Tag Archives: Tainan

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!

Chinese New Year 2018!

Ah yes, and as with every Chinese New Year, food featured highly!  Food, food and more delicious food.  YUMMY!  For most people, the New Year celebrations revolve around family reunions, gatherings with old friends, temple visits to pray for blessings for the new year, preparing food offerings and worship at the family ancestor shrine, and of course the enjoyment of meals and delicacies of every kind.  Many people also take the chance to travel, but just as many people say they can’t face the traffic jams and prefer to stay home.  Meanwhile those in the tourism and transport business work from morning to night, making the most of the opportunities ~ or just busy, busy, busy, after all it’s high season.  And red is the colour to be seen everywhere, whether in decorations in homes, hotels and businesses, or in the new clothes that everyone wears, or in the red envelopes that are given or received in every home.  Ah, red, a great colour!  In Chinese tradition it symbolizes blessing, good fortune, happiness.  Yes, I love red!

Of course, we were all too well aware of the tragedy of the recent earthquake disaster in Hualien, and of those who were killed, injured, bereaved, made homeless or with damaged homes and businesses.  Hualien is a major tourist destination for Taiwan people at Chinese New Year, and even though local government leaders and those involved in the tourism industry wanted people to continue with their travel plans where possible, in fact many cancelled.  This had a knock-on effect for the whole of the east coast, and Taitung too was relatively free of people, and therefore also cars, which meant less traffic jams.

The most important meal of Chinese New Year is that of Chinese New Year’s Eve, when the whole family gathers together, and sons and their families return to the family home.  I’d been at St. James’ Church, Taichung all the past week, and my good friends there, the very lovely and welcoming Wang family kindly invited me to their home for the New Year’s Eve meal, where mother, father and 2 daughters were busy preparing all kinds of goodies ~ home-made everything!  All very very delicious and very beautifully served.  Thank you!

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On Chinese New Year’s Day, last Friday, we set off from Taichung heading south.  ‘We’ is my good friend, Ah-Guan and her daughter, Yaling.  Ah-Guan had kindly organized everything, she is really great fun for traveling with!  We were heading for Tainan.  First stop was Chiayi County, Budai Township 布袋 to see the High-Heeled Wedding Church. This is quite some landmark.  ‘Church’ it is not.  Or maybe it is.  Cross, there isn’t.  And no services planned.  It is actually a photo-shoot location for couples taking their wedding photos, as is the tradition in Taiwan, a few weeks before their actual wedding.  Built to make your wedding photos look like you’re in a kind of dreamworld, Cinderella-style.  Actually I like it.  Not all the cute photo-op things around, but the actual glass monument itself.  It’s very bright blue and very shiny, made of glass.  Hey, every town needs something to draw people in, and well, Budai has a bright blue high-heeled church!

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But the story behind it is one of tragedy.  This coastal area of SW Taiwan lacks freshwater, and in the 1950’s, people dug deep wells to get drinking water, which unfortunately proved high in heavy metals, especially arsenic. Long-term consumption of arsenic causes poor circulation and eventually can cause the feet to turn purplish-black (from gangrene), thus known as ‘Blackfoot Disease’.  The only solution was amputation.  This caused a huge amount of suffering at its peak in the 1960’s. One local girl had to have her feet amputated just before her wedding, so the wedding was cancelled and she spent the rest of her life being taken care of by the church.  Blackfoot Disease therefore denied her the chance of following the traditional Taiwanese custom of stepping over the fire-pan on her wedding day, symbolizing leaving her old life and starting a new one.  As the bride would be beautifully dressed, she would also be wearing high-heeled shoes on her wedding day…..

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The church mentioned in this story is the Presbyterian Church in Beimen District 北門 (don’t confuse this Beimen with the Beimen in Taipei City), the next area to Budai, though actually in Tainan County.  We visited Beimen next.  The most famous local resident was Dr. Wang King-ho 王金河 (1916-2014), who dedicated much of his life to treating patients with Blackfoot Disease at his clinic there, now a museum.

