in the converted rice mill. It turns out that Zhutian is also the original home town of my good friend Mrs. Hsu – her childhood home has been restored and also converted into a coffee shop and museum. Her father was a member of Pingtung County Council and the family photo is on the front wall of the house. Really great to experience and soak up the Zhutian atmosphere!

St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung is small and very homely ~ the church members are just like a family, more so – in my opinion at least – than any other of our churches in the diocese. They are all so lovely – and so lively ~ there’s never a dull moment! The vicar is Rev. Joseph Wu 吳明龍牧師 – his wife and 2 children had come from Taipei for the festival; his son had even come all the way by motorbike! Ju-Zi invited them all to her home on Chinese New Year’s Eve for a delicious dinner ~ and me too. Thank you Ju-Zi!

St. Mark’s had a Thanksgiving Service on Friday, Chinese New Year’s Day, followed by a shared lunch and then an outing to a nearby forest. We also met up again for the Sunday Service on the third day of the festival, followed by lunch together and another trip out. One of the members is in a wheelchair – she came too, and the church members carried her up and down steps, ah she was so happy! And then a small group of church members came with me to Tainan to visit Bishop Lai and Mrs. Lai on Monday, on my way home to Taipei. Thank you! They are all so kind, friendly and very sociable!

One of the most popular places in Pingtung City in recent years is the former military dependents’ village, now known as Shengli Star Village (勝利星村), where the houses were mostly built in the 1930’s by the Japanese, but after World War II, they were used to house military families. As people moved out, so they were left to decay. They are now being restored, house by house, and converted into shops and restaurants. The place is humming with people!

The military personnel who lived in Shengli Village mostly came to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949 ~ with Chiang Kai-Shek and the then government of the Republic of China (ROC), fleeing the advance of the Communist People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Some of the military personnel were Episcopalians and the earliest origins of St. Mark’s Church lie here in Shengli Village, where one of the military families held the first services in their living room ~ yes, this is the actual house!

St. Mark’s Church was consecrated in December 1966, built not too far from Shengli Village, and many of the current church members were themselves brought up in military families. I asked them where they considered their families to be from, and the response was a wonderful mix of Taiwanese, Hakka and Mainland China, with many different Chinese provinces listed. Several said their father came from China, while their mother is from Taiwan. As they settled down in Taiwan, many of the military men from Mainland China married Taiwanese women. Quite a lot who came to Taiwan already had wives and children in Mainland China, but with no hope of being reunited, so they married again in Taiwan. This was also the case with Ju-Zi’s father. He came from the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang (Chekiang) 浙江, home province of Chiang Kai-Shek and many other notable people. As a military man, her father had left his wife and son in Mainland China, but with no chance of being reunited, so he was officially listed as ‘single’ and could get married again in Taiwan. This is Ju-Zi’s parents on their wedding day…

As the PLA advanced across Mainland China, so the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taiwan and to the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Chekiang Province in exile relocated its capital to the offshore islands of Dachen (Tachen) 大陳島, where many ROC military personnel were based – one of their last strongholds in Mainland China, along with the nearby small Yijianshan Islands 一江山島.

In Ju-Zi’s words: on January 18, 1955, the Yijiangshan Islands were captured and the ROC army defeated. The people of the Dachen Islands were in great danger, and Chiang Kai-Shek, though reluctant to retreat, negotiated with the US government, who sent in the Seventh Fleet to evacuate everyone from the Dachen Islands to Taiwan. In total, 16,487 Dachen people were evacuated, starting to board on February 8, 1955, and landing at Keelung Port, Taiwan the next day, February 9 (apologies for any historical inaccuracies: check out the official Wikipedia version of these events here).

