Tag Archives: Street Art

Meanwhile in Taipei…. Banksy Exhibition @ Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

The world is in the middle of a devastating pandemic, the USA has had a terrible week with riots in the Capitol, the UK is in chaos with Brexit and lockdown. And meanwhile, in Taipei…..

A Banksy Exhibition has just opened at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. From Wikipedia, Banksy is an “pseudonymous England-based street artist, political activist, and film director, active since the 1990s. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. His works of political and social commentary have appeared on streets, walls, and bridges throughout the world.”

This is only the second Banksy Exhibition to be held in Taiwan, the first one was held in a Taipei shopping mall in March 2019, organized by Phillips Auction House. It consisted of 25 of Banksy’s pieces arranged in a small gallery and as there was free entry, so lots of people – and especially young people went to visit.

This new exhibition, which runs until April 5, is much bigger, with 60 artworks on display, and with an introduction attached to each one, written originally in Chinese and translated (sometimes not too well, it has to be said) into English. Some are enlarged photos of the original work in situ, others are displayed in settings designed to look similar to the original, and still others show ways in which the original work has been adapted for use on record covers, posters etc. It’s all artistically laid out and the displays are professional and sleek. But it comes at a price, unfortunately, and the entrance ticket is steep, NT$ 350, so not surprisingly far fewer people seem to be visiting. And despite Banksy’s own disdain for gift shops, there is of course a real ‘Exit via the Gift Shop’ experience for those with lots of money and a desire to buy something with the ‘I love Banksy’ logo….

Much as I admire Banksy’s work, I cannot subscribe to the ‘I Love Banksy’ logos, mugs and T-shirts etc etc. Much of his work is completely unlovable, and that is surely part of his intention. His aim is not for us to love him or even like him – or his art works. Instead he wants to challenge, convict and change our thinking – and of course that of the establishment too – and then act accordingly. His themes are mostly political and social, against war, authoritarianism, greed, poverty, hypocrisy, despair, power….

The exhibition is hardly beautiful or a pleasure to the eyes, but it’s not intended to be that way. Banksy’s works originated mostly as street art, and really they belong on the streets, not in an exhibition in a country and culture far away from their original setting. Much of the information around each piece goes into explaining why such a piece might be necessary in the first place, meaning the context and background. While some political and social themes are common worldwide, such as war and poverty, others are much more localized, eg supermarket giants like Tesco taking over UK high streets. Such art is thought-provoking, yes, but pretty, no.

Which brings me to the real reason why I was intrigued by this exhibition. It’s not the content as such. Or the artistic layouts and displays. And certainly not the commercialism of the brand name. It’s the setting itself. The exhibition is being held in the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, in downtown Taipei. If you’ve ever visited Taiwan, you may well have been there to view the honor guard performances that take place every hour on the hour in front of that huge bronze statue of Chiang Kai-Shek on the top floor.

Quoting from Wikipedia, Chiang Kai-shek (1887 –1975) was a “Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death….. In 1949 Chiang’s government and army retreated to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted critics during the White Terror. Presiding over a period of social reforms and economic prosperity, Chiang won five elections to six-year terms as President of the Republic of China and was Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975, three years into his fifth term as President and just one year before Mao’s death.

One of the longest-serving non-royal heads of state in the 20th century, Chiang was the longest-serving non-royal ruler of China having held the post for 46 years. Like Mao, he is regarded as a controversial figure. Supporters credit him with playing a major part in unifying the nation and leading the Chinese resistance against Japan, as well as with countering Soviet-communist encroachment. Detractors and critics denounce him as a dictator at the front of an authoritarian regime who suppressed opponents”.