“An outbreak of Blackfoot Disease began in Beimen in 1956, and Wang partnered with medical professionals at National Taiwan University to research the disease. Missionary Lillian Dickson moved to Beimen in 1960 and opened the Mercy’s Door Free Clinic, which was funded by her organization Mustard Seed International, with Wang as head physician.  Hsieh Wei, a doctor based in Puli, Nantou, would make weekly round trips to perform amputations on patients at Mercy’s Door.  After Mercy’s Door closed, Wang returned to his own clinic before retiring in 1996.”

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The museum is well worth visiting, but I will spare you any photos of the preserved amputated feet that are on display.  Gross is the word.  Sorry, but it’s horrible.  Not for the squeamish, like me.  Slightly more bearable are the old medical instruments that were used, but the tools like the saw, and the operating table and the old photos make it all very gruesomely horrific.

Beimen also has a new ‘church’ to add to its tourist attractions, this one a Crystal Church 水晶教堂.  We went there too.  And the old Beimen salt washing workshops, now converted into a visitor center.  And we loved the ‘Money Coming’ 錢來也 Grocery Shop (Qianlaiye), built in 1952 originally as the cafeteria for the salt workers ~ what a great name for a shop!

And then we went to Jingzaijiao Tile-paved Salt Fields 井仔腳瓦盤鹽田, the oldest salt-field in Taiwan, started in 1818.  This is quite an amazing scene!

The nearby houses are quite beautiful…

And so to Tainan 台南, where we stayed at Grace Church, with our good friends, Rev. Philip Ho and his wife, Nancy and daughter Kathy.  They were so so so good to us!  Yes, great home-cooked meals and kindness galore.  They also had planned our itinerary so well, Philip driving and Nancy really ace on where to go and how to get there.  And they love posing for crazy photos… we took many like this!

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And this….!

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The next day, we were up bright and early for a tour around the area, including the bird reserve famous for the black-faced spoonbills. Actually we didn’t see any of those, but we saw plenty of others of the species listed, including Avocets, Caspian Terns, Curlews, Sacred Ibis, Redshank and all kinds of herons and egrets. We also met some of the wardens who help to staff the reserve and they were so keen to let us look through their telescopes and tell us the birds we were looking at.   Philip used to be a biology teacher, so he knows all the plants, animals and birds too.  A great field-guide!  Actually, there’s less than 3,000 black-faced spoonbills in the whole world and about two-thirds of the world’s population spend the winter in the Tsengwen River estuary, Tainan. But the tide was out, and so were the birds!

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So off we went to see lots of other interesting places, ending with a visit to the site that was St. Michael’s House in Tainan (opposite the Tainan Theological College,) which since the house demolition some years ago, is now used as a large vegetable garden, for local people and church members.  It’s a little oasis in the midst of the big city!

On Sunday, we went to the service at Grace Church, where Philip is the vicar.  The church is on the site of the Grace Church Kindergarten, and they have a very wonderful and very friendly congregation!

Their flower arrangement, combining Lent and Chinese New Year was beautiful!

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I was especially pleased to meet Rev. Samuel Liao, one of our retired clergy and his wife and family.  He is always so encouraging and cheerful, and loves to hear updates of the Anglican Church in England.  Hey, all of us are in red, or shades of it!

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A great service, and a group photo.  Or two, since some of our friends came a bit late and missed the service.  We met lots of old friends.  Ching-Ping, former teacher at St. James’ Kindergarten and her son.  Also Christopher, my colleague here at St. John’s University, his wife Linda and family, along with Linda’s mother who lives in Tainan.  And here they all are.  As it was Chinese New Year, there was no lunch after the service, but we had coffee and plenty of chat!

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And then it was time to say goodbye to Tainan.  Philip and family kindly took us in their car over to the east coast, Taitung 台東 for the next 2 days.  Taitung has the most wonderful coastal scenery in the world!  Blue skies and high mountains too.  And home to many of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.  This journey took many hours to get there, so we stopped for the evening at the famous Chihben (Zhiben / Jhiben) Hot Springs 知本溫泉 area, and went to the Hotel Royal where we had a yummy dinner and the extra blessing of watching the traditional dancing of the Beinan (Puyuma) People, oh and fireworks to finish the evening. (Check out this link for my report of our previous visit to the area over New Year weekend 2016-17, when we followed some of the same route).

So we arrived very late at our destination, Chishang 池上, in the northern area of Taitung, close to Hualien County border, and famous for it’s rice ~ and it’s scenery!