One of the people from the Dachen Islands to arrive in Keelung on February 9, 1955, was Ju-Zi’s mother, along with her mother and siblings, including a sister-in-law, a group of 7 in total. At the time of their arrival in Taiwan, Ju-Zi’s mother was 31; she had been married and given birth to 2 children in Dachen, but both children had died. So on arrival, she too was officially listed as ‘single’. At the time of the evacuation to Taiwan, she was staying with her mother, and so was evacuated along with the family group. In the rush of the emergency evacuation, and thinking this would be only a temporary move to Taiwan, so they brought little more than bedding and basic clothing with them. On arrival in Taiwan, they were initially housed in schools and government accommodation, until they were assigned more permanent homes.

Those homes were to be villages specially constructed for the Dachen people, over 30 such villages were built around Taiwan. Depending on their skills and previous work experience, so the Dachen people were assigned to villages – on the coast for fishermen, in rural areas for farmers, and in the cities for those with other skills. Ju-Zi’s grandmother and the rest of the family were in the fishing business, so they were assigned homes in Donggang, about 30 minutes drive from Pingtung. Ju-Zi’s mother had written that her skills were in sewing, especially making fishing nets, and she was assigned a newly-built house in Pingtung’s ‘Dachen New Village’. The photos below are of the village today, with the green sign 大陳新村 at one of the entrances. These days the village is sandwiched between a school, temple, park and Carrefour Supermarket, but the old alleys and narrow streets remain. Cars and motorbikes can just about get through some of the streets, but originally it was only possible for pedestrians -and maybe bicycles. As time has gone on, so most of the original Dachen arrivals have died or moved away, and their houses sold, renovated, remodeled or completely rebuilt. Only 6 of the original Dachen families remain, and it is the younger generations who live there; Ju-Zi’s mother is the last of her generation in the village, and one of only 3 left in the family group of 7 who originally came in 1955.

Today, Ju-Zi and her mother (now aged 97) still live in the same family house in Pingtung’s Dachen New Village. This is the house, with Ju-Zi putting up the red couplets for the New Year….

This is Ju-Zi and her mother….

Ju-Zi’s father was 12 years older than her mother, and when Ju-Zi was born (an only child), her mother was 38, and her father 50. This is the most wonderful family photo of the 3 of them at home….

The Dachen Islanders found it difficult to settle in Taiwan, mainly because of language. They could only speak their own Dachen language, few could speak any Mandarin Chinese, and certainly none could speak Hakka or Taiwanese. As a result, many found it difficult to find a job, and as opportunities came to move to the USA, so many set off to make their fortunes cooking Dachen food in New York’s China Town, where Dachen chefs had a big influence on US Chinese cuisine. Fortunately when Ju-Zi’s father and mother met – in Pingtung’s Dachen Village, where he was visiting a friend – they had enough common language (both being from the same Chinese province) to be able to communicate, and her father could also speak Mandarin Chinese, so he could find a good job. He was also the one who would go shopping for the family and handle all communications outside the home. This is Ju-Zi’s mother and grandmother on the left, and on the right – the family outside their house!

Ju-Zi herself is fluent in the Dachen language, Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese and with some English too. She spent most of her career as a tour guide, leading Taiwanese tour groups all over the world, mainly to Mainland China, Japan, SE Asia. After her father died 20 or so years ago, her mother was left alone, and found communication with Taiwan people almost impossible, as she has never learned either Mandarin Chinese or Taiwanese. Some years ago she moved into a care home, but there was nobody there who could speak her language, and equally important, nobody there who could cook Dachen food. She was really miserable.

The first Christian in her family, Ju-Zi was first introduced to St. Mark’s Church and the Christian faith when she was 15, when she was invited by her classmate, Wen-Ping, daughter of Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, then vicar of St. Mark’s Church, to come to the church youth group. Of the 10 students invited, only Ju-Zi continued on; she became a Christian, was baptized and joined St. Mark’s Church. She has been a member ever since, with a short gap of a few years when she lived in Taipei and worshiped at Good Shepherd Church.

St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung

Five years ago, Ju-Zi’s mother was baptized by the then vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Rev. Joseph Ho. For the baptism, he spoke in Mandarin Chinese, and Ju-Zi translated everything into Dachen language for her mother. About that time too, Ju-Zi also made the decision that her mother could no longer continue living in the care home, and she would have to find a way to take care of her at home, with the help of a live-in caregiver. Ju-Zi also decided that she would have to learn to cook her mother’s Dachen food. Following her mother’s instructions as she sat nearby, she started from scratch, with 5-6 practice runs at each dish before her mother declared each one to be perfect! This is Ju-Zi in action….