So now, 40 years after the CKS Memorial was built, here we are in 2021, no longer with a Kuomintang government; instead President Tsai Ing-Wen and the Democratic Progressive Party are in power. They are doing much to uncover the truth of the White Terror era, and working for transitional justice and reconciliation. Controversy surrounds what to do with the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Building, with that huge bronze statue upstairs, while downstairs there is a large permanent exhibition showing photos and artifacts with labels praising every aspect of Chiang’s life. Outside on the Freedom Plaza are where all sorts of protests and gatherings take place. The government is now trying to transform the hall into a national center for “facing history, recognizing agony, and respecting human rights” and there have been several exhibitions held that are critical of Mainland China, in earlier days some also critical of Chiang Kai-Shek himself. Also on display, mixed up among all this politics, and in a bid to attract visitors – especially families, is a whole host of weird and wonderful alternative displays, ranging from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to a massive set of 3D paintings…

And now, ironically, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is hosting an exhibition of artwork by Banksy, exactly the kind of political activist that authoritarian leaders – like Chiang Kai-Shek – always detest so much. If Banksy were really here in person, the CKS Memorial Hall may be the kind of place he’d start with for some of his protest art, stenciling up a picture long after dark. After all, what the building represents is way more than just a memorial to a fallen leader. It’s ironic really on so many levels, that instead of undercover street graffiti done in the dead of night, Banksy’s artwork has gained pride of place in one of the exhibition halls of the actual building, with a huge price tag to go in. Such is life in modern consumer society. In so doing, his subversive street art has become almost mainstream. A dark irony too, as sadly, mainstream art often loses its purpose somewhat of being a voice to challenge, convict – and change.

Of course, this could be purely a financial arrangement between the company who are curating the exhibition – and the CKS Memorial Hall, and maybe it’s just pure chance that the Banksy Exhibition happens to be showing there, rather than anywhere else – in that they had a free space at the right time and right price.

But then again maybe not. Almost certainly the government would have to give permission for what is shown at the CKS Memorial. Maybe the government is showing the world again that free speech and peaceful protest are marks of a well-developed democratic society, and that there’s nothing to fear from those who challenge us to turn from war and hatred ~ and instead to strive for justice and peace in this often dark world.

In the context of praying for a peaceful transition of power in the USA, and for God’s mercy for all those affected by Covid-19, lockdown and Brexit, then the above picture is appropriate. This is Banksy’s work, usually referred to as ‘Girl with Balloon’, but its actual title is ‘There is Always Hope‘. I like that. Think about it as you look at the picture. Ultimately, what it means for you, of course, is up to you to decide for yourself. That’s art. ❤️

CMS Link Letter #81 (and Rainbow Village 彩虹眷村!)

Published yesterday by the Church Mission Society, my latest link letter, click on the link below…

The letter was actually sent off to CMS on October 14 for processing, and much seems to have happened since then. As we await the results of the US presidential election and as the UK goes into lockdown again, there’s a lot going on.

A little oasis in all that’s going on is to be found at Rainbow Village, Taichung 彩虹眷村, as high-rise buildings start to go up all around…

Let me just cheer you all up a little with some photos I took there early on Monday morning. This is one of my most favourite places to visit in Taichung, and so I was there for opening time at 8:00 am, the first visitor of the day.

Just to remind you, this place is the last remaining few houses of an old Veterans Village, built for soldiers and their families who came to Taiwan after 1949. Most of the land has already been taken for redevelopment, but old Mr. Huang (Huang Yong-Fu 黃永阜), known as ‘Rainbow Grandpa’ (彩虹爺爺), decided to start painting the remaining houses a few years ago, as a way to save his village….

His artwork was discovered by students from the nearby Ling-Tung University, and as a result, the village has not only been saved from demolition, but is now actively preserved by the local government. It is open to the public, and visitors can wander around, meet Rainbow Grandpa and do a bit of shopping to help fund the place (entrance is free). Go first thing on a Monday morning and you’ll have the place to yourselves!

The last time I was there was in October 2019, and what is different this time is that the land right behind Rainbow Village is now blocked off with a long white fence, and construction work behind it has already started…..

Gradually the area all around there is being developed with high-rise apartment buildings, which of course was what motivated Mr. Huang to start painting in the first place…. and he is still at it. Here he is signing my umbrella!

He was telling me that he’s nearly 100 – and he is certainly making the most of his remaining years! His artwork is stunning…

So thanks for reading my link letter – and enjoy the photos! And Rainbow Village are now selling face-masks covered in Rainbow Grandpa’s artwork, so watch this space, and you might see me in one before too long!

South to North up Taiwan’s West Coast with our 18 Friends from Latin America & the Caribbean!