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Up early to see the sunrise and a walk around Dapo Lake, with THE best views!  And what great weather!

Philip and his wife have a good friend, Yi-hua, living in Chishang. Actually, she became a Christian through their ministry when they were in St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, and she was baptized by Philip there a few years ago. In 2016, she moved to Chishang with her husband to start a business selling their newly-invented rice cakes, which are so wonderful!  All made using the 100% real and very famous Chishang rice. There’s savoury and sweet ones, and served with coffee, wow, so delicious.  We arrived on their doorstep (their shop is diagonally opposite the Chishang Presbyterian Church) while they were still asleep (having stayed up to the early hours baking!) and yet they warmly welcomed us in and shared about how God has led them in their business these recent months, ending with a prayer of blessing from Philip.  If you’re ever in Chishang, you just MUST go and visit!

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But now farewell to Chishang, and we were heading first north, then over the mountains to the coastal road and southwards along the coast to Yiwan Card Church 宜灣卡片教堂,  a Presbyterian Church built in 1951, used by the local Amis People 阿美族 (so called the ‘Card Church’ because the design was apparently copied from a card, collected in childhood by one of the church members!) Philip is here below holding an Amis Bible. The church is gorgeous ~ I just love the colours!

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We continued south, visiting famous landmarks and sea vistas, too many to mention, but all in the area around Chenggong Township 成功鎮, where they also have beautiful flowers. And to the Amis village of Pisirian (meaning the place where people raise sheep in Amis language)…

The most famous scenic spot in the whole area is Sanxiantai 三仙台 and its amazing eight-arch bridge.  I walked over the whole thing and up to the light beacon, built in 1915 during the Japanese Colonial Period, the first of its kind on the east coast. I loved it!  I had been to Sanxiantai once before, but many many years ago.  Apparently the best time to go is at sunrise, but we got there mid-afternoon and the clouds were already rolling in fast, so at least it was nice and cool!

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We stayed overnight at the Bunun Leisure Farm, 布農部落 where we had visited also on the same trip as the Beinan Hunting Festival, over New Year weekend 2016-17.

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Bunun Leisure Farm is an initiative set up by Bunun Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Pai Kwang-Sheng and his wife to help the local Bunun People in education and to revive their traditional culture, and to share these resources with visitors, providing a reliable and sustainable source of income for the people.  It was the first time that Philip and his wife had visited, and oh, how they loved it!  We had a wonderful dinner, watched the music performance that evening, and then the dancing performance the next morning, met Rev. Pai who kindly hosted us to lunch and coffee and, well, we were all so so happy!  It is such a great place.  We couldn’t bear to leave!

But leave we had to, in order to get back to Tainan.  And the next day to Taichung.  And after a wonderful dinner, hosted by Rev. Lily Chang for those who help lead and preach at the St. James’ English service, so I headed back to Taipei on Thursday early morning  and eventually home on Thursday night.

What a great Chinese New Year it was!  Special thanks to good friend Ah-Guan and her family, Rev. Philip Ho and his family, and all those who we met, those who welcomed us so warmly and generously, including the Rev. Lily Chang and the Wang family in Taichung, Ms. Xiao in Chishang, Rev. Samuel Liao and the church members of Grace Church, Tainan, Rev. Pai in Bunun Farm and so many more ~ and thanks to the good friends who kindly gave us their Bunun Farm coupons so we could stay there effectively as their guests.  Everyone was so hospitable, gracious and kind.  And not surprisingly, some were exhausted – especially Philip as he did magnificently with so many long hours of driving ~ I have more than one photo like this one!  Thank you Philip.  And I just love his hat!

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The weather was amazing, the scenery was spectacular, the dancing was great, there were virtually no traffic problems, and everything worked out so well.  Thanks be to Almighty God!

And when I got home, Bishop Roger and his wife, Alice and sister-in-law Anne (who’d all been staying at my house over the New Year while visiting Anne and Alice’s lovely parents in the nearby Shuang-Lien Elderly Home) had just left for their respective homes in Mauritius and USA. But I know from their photos that the weather in Sanzhi over the New Year was also warm and sunny,  thanks be to God.  Big thanks to Bishop Roger and family for house-sitting!  This is us on the only day we overlapped, their arrival day on Friday February 9!