Cooking Dachen food for her mother each day and receiving her approval – and with her mother feeling so much happier, so Ju-Zi started to wonder if she could make a living this way. Having to stay home with her mother meant no more tour guiding and her mother had no pension, but she still needed some income. Maybe this was the way forward?

And so, through prayer and discernment, Ju-Zi had a vision of serving home-cooked Dachen meals to friends and guests – and so getting some income, but also through that, the chance to share her family story, and through that also, her Christian faith. She says that these days, so many people live alone – and they eat alone, and this would be such a great opportunity to bring people together, to enjoy each other’s company and to make friends. Plus too, cooking meals is very time-consuming, from buying the vegetables to preparing them all, and busy people in modern life have little time to enjoy authentic home cooking.

Amazing breakfasts made by Ju-Zi for me over Chinese New Year – well, three breakfasts over three days, to be precise….

Taking her mother out of the care home, and bringing her to live at home was a huge decision, and yet she went ahead in faith. Her mother is completely disabled, and can no longer talk, yet she thrives when she can eat her own food. So Ju-Zi’s vision was to build an extra room onto the side of the house, a very simple structure, built with a lot of DIY, decorated with second-hand everything collected from recycling stores, friends’ homes or wherever she could scavenge something as cheaply as possible. In that room, she would serve her guests delicious and authentic Dachen meals, and she would share the story of how this whole project came to be, why she was doing it, and how God had led her thus far.

Wouli garden

The name Ju-Zi chose was ‘Wouli’ which in Dachen language is the word for ‘home’. Initial progress was slow, she had no experience of construction, couldn’t negotiate with the workers, was cheated or had a misunderstanding with the builder and the money ran out sooner than expected, and instead she was left with a skeleton of a room of iron bars, the corner posts in place, but no walls or roof or furnishings, Her initial confidence quickly changed to frustration, but this pushed her to pray and to cast herself into the hands of Almighty God. She now says that without those major setbacks, she would not have experienced the grace and mercy of God in the way that she has, as she came to fully rely on him to accomplish what she had in mind.

Wouli today

Bishop David J. H. Lai and Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang have both encouraged her to keep going and not lose heart, as has Rev. Joseph Wu and friends at St. Mark’s; in fact Wouli has been adopted and is partly supported by St. Mark’s as an outreach ministry. Ju-Zi has written an article for the diocesan magazine sharing her vision, and as a result, many of our church members across the diocese have been moved to help. Since then, through friends and contacts, Ju-Zi has collected and scavenged lots of roofing materials, corrugated iron sheeting, old windows, frames, furniture and, thanks be to God, the room is mostly complete, though she still has work to do on the garden and other buildings. Friends (and friends of friends) have written articles about her project and she has a steady stream of visitors phoning up to book meals. Over Chinese New Year, she could have taken bookings every day, but she took the week off instead. Many of the guests are people who themselves have vision and drive but lack the courage to do what Ju-Zi has done, and so they show their admiration by offering their help and expertise ~ gardening, DIY skills, cleaning, while others bring things that may be useful, a second-hand fan for the heat, kitchen equipment, even a fridge ~ everyone is welcome!

Wouli

A few months ago, Ju-Zi gained her Chinese cooking license, which will help considerably. She says she remains indebted to Rev. Joseph Wu, who was in shop management for many years before becoming a full-time vicar, and has given her much practical advice. It is important to state that Wouli is not run as a business as such, but guests do give a set amount per meal as a donation.

Early morning sun at Wouli

Ju-Zi invited us for the Chinese New Year’s Eve meal, and gave us an authentic Dachen meal – so delicious! Nian gao is a main staple, and is especially popular at New Year.