Smiles all round in honour of Taiwan’s Double-Tenth National Day last Thursday, October 10 ~ and the start of a 4-day weekend for us all! And what a good opportunity it was to show our 18 international friends some of the great cultural sights of Taiwan. 😊 The group are now on the final stretch of their 3-month “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 ‘Taiwan ICDF‘, and hosted by St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei. In a few weeks time, they’ll all return to their home countries of Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and we’ll miss them! Here they are celebrating Taiwan’s National Day …

Last week, the group were in south Taiwan for a 3-day Solar Energy Course at the National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology, where Dr. Herchang Ay, SJU President, is in charge of the Apollo Solar Car Team. The group traveled there on Monday morning by High-Speed Rail (see photo below), and the plan was that we would join them on Thursday morning to make the most of the 4-day weekend, traveling back to Taipei by coach, via all sorts of interesting places en route along the west coast.

Thus it was that we spent Thursday in Kaohsiung, Thursday night and Friday in Tainan, Friday night and Saturday morning in Chiayi, and from Saturday afternoon to Sunday lunchtime in Taichung, returning to St. John’s University along the west coast road on Sunday evening – trying to avoid the traffic on the final day of the long weekend. We saw a huge lot of really great places, so many in fact that there was hardly any time to rest on the coach in-between stops! Here’s the group posing at the first stop of the day…

There were 4 of us from SJU, A-Tu, me, Xiang-Yann from Malaysia and Jun-Hong. We also had a very good tour guide, Thomas, and a very patient driver, Mr. Chien. A-Tu and I went to Kaohsiung on Wednesday afternoon, stayed the night at St. Paul’s Church (thanks to Rev. C. C. Cheng and his wife!) and met up with our lovely group on Thursday morning at Weiwuying – my most favourite place in all of Kaohsiung – I just love all that wall art! It was good to hear our group’s reflections on their few days in south Taiwan – all positive, and they enthused about how friendly all the people were down south. It’s a fact – the further south you go in Taiwan the friendlier the people – and this was the experience of our group too. As we traveled around these past few days, many people would come over to meet us, some to enquire about the guys’ long hair or where they’re all from or to take a photo together, ah it was fun! Anyway, after the wall murals, we walked across the road to visit the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, which is a stunning building, but it was very hot and muggy, and the sky was hazy. It is ‘air-pollution season’ in Taiwan, and while the weather forecast may have shown days of yellow sunshine, in reality, it was mostly hazy and dull. And very very hot! 🥵🥵

Then we visited the Glory Pier and the Pier 2 area, plus Xiziwan. More hot, hot, hot! In fact, we had to cut short our afternoon sightseeing to save us all from getting heatstroke, and off we went to spend an hour enjoying the air-conditioned Dream Mall instead! As it was Taiwan’s National Day, so there were flags everywhere …

Day One over, and in the evening, we drove an hour north to Tainan, where we stayed overnight in the Sendale Tainan Science Park Hotel, in Sinshih (Xinshi), Tainan. The best thing about Sinshih is that when we got up early for exercise the next morning, we discovered the very delightful nearby Sinshih Elementary School, where everyone was busy doing exercise, the school open-air pool was full of people swimming, and best of all, the school walls were covered in mosaics and murals, all done by the children to show the history of the town – including the arrival of the early missionaries. I loved it!

Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan, and the first capital city, so the first must-visit place was the National Museum of Taiwan History. This museum was a big surprise to me – not only had I never been there before, actually I had never even heard of it either! It was opened in 2011, and is located in what seems to be the middle of absolutely nowhere, somewhere on the coast ~ but the museum is a beautiful building and the displays are excellent. Thomas took this photo of us at the main entrance…

Y’know, it’s not easy for a government to construct a good museum telling its own history from an objective viewpoint – and as far as it goes, they’ve done a good job, and especially in presenting the history of Taiwanese customs and also the big section about the Japanese colonial era. There’s lots of interesting displays and everything is in English and Chinese. One day hopefully the museum will also extend the displays to include more about the indigenous people, Christian missionaries and churches, and what really happened during the White Terror era. Anyway it’s a highly recommended museum, and our group spent a long time looking at all the exhibits – and taking part, as appropriate!