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Chinese New Year officially lasts until the 15th day of the first lunar month, so we still have another week to go until the official start of Lantern Festival ~ but as the Chinese New Year festival was so late this year, all work in Taiwan officially resumed on Wednesday, as did all schools, except universities ~ our new semester starts on Monday.  Ah yes, it’s all go to get ready!

So with the New Year well and truly here, wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Dog!

I love CMS! A Great Big Welcome to Taiwan for Raj Patel, CMS Regional Manager for Asia ~ all the way from Oxford ~ YES!

Yes, honest, I love CMS!  And all those associated with CMS ~ the mission partners, CMS staff, UK Link Churches and of course all those who welcome us to serve in their dioceses, churches, organizations and communities!

CMS stands for Church Mission Society ~ I joined in September 1989, served in Tanzania for 7 years, and then in January 1999 arrived in Taiwan and I’ve been here ever since, first at St. James’ Church, Taichung for 7 years, and since early 2007 based here at St. John’s University, on Taiwan’s NW coast.  My last formal CMS-UK visitors came in November 2007 when we were honoured to welcome 4 VIPs from CMS: Rev. Canon Tim Dakin, then General Secretary of CMS (now Bishop of Winchester); the Rev. Philip Simpson, then Eurasia Director, CMS; Rev. Canon Chye Ann Soh, then East Asia Director, CMS; and the Rev. Simon Na, then North East Asia Manager, CMS, based in South Korea ~ all were here for a 5-day whistle-stop tour of the country, which included the consecration of the new Education Building at St. James’ Church, Taichung.

How could we in Taiwan ever hope to follow on from such a high-level VIP delegation of such handsome and charming visitors?!  Impossible!  So we had a very long pause, and now, fast forward to 9 years later, we have just had the great honour of welcoming Raj Patel to visit Taiwan.  Equally handsome and as charming as the other 4, of course!  He’s in charge of the Asia office at CMS-UK HQ in Oxford, so definitely of VIP status!

Here he is arriving at the Taoyuan Airport last Wednesday ~ from the photo you can just sense his excitement and enthusiasm arriving in Taiwan for his first ever visit ~ YES!  Just don’t mention the typhoon that delayed him for 18 hours in Bangkok on his way here!

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And in case you’re wondering, yes I did take him to St. James’ Church and he saw the 4 VIP CMS visitors sitting in the front row of the photo taken after the Education Building Consecration Service on November 24, 2007 ….. Ah yes, we love welcoming CMS VIP’s!

But now, back to that typhoon…. This past summer, between July 8 and September 9, despite being a very active typhoon season, none came in this direction, all headed to Japan or Hong Kong instead. But from September 9 to September 27, in a space of 2 weeks, we had 3 typhoons, 2 of them direct hits.  Raj was supposed to arrive on Tuesday September 27, but it was not to be.  Typhoon Megi was big, and brought widespread devastation ~ thousands of trees, electricity poles, scaffolding and signboards were blown down, and there were power and water outages and major flooding in some areas. Fortunately the authorities called a Typhoon Day (work and classes cancelled) on Tuesday and extended it to Wednesday, so although it was bad, it could have been a lot worse. As it was, 7 people were killed and over 600 injured, with zillions of dollars of damage, particularly to agriculture.

So Raj was stuck in Bangkok and we were stuck here.  But good news came early on Wednesday September 28 when Raj arrived in the very early morning, and at 7:00 am there I was to welcome him at the airport – but unfortunately minus welcoming balloons (couldn’t get any cos of the typhoon) and minus tinsel (discovered on the day before that the termites had eaten it all) so we had my yellow Mauritius scarf instead ha ha!

So we had to pack Raj’s already packed 6-day itinerary into only 5 days, and non-stop it was!  First stop upon arrival was to a very grey and overcast St. John’s University (SJU) and Advent Church where the maintenance staff were busy cleaning up after the typhoon, and students and faculty all absent (all work and classes cancelled), except for SJU President Peter Herchang Ay 艾和昌, Advent Church Rector, Rev Lennon Chang Yuan-Rung 張員榮牧師 and SJU Acting Chaplain, Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang 吳興祥牧師 and his wife, who all came along for the Grand Welcome Coffee Reception ~ yes, great coffee and then lunch!