Ju-Zi’s vision does not just stop at serving meals, but extends to reading groups, environmental action, developing and sharing friendships, life experiences, and of course sharing the Christian faith with those who come. It’s kind of community-building from the grass roots upwards. Maybe one day it could even become residential, sharing lives together. Four friends, including Rev. Joseph Wu have just started meeting regularly on Mondays at Wouli for fellowship, and as a way to invite people to come along who may not feel happy about going to a church. Ju-Zi’s testimony is compelling, but she would be the first to say that rather it is God’s love, grace and mercy that are truly compelling!

‘福 Blessing’: Chinese New Year gift from St. Mark’s Church, containing 2 chocolate coins!

Praying for God’s blessing on Ju-Zi and her mother, and that Wouli will continue to go from strength to strength, becoming a place to share God’s peace, joy, hope and love ~ as well as good food and friendship!

Advent Word 2017, Day 19 ‘renew’

#AdventWord #renew

‘Holy Baptism is always an occasion for us to RENEW our Baptismal Covenant. We RENEW vows to remember. Practice renewing your commitments this holy season. Start with God. RENEW yourself by loving anew your “one, precious” life.’

Visit to the Taiwan Episcopal Church 台灣聖公會 of Bishop John A. Pinckney from Taiwan’s Companion Diocese, the Episcopal Diocese of Upper S. Carolina (EDUSC), October 1965.

St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung 屏東市聖馬可堂 was described in the EDUSC report: “The church in Pingtung is a rented wooden structure which is riddled with termites. A grant is needed to purchase land and build a church.” Trinity Church, Columbia raised US$ 30,000 for this purpose. In the centre is Rev. Herbert C.M. Yen 嚴欽明牧師, on his left is then Archdeacon James T. M. Pong 龐德明 , visiting from Hong Kong; he would go onto become Bishop of Taiwan 1971-79.

Congratulations 何睿恩牧師 Joseph and 何師母 Angel on the birth of baby 何天愛!

Yes, baby Tien-Ai 天愛 has arrived safely in the world, thanks be to God!  She was born on August 4 in Taipei, so she’s 4 weeks old today ~ YES!  She’s the gorgeous brand-new baby daughter and first child of Rev. Joseph Jui-En Ho 何睿恩牧師 and his beautiful wife, Angel (Pei-Yin)!

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Until July 31, Joseph was vicar of Christ Church, Chungli, Taoyuan. On August 1 he started as vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung, which is the opposite end of Taiwan from here. That’s quite a big change all in one week ~ a new baby and a new church!

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Joseph was a member of Advent Church many years ago and they have a place to live nearby.  So all of us from the St. John’s University Chaplaincy Office went to visit them yesterday ~ to congratulate them and bring blessings for the baby!

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Ah,  Joseph is so funny, pulling faces at the baby and making her laugh!

Please do pray for Joseph and his family as they start their new life together in Pingtung. St. Mark’s is a very special church with the world’s friendliest church members, so may God bless them all ~ and especially baby Tien-Ai!

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Round-Taiwan Tour with Nicky and Harriet ~ YES!

Yep, we’ve done a whole circuit of Taiwan this past week ~ ‘n what a beautiful country!

Nicky and Harriet, my 2 lovely visitors from one of my CMS Link Churches, St. John’s, Neville’s Cross, Durham, UK, had already been here a week, based in Taipei, and so this was the chance for them to see a little of this beautiful island ~ Ilha Formosa (‘Beautiful Isle’, the name given by Portuguese sailors), otherwise known as….. Taiwan!

Last Monday, July 11, when we set off, southern Taiwan was still reeling from Typhoon Nepartak which had wreaked havoc a few days before.   So we were not sure how far we would get to see the things we hoped to see.  But still, off we went – by train from Taipei, 2 hours eastwards to Hualien, where we were warmly welcomed by Rev. Joseph Wu, his wife and family and the really friendly members of St. Luke’s Church, Hualien.  His daughter’s English and art skills are amazing!  They treated us to delicious meals, yummy pearl milk tea, and a visit to Hualien Night Market with its music and stalls, delicious foods and things to buy.  Hualien County has about 300,000 people, of whom about a quarter each are indigenous / aboriginal, Hakka, Taiwanese and Chinese. So we were delighted to enjoy all the different cultures and their traditions.  Ah yes, we love Hualien!