Next stop, and we were off to Tainan City to see the Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park ~ this is an old ‘dormitory village’ of houses originally built to provide accommodation for government workers and their families in days gone by, but now reinvented for visitors to come and see, and of course, to come and shop…

We also visited Snail Alley ~ I liked the old buildings – and, well, also the snails!

The best place of the whole afternoon was the Hayashi Department Store, which I loved, it has a really fascinating history, dating from the Japanese colonial era, and it was new to me. Their website says, “On December 5th, 1932, Hayashi Department Store opened and thus a modern age of Taiwanese culture began. The decade of 1930s was the start point of modern civilization in Taiwan. As the electric lamps, telephone, and water supply lines popularized, symbols of civilization such like the airplane and motor vehicles flooded into Taiwan. The cafés were becoming the fad of the day, as well as pop culture, movies, phonographs and jazz music. People´s mentality was opening up, and freewill dating was taking over arranged marriages, while dresses were replacing kimonos and Westernized education was popularizing. This was Taiwan in the 1930s”. On the top floor, there’s a very unusual Shinto shrine, there are also great views down to the road below, plus glass-covered walls that show where the building was damaged by air-raids during World War II. After the war, the building became mostly offices, but these days, it’s transformed once again into a shopping experience, though it has retained its original charm and elegance. I really liked it!

We didn’t visit the Confucius Temple, which is usually No. 1 on a historic tour of Tainan, but we did go to Anping Fort (aka Fort Zeelandia), built between 1624 to 1634 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). After wandering around the fort, we stopped at the Old Street and also watched a folk tale performance in front of the temple. Our group had a go at the games, and Jun-Hong got himself a temporary tattoo of a tiger!

So that was Day Two, and after dinner, we set off for the hour-or-so drive north to Chiayi, where we stayed in the very stylish Kuan Hotel, on the outskirts of the city…

Day Three was Saturday, and we were all up bright and early for the world’s biggest breakfast in the hotel restaurant. All of our lunches and evening meals were in Chinese restaurants so this was a chance to have something a bit different – plus lots of coffee ready for the day ahead! Our first destination of the day was the very famous Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum; this was my second visit. My first visit was when Chiayi hosted the Lantern Festival in 2018 – with lots of people and a really festive atmosphere. This time it was far more relaxed and a chance to enjoy the lake and the architecture, there was also a special exhibit on Thailand – and large elephant inflatables in the main entrance! I really like this place, it’s spacious, well-designed and full of interesting things – but not too many – just the right size for a visit!

The most famous object in the museum is the stewed pork / meat-shaped stone: “The 5.73 cm tall Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) piece is made from banded jasper in the shape of braised pork belly”….

So that was Chiayi – and after lunch we drove north for 90 minutes to Taichung, our fourth destination of the trip. We visited Miyahara, “a red-brick architecture built by Miyahara Takeo, a Japanese ophthalmology doctor in 1927. It was the largest ophthalmology clinic in Taichung during the Japanese colonial period. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, Miyahara became the Taichung Health Bureau”. After years of decay, it has now been reinvented as a restaurant and ice-cream shop, and designed like Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We also visited the Shenji New Village, but there were so many people, we didn’t stay long. Instead we decided to check into the hotel, then head to dinner and a quick visit to the Fengjia Night Market, most famous of all Taichung’s night markets – check out all those zillions of people!

Day Four arrived and there we were in the WeMeet Hotel in central Taichung. I lived in Taichung when I first arrived in Taiwan, from 1999-2006 and I kinda know my way around, so we were up very early to go and visit the nearby Taichung Park. The park is famous for the pavilion built in 1908 for the visit of the Japanese Emperor’s son to launch the railway – it’s the iconic symbol of Taichung, and looks good lit up in the darkness.

A-Tu and I wandered on and found Taichung’s oldest church, Liu-Yuan Presbyterian Church 柳原長老教會, built in 1915, which has a notice saying it is the only church in the world with dragon-shaped waterspouts… well, you learn something new every day!

And then we walked to the nearby site of the famous Yi-Zhong Night Market, which in the very early morning was distinctly less lively than it would have been some hours earlier. This is where I used to come for my language classes, and every day I would pass a church on the corner opposite the night market – an old wooden building, surrounded by a parking area. That church was originally a Japanese Anglican (NSKK) Church, but when the Japanese left Taiwan in 1945, there being no Taiwan Anglican / Episcopal Church at that time, so it was handed over to another church group. The building was still there until about 15 years ago, when it was demolished and a large retail building put up, with the church relocated to the top floor. You can see it in this photo. The lower floors are obviously let to Adidas – aka the Adidas Church?

My favourite place in Taichung is the Rainbow Military Dependents Village, famously saved from demolition by 97-year-old Mr. Huang, who started to paint the walls in beautiful designs, and over some years succeeded in saving his village. It is now a major tourist attraction, which is why we were there, but Mr. Huang is still the main focus, and he was posing for photos and enjoying the well-deserved attention. The government has stepped in and restored some of the buildings, and it is looking even better than before, while still very much retaining its original character. There are huge construction projects going on nearby, so soon the village will be a little oasis in the middle of a high-rise community…

After Rainbow Village, we went to the new National Taichung Theater, designed by Japanese architect, Ito Toyo, with lots of curved walls, under-floor air-conditioning and all sorts of sound caves and air-holes. We had an excellent volunteer guide who was really passionate about showing us around and explaining the design; he also took us inside the actual grand theater. His enthusiasm was so wonderful, infectious even – a very highly recommended tour!

So that was Taichung. We had one more place to visit, and that was on the way home, when we took the coastal road north to escape the worst of the traffic and visited the Miaoli Wind Farm, which was just visible far off in the sea – Taiwan’s first offshore wind farm, and on track to begin commercial operations by the end of this year…

And so we arrived back at St. John’s University on Sunday evening soon after 7:00 pm, grateful that everything had gone smoothly, thankful for our guide and driver, for good food and drink, and for all the amazing places we’d visited. This was a tour focused on Taiwan’s cities and urban areas rather than scenic landscapes, but as one of the group said, “We have plenty of beautiful scenery back home, but we don’t have high-rise cities – so that’s what we want to see!” And we certainly did see many, also a lot of baroque architecture which was the architectural style chosen by the Japanese to build Taiwan’s cities during the colonial era, 1895-1945. Now it’s just nice to back in the big open space by the sea that is St. John’s University, with the mountains in the background, and where the air is relatively less-polluted and the temps are definitely cooler. Ah yes, being away on a bus for 4 days really helps you to appreciate being home!

Thanks to SJU for all the planning and organizing of the whole trip, thanks to everyone in the group for being so lovely, and thanks be to God that everything went so well! YES!

The Very First Banksy Exhibition opens in Taipei!

Banksy: The Authentic Rebel” Exhibition has opened in a Taipei Shopping Mall, and it’s great! Free entry. On until March 24.

There’s 25 art pieces on display, and it’s all arranged by Phillips the auction people – apparently the first Banksy exhibition in Taipei!

The Girl with Balloon screen print is perhaps the most famous, it’s now worth £80,000 after the shredding of the canvas at an auction last year. “Created as a stencil street art piece in 2002, the image of a young girl with her hand stretched toward a heart-shaped red balloon has become a symbol of political protests — such as during the Syrian civil war in 2014″….

Quoting Picasso, Banksy wrote on his post: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge — Picasso” …

These are my favourites at the exhibition…

And the one that made me smile is the one with the shopping trolleys, titled ‘Trolley Hunters’...

So if you’re in Taipei this week, then do go and visit!

Oxford Vibes and more @ CMS-UK HQ!

Off to Oxford for 2 days ~ yippee!  Main purpose – to visit CMS Church Mission Society HQ today – to meet all the wonderful people who work there and share with them a little about life in Taiwan.  Oh, and to give them all a few smarties, glitter, bubbles – and fun.  After all there they are, working hard all day long.  Helping us.  Supporting us.  Always cheerful.  Always ready to stop their work and welcome visitors like me.  Ah yes, I’m so happy to visit them all 😊😊😊  – and this is the place, on the outskirts of Oxford….

But first a day of soaking up the Oxford Vibes….

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Yes, a whole day yesterday in that great city of learning, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ ~ Oxford!  What a city, what a university, and what glorious weather!