The scenic highlight of the trip to Hualien was on Tuesday when we went to Taroko Gorge太魯閣, with Mr. James Chien, brother of our former bishop, Bishop John C. T. Chien. He is such a great tour guide and gave us ample time and opportunity to enjoy the gorge and the scenery.  The gorge was open as far as Buluowan Visitors Center which is about half way up – further up the road was closed due to landslides from the typhoon. The river was very grey and very muddy, filled with water from the typhoon.  We had great weather all morning, and just as we got in the car to return, it started to rain!  After a wonderful buffet lunch with James and his wife in Parkview Hotel, we visited Liyu Lake 鯉魚潭, where the rain had just stopped and the sun was now out – good timing eh?!  The red-faced giant duck and family on the lake are just so much fun!  Also to the Farglory Hotel for a panoramic view of Hualien.  More food in the evening and lots of great fellowship with the church members. It was so moving to be so warmly welcomed!

On Wednesday we set off southwards by train heading to Pingtung on the south-west coast via Taitung.  This may have been the fastest train on the line, but oh it is slow, slow, slow, 5 hours of stop ‘n start, stop ‘n start – but y’know what, we loved it!  Plenty of time to look around at the scenery, though it was so sad to see how devastated the banana crops and many other fruit crops are in Taitung County after the typhoon.

We arrived in Pingtung to another warm welcome, this time from Rev. C. C. Cheng (CC), his wife and many delightful and very lively members of St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung. Meals and more meals, yummy local style, including a very delicious breakfast prepared by CC and his wife….

Then we set off for a tour around, firstly to visit an old Hakka house in central Pingtung, originally owned by the Ciou 邱 family and now a museum.  They told us that the population of Pingtung is about 50% Taiwanese, 30% Hakka and 20% Indigenous / aboriginal, so again it was good to see a little of all the different cultures and and taste all the different foods!

We visited the mountainous and indigenous Sandimen area of the Paiwan and Rukai Tribes, which I had visited a few months ago (see that blog post here).  That day was great, and so was this!  One of the St. Mark’s Church members, Ju-z and her friends had organized a whole tour for us, starting with the Dragonfly Beads Art Studio, an amazing coffee and jewelry place, where we had the chance to make our own jewelry pieces forming the glass beads over the flame.  The coffee tables and chairs were also decorated with beads, and we had a wonderful view out over Pingtung.  Harriet was so so so happy ~ so was everyone!

We had a very traditional and of course, very good Hakka lunch in Dalukuan and then on we went to the relocated indigenous community of Rinari 禮納裡部落 in Majia 瑪家 Township.  This is one of 2 villages we visited that are new communities for the Paiwan and Rukai peoples who were forced to relocate after Typhoon Morakot in 2009.  The second village was Ulaljuc 吾拉魯滋部落, newly built for residents of typhoon-damaged Taiwu Village. Both places are full of interest, good coffee, yummy delicacies and of course beautiful indigenous things to buy…  Ah yes, we love Pingtung too!

On Thursday evening, we said reluctant goodbyes to all our good friends from St. Mark’s and headed up to Taichung, this time by High-Speed Rail.  Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, Rector Emeritus of St. James’ Church, Taichung kindly picked us up with all our tons of luggage. Then on Friday, our good friend, Jerry Liang from St. James took us on an amazing trip to Sun Moon Lake, where we enjoyed coffee at the Xuanzang Temple (definitely a temple with a view ~ and thanks to Jerry for some of these photos below taken at the temple) then lunch and a walk by the lake.  The weather was beautiful, and the spider was ginormous!

That evening, we went to the St. James’ Preschool Graduation, always a memorable fun event, and full of performances, speeches and all sorts of singing and dancing from the children and teachers.  Great to meet our friends, Matisse and Abby from our sister school, Cambridge-Ellis Preschool in Boston, USA here for the summer.  Jerry’s 5-year-old grandson gave a great speech, amazing!  I loved it all, just glad I no longer have to wear a white dress and dance with all the teachers!

On Saturday morning, my good friend, Marina kindly took us to Rainbow Village 彩虹眷村on the outskirts of Taichung.  This is such an amazing place, and in my humble opinion easily the most attractive set of buildings in the whole of Taichung.  It’s the last remaining few houses of a Veterans Village, built for the old soldiers and their families who came to Taiwan after 1949. Most the houses are already gone, demolished and redeveloped, but old Mr. Huang, now aged 94, decided to start painting the remaining houses a few years ago, and in doing so, has saved his village.  He was there when we visited – and posed for a photo.  He has painted THE most wonderful set of buildings in such vibrant colours. Just my kinda house ~ I love it!  And then we had tea and lunch in an old-style tea house.  Love it too!

And in the evening, Luanne and Samuel, Charles and MaryJo, Rev. Lily Chang and the lovely people of St. James treated us to an amazing welcome dinner.  And in-between times, we had a chance to catch up with old students and good friends, Leighnae visiting from USA, Ah-Guan (trying her best to get Nicky using a selfie-stick!) and Ming-Wen, and plenty more, even the student leader at St. James who had been on the same youth camp as Harriet had attended on her previous visit in 2014. Ah, such fun!

And we finished Nicky and Harriet’s trip on Sunday, yesterday, at St. James’ Church, Taichung, where Nicky bravely preached twice, once in the English service at 9:30 am and then again in the Chinese service at 10:45 am where she and Jerry worked in tandem, he translated as she preached.  And very smoothly it all went too!   The readings yesterday were from the Gospel reading about Mary and Martha, and Nicky shared about how that story fitted in with her ministry as a medical doctor and NSM priest.   Really good sermon!

The sermon is now on You Tube ~ all 31 minutes of it in English and Chinese, check it out here!

Yesterday afternoon, Charles and MaryJo generously offered to take us around and about, and so we went to TungHai University where the Luce Chapel (designed by I. M. Pei) was looking beautiful in the afternoon sun.  Then to Banner Church where we had great coffee and then later, noodles (check out just how proficient Nicky and Harriet have become with those chopsticks in the last 2 weeks!)

All very convenient for the HSR train to Taoyuan and the airport…..

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen and goodbye to Nicky and Harriet ~ we’ve had such a great time together, so many laughs and so much fun, every day filled with non-stop action and so many hilarious moments!  Thanks to you both for coming!

And a very special thank you to all my friends in Taiwan for their very generous and kind hospitality and welcome to us all, it was so much appreciated ~ YES YES YES!

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

True Southern Hospitality @ St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung 台灣聖公會屏東聖馬可堂!

Culture Shock.  You’d never believe it.  Yep, for a northerner (that’s me), the south of Taiwan is quite a culture shock ha ha!  Everything works just like in the north, but at a much more stately pace.  Nobody seems to be in a rush to go anywhere.  There’s just as many traffic lights, but hardly any cars or buses or even people waiting at them.  It’s just, so, well, quiet!  And spread out.  In the north, all the old one-storey Japanese houses are now largely gone, replaced by multi-storey apartment blocks, but in the south, they’re still lived in, so the houses have lots more character.  Convenience Stores are one-storey high, with no apartments on top of them.  Government buildings and universities are vast and spread out, and at a weekend, all empty of workers and students. So there’s a kind of deserted feel.  Space is everywhere!  Up here in the north, every bit of space is crammed with people or cars or motorbikes or buildings. But in the south, wow, y’know you can actually see the sky!  And when local people in the south say the liveliest places in town are the night market and department stores, well, that maybe so, but hey, the word ‘lively’ is relative, and clearly has a different meaning in the south ha ha!

So that’s Pingtung City 屏東 in a nutshell.  That’s where I was this past weekend.  In Pingtung City and County, in the farthest south of Taiwan.  Where Taiwan’s famous southern hospitality is at its best!