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I admit, I’m not an Oxford person.  I can’t recognise any college or building or landmark, haven’t got a clue what the colleges are, nor why they’re famous, other than just being part of Oxford University.  So all I can tell you is that the buildings and colleges are beautiful, and spires are many.  Spires and steeples and towers and gargoyles and churches and chapels everywhere.

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And amazing autumn trees…

And some street art, especially on the Cowley Road – this poem, ‘Slowly Slowly Cowley Road,’ by Steve Larkin…

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And I found a tower, belonging to the university church of St. Mary’s. It’s £4 to go up, and well worth it on a beautiful day.  Great views of the Radcliffe Camera and lots of colleges. Do as I did and tag along with people who know what they’re looking at!

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I spent hours walking the streets and looking at everything.  What a great city!

This is the area around Christ Church Cathedral, which is also the college chapel of Christ Church. £8 entrance fee, so I didn’t go in – too much else to see. And yes, there was a field of cows there too…

Came back along the Iffley Rd ~ Roger Bannister’s famous 4-minute mile was done here!

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Other scenes along the Iffley Rd, including the Mad Hatter Pub…

And The Oxford Blue….

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And so to CMS HQ today.  And it was quite some day. Non-stop action all day long. So many old friends and new, and lots to catch up on.  And photos to take.  Did a short talk about Taiwan at lunchtime.  And I was very well looked after for the whole day by Anne, who smiled all day long.  Ever cheerful.  The salt of the earth.  We all love her to bits.  Spot her in the photos below, we’re the ones in red!

These are all the great people who spent 30 minutes listening to me talking non-stop about Taiwan…. and they were still smiling at the end ~ YES!

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I presented CMS with an artillery shell cross from Bishop Lai and the Diocese of Taiwan, one for CMS, and one also for our CEO Philip Mounstephen as he leaves to become the new Bishop of Truro.  He wasn’t there today, so everyone else posed for a photo on his behalf instead!  Actually, Bishop Lai called me earlier this morning from Taiwan, and so I brought greetings from him to everyone at CMS.

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A big thank you to all those who made my visit to Oxford today really wonderful – including those in the CMS house where I was given a warm welcome.  And special thanks to all those in CMS HQ, these guys have been taking such good care of me all these years.  Y’know, CMS is a great group of people, and I love ’em to bits.  God is so good!

A Huge Big Welcome to Northern Ireland!

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Ah, Northern Ireland – such a very green and pleasant land, where it rains so much that all it has to do is stop raining and everyone is upbeat and happy. A grey, cloudy and overcast day might put the rest of the world off from venturing outside, but not in N. Ireland. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” they say all day long. And it always is! Y’know, you just can’t fail to be charmed by the people and their attitude to the weather – in fact to the whole of life. Everyone is, well, oh so polite, every car stops before you’ve even arrived at the zebra crossing to let you cross, they hold doors open or stand back to let you through first, they offer you their seat if you want to look out of the train window, they all say ‘good morning’ and they spend their days talking to their friends on the street or phoning each up for a chat. There is a quaintness about N. Ireland that is so charmingly old-fashioned that you just have to smile at how lovely they are.  And what a sense of humour they have too….

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Almost the first thing you hear on arrival in N. Ireland is how they haven’t got a government, but the last thing you see is any evidence of this fact. Everything works like it should. The trains and buses all run on time, and guess what, they even coordinate with each other. 😊 And N. Ireland people over 60 can travel on any bus or any train at any time to anywhere in N. Ireland completely free of charge, and at 65 they can do the same but all over the whole of Ireland too. This is really quite incredible. And all achieved without a government. Just imagine what the rest of the UK could do if they got rid of theirs!

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My good friends, John and Margaret are real N. Ireland people, and they kindly invited me to visit them in Coleraine for a few days. This was my 3rd visit to N. Ireland, the last one being in 2010-ish, also to visit John and Margaret, and on that trip they took me to Giant’s Causeway and other famous places. In 2005, I had taken some of my Taiwan friends to visit them when they were CMSI (Church Mission Society Ireland) mission partners in Kenya and we all had such a great time together.  Ah yes, Kenya features a lot in their house in Coleraine!

Before Kenya, John was vicar at Lisburn Cathedral for 17 years, so they were well-placed to answer my endless questions about N. Ireland – on culture, history, religion, faith and of course pronunciation and meaning of places like Cullybackey, Ballymoney, Ballybogey, Ballygalley and Knocknamuckley – and those are just the ones I can remember, there’s plenty more I don’t even know where to start.  As I traveled around, place names were many, but people were surprisingly few. So, if I saw a whole crowd, I just had to take a photo – just check this out, this is a rare sight in N. Ireland!

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Margaret took me to visit Coleraine Town. It’s a grey town and it was a grey day, so it all added to the atmosphere. But being almost the only tourist in sight that day, the Tourist Information lady was delighted to have someone to talk to about the history, and she was wonderful. Like a ray of sunshine breaking through the greyness. I learned all about ‘The Honourable The Irish Society’ who were a group of merchants in London who were sent to N. Ireland on the orders of James I to establish a settlement in the early 1600’s, they developed the town and also built the church, St. Patrick’s, although it was built on top of the foundations of an earlier church, dating back to the 14th century.

Needless to say, visiting Coleraine with Margaret was not the usual sightseeing tour. She knew most of the people we passed in the street, she took me into shops to meet her relatives who worked there, and of course when we got into the church, I was given a very warm welcome by more of her friends. Grey indeed outside, but inside, all was sunshine and warmth!

Later we drove out around the coast to Portstewart, Portrush and Dunluce Castle. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” said John all afternoon, smiling away. And it was!

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We spent a day in Derry / Londonderry – going by train around the coast. It didn’t rain then, either, and yes, it was great!

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My first visit to the famous city of Derry. Highly recommended. I’ve heard Derry described as ‘raw and beautiful’ and that kind of sums it all up. Very beautiful, with the most intact city walls of any city I’ve ever seen. A real walled city, full of history.

And in the walled city is the Church of Ireland (Anglican) St. Columb’s Cathedral, built between 1628-1633, the first post-Reformation Anglican church built in the British Isles and the first non-RC cathedral to be built in Western Europe…

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There’s a stained glass window in the church commemorating the life of Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), who was wife of Archbishop William Alexander of Derry. She wrote many famous hymns there, including ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away, outside the city walls’, the latter thought to have been inspired by the hills of the Derry, which are indeed outside the city walls…

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But Derry was severely affected by ‘The Troubles’. The conflict is widely considered to have begun in the city, with many regarding the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 as the beginning. Bogside is a majority Catholic / Irish republican area, and shares a border with the Protestant / Ulster loyalist enclave of the Fountain. From the city walls we could see both.

The ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident of 1972, when 14 protesters were killed by the British army, also occurred in the Bogside area of Derry, commemorated in this mural.

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The Bogside Murals are famous, virtually all political rather than great works of art, and I spent ages taking photos of them all; they also mark the spots where many of the killings took place. This is the ‘raw’ side of Derry, raw, bleak and poignant. Many of the posters comment on the current political impasse and urge the leaders to get moving on settling the disputes….

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These days, tourists like me come to take photos of the wall murals, slogans and flags, described in this article here as ‘showrooms of ethnic antagonism’.  Sadly, centuries of mistrust and bitterness are ingrained in the hearts of the people on both sides. Despite the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, society is still deeply divided. Geographically divided by public housing policies and educational practices, there are few opportunities for people to have meaningful contact with the other side. The 2 communities are close-knit, parochial, almost tribal ~ effectively living separate but parallel lives.

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Certainly the churches are very divided. Church buildings are everywhere in N. Ireland, apparently there are 26 in Coleraine alone, many the result of breaking away from one of the others. Current issues in society – of abortion and same-sex marriage – have actually brought the churches closer together. But as John says, when it comes to N. Ireland Christianity, the Protestant Churches have placed way too much focus on the ‘way in’ and not nearly enough on the ‘way on’. The Christian faith has to be lived out day by day and while the churches argue and divide over doctrine, Brexit is on the horizon, secularism is on the rise and the church risks being side-lined, as is happening in England. N. Ireland has a long way to go. Prayer is needed!

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On Thursday, we went to Belfast. I like the red-bricked buildings of Queen’s University…

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