IMG_7358Actually I spent Friday evening leading an English Bible Study for students at St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi, so on Saturday, off I went by train 90 minutes south to arrive in Pingtung, invited by the vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Rev. Cheng Chen-Chang 鄭成章牧師 and his wife. They used to be based here at Advent Church, but he grew up in Pingtung, so it’s like going home.

St. Mark’s Church is small, friendly and incredibly hospitable. It’s always been like that. Clergy come and clergy go, but the church members remain so loyal and when a visitor comes, they all turn out for a big welcome, and accompany the visitor wherever they go. And in-between visitors, they spend their time trying out new restaurants and new routes, all ready for the next visitor.  And so it was that everywhere we went over this past weekend, it wasn’t just me, but many of the church members too.  Always at least 6 of us, and on Sunday there were 11 of us!  Never a dull moment ~ non-stop laughter all weekend!

On Saturday morning, they’d had a meeting all morning, and were more than ready for a little lunch ~ the restaurant even had a noodle-cutting robot in action, he’s kept busy all day!  In the afternoon, 3 children turned up for the start of their weekend outreach programme but their teacher had a family emergency at the last minute and couldn’t be there.  So we learned a bit of English and a few action songs and rhymes, and it was fun – and only a little exhausting!

And then, just before it got dark, off we zoomed to see the Liudui Hakka Cultural Park 六堆客家文化園區 in Neipu ~ its 6 huge umbrella-like pavilions represent the 6 camps (‘Liudui’), the collective name for the 12 townships in Pingtung and Kaohsiung traditionally inhabited by the Hakka people…..

And back in time for the evening’s church fellowship group ~ they kindly listened very patiently while I shared about my time in the UK last year and all the churches I visited ~ and we all finished with ‘This is the world that God made’, our action rhyme learned only a few hours earlier, and a group photo!

And so to Sunday ~ busy busy busy!  St. Mark’s Church Sunday service is at 10:00 am and I was delighted that 2 of my young friends from St. James’ Church, Taichung, both students in Pingtung, came for the service and yummy lunch, all cooked by one of the church members – and birthday cake for all March and April birthdays, followed by Bible Study.  I was very honoured to meet Mrs. Ning, aged 90, who with her older sister had arrived from Mainland China 60 or so years ago and started St. Mark’s Church as a fellowship meeting in their home. She seems as if she has the same amount of enthusiasm as she had 60 years ago, telling me all the old stories, so full of life and energy! Oh yes, and I met Mrs. Lin Shiu-Hua 林秀華 who turned out to be a distant relative of my good friends, Rev. and Mrs. Hsu, who are from Pingtung but living up here in Shuang-Lien Care Home, Sanzhi.  Distant relative Mrs. Lin may be, but she knew exactly the relationship ~ Rev. Hsu is the older brother of the sister-in-law of Mrs. Lin’s mother’s cousin-on-her-father’s-side. Or something like that lol!

Mrs. Ning (left) and Mrs. Lin (right) are both here in purple, top left photo below ~ and further down, you’ll see 3 ladies who we discovered were all wearing black and white stripes, ah, it’s never boring at St. Mark’s Church!

And at 2:30pm, off we set once more.  11 of us in 2 vehicles.  A grand tour.  The last time I was in Pingtung was for the Opening Service of the diocesan convention 3 years ago, and it’s many more years beyond that since I went anywhere beyond St. Mark’s Church.  So, a wonderful opportunity!

First stop, the ‘tribal village’ of Ulaljuc 吾拉魯滋部落, newly built for residents of typhoon-damaged Taiwu Village, mostly people from the Paiwan Tribe.  Typhoon Morakot on August 8, 2009 had a devastating effect on many of the indigenous villages in Pingtung County, and since then the government and different organizations have been active in resettling those affected.  Taiwu Elementary School is famous for its folk choir, and for its Paiwan architecture.  Opposite the school is the R.C. Church which is full of Paiwan symbols and designs.  The altar usually has water flowing under it, but one of the sheets of glass had shattered, so men were busy repairing it ~ and up above, glass bottles hang from the ceiling, dark colours near the front and white further down, symbolizing Christ’s cleansing from sin….

Then to Wanjin Basilica 萬金聖母聖殿, Taiwan’s oldest church, described here as being founded in 1863 by Spanish Dominican missionary Fr. Fernando Sainz (1832-1895).

The first edition of the church, an adobe structure, collapsed within a few years after an earthquake. The current Spanish fortress-castle style building dates from 1869-1870. In 1984, Pope John Paul II declared the church to be a basilica minore. The most recent renovation was completed in 2003.

The Treaty of Tianjin, forced on China in 1858 by the Western powers, specifically permitted missionary activities throughout the Qing Empire. Despite this, when Sainz and his companions arrived from the Philippines in May 1859, they were arrested by the magistrate and detained for two days before being allowed to proceed into the interior. Later the same year, Sainz bought the land on which the basilica now stands for 62 silver coins. Work on the church was delayed because traveling between Wanjin and Kaohsiung was difficult and dangerous. The church also bought some plots of land nearby; these were loaned to local converts who farmed them.

In the first decade, the structure was set on fire several times by anti-Christian mobs. However, the main walls always survived, and overt hostility subsided after 1874, when the Emperor Tongzhi conferred on the church an inscribed stone bearing just two characters. Reading feng-zhi (奉旨), meaning “an edict sent by the highest authorities,” it confirmed that the church enjoyed official protection.

About 80% of the village’s residents are R. C. and the church is particularly popular at Christmas when there is a stunning light show on the outside walls of the church.  But for us, no light show, instead we had steamed buns, ‘bao-zi’ – a must-eat on any trip to Wanjin – so they say, and now I know!

And onto the final stop ~ the relocated indigenous community of Rinari 禮納裡部落 in Majia 瑪家 Township, Pingtung.  Rinari is similar to the village of Ulaljuc 吾拉魯滋部落 in that the people were forced to abandon their mountain villages after Typhoon Morakot, and the government has helped them to relocate.  Rinari community comprises people from the Paiwan and Rukai tribes originally from Pingtung’s Dashe Village in Sandimen Township, Haocha Village in Wutai Township and Majia Village in Majia Township, a total of about 480 households, and between them they have 9 churches – 2 R.C. Churches, 3 Presbyterian, 1 Chinese Free Methodist and 3 Seventh Day Adventist. Quite amazing!  The houses are built a bit like a traditional European village, but the decorations on the houses are all Paiwan and Rukai symbols and designs.  Many of the people make their living from tourism through guest houses, selling food and traditional crafts.  Of course like any relocated community, they long for their original homes and often return secretly to their old lands for farming and harvesting of produce.  One area of Haocha Village is called 脫鞋子的好茶部落 ‘Take-your-shoes-off ‘, and that is what you are asked to do before entering any of their shops or eating places, because like Moses, they know they are on holy ground. A member of the Presbyterian Church welcomed us and shared with us how they share the Gospel with visitors through this message ~ and all as we munched away on all sorts of delicacies!

I could write a zillion more words about Pingtung and all the lovely people at St. Mark’s Church. Suffice it say that we ended up in a Hakka restaurant in Neipu for more delicious food, and as time was a bit short for me to take the train from Pingtung to the High-Speed Rail Station in Kaohsiung, so a minibus-full of still-very energetic and enthusiastic church members delivered me safely to the HSR Station by 8:00 pm.

And so home almost on the stroke of midnight.  Full of gratitude and great memories!

An incredible weekend, wonderful scenery, fascinating places and lovely people.  Thanks be to God, and thanks to all the delightful people at St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung.

Here we all are on Sunday morning!

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If you ever have a chance, you just MUST MUST go to Pingtung and enjoy the beautiful scenery, the warm spring weather, the majestic mountains, the tiny villages, the great variety of churches ~ and of course especially St. Mark’s Church and the gracious and kind people there.  The salt of the earth, every one of ’em!