Raj had brought photos on his iPad to share with everyone about his family, life and background covering his early life in India and East Africa and then in the UK so he was much in demand at every place we went….

Second stop was St. Stephen’s Church, Keelung, on Taiwan’s NE coast, and about an hour’s drive from here.  Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang kindly drove us there.  Rev. Julia Lin Shu-Hua 林淑華牧師 had phoned up the children in the church-run after-school classes to ask them to come to meet Raj and to perform some music and welcome songs – the children were all at home as it was a Typhoon Day, but the typhoon was gone – so lots turned up and we had such a warm welcome! Raj told his life story by getting people of different ages to stand up to indicate the age at which something significant had happened to him, starting at the age of 6 when his family left Kenya to move back to India.  We also heard all about St. Stephen’s history and ministry and their recent mission trip to Sabah, and all followed by yummy yummy soup and fruits. Such a moving, fun and happy afternoon, and they were all so lovely – thank you!

And so to Taipei City to stay overnight in the diocesan guest house and to meet Bishop Lai and Mrs. Lily Lai, who had just come back from the USA early on the Tuesday morning, landing just before all flights were cancelled by the typhoon.  Most importantly we had tea-drinking and sharing in the theology of tea ~ Raj called it Bishop Lai’s ‘tea-ology’!

Sightseeing had to be crammed in and around the church visits, so I scheduled a Taipei City Sightseeing Tour for 6:00 am on Thursday ha ha!  Off we went on foot to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, the Presidential Office and Taipei Main Station, then by MRT to Taipei 101 and Sun Yat-Sen Memorial and back by bus in time for breakfast!

Next stop was St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei to meet our brand-new, very-lovely and always-smiling dean, Rev. Philip Lin Li-Feng 林立峰牧師, in fact, he’s so new that he is not yet installed, but we had such great coffee and then lunch along with Rev. Michael Liu. How could we ever forget that lunch?  Rev. Michael Liu is one of our esteemed senior clergy, and in 1973 he was sponsored by CMS to spend a year in the UK for church visits and particularly for a period of study at the Royal School of Church Music.  His memory is amazing, and we laughed the whole lunch through as he shared stories of his experiences in the UK, starting with the fact that he lost about 20 kg (3 stone) of weight in that year. Wow! You wanna lose weight? Just spend a year in the UK eating cucumber sandwiches and waiting until 8:30 pm for ‘supper’ which for him started with being given copious amounts of sherry, which Michael wasn’t used to and not expecting, and on an empty stomach – he drank 4 glasses of the stuff and then thought UK was having a major earthquake, only to find out it was the sherry taking its toll!

And so farewell to northern Taiwan, and off by High-Speed Rail (HSR) down south to Kaohsiung. 90 minutes by HSR covers a distance that would take 5 hours to drive, and it is oh, so smooth and comfortable.  And Raj will be ever grateful that I am not showing you the photos I took of him fast asleep the whole journey – his 18-hour wait in Bangkok finally caught up with him!  We took the Kaohsiung MRT to Formosa Boulevard Station 美麗島 which has the largest glass work in the world, the Dome of Light, a magnificent multi-coloured ceiling. I love it!

We stayed the night at St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung with Rev. Richard Lee Ray-Chiang 李瑞強牧師 and his family, they were so kind and welcoming.  Richard happily shared his testimony with us, they took us out for dinner, and for a tour of the church ~ it’s very moving to hear about and see the ministry of the church, and hear how the Gospel is moving hearts and minds in the city.

Friday morning and we were up for an early start to meet our good friend, Rev. Cheng Chen-Chang 鄭成章牧師 and his wife for the world’s most delicious breakfast (true true true!) and a quick visit to St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung.  The church is supposed to resemble a crown, and was designed by the same architect as Advent Church.  We met the principal and some of the children of the kindergarten, before rushing off the get the train to Tainan.  Ah, yes, non-stop action!

And 30 minutes later we were in Tainan, guests of Rev. Philip Ho Jeng-Long 何政隆牧師 and his wife Nancy.  Philip is a bundle of high energy and it’s very hard to keep up with him, but hey, we tried!  First he drove us to visit St. Andrew’s Kindergarten 聖安得烈宣道所 in ChiaDing 高雄市茄萣區 (variously spelt on signboards in the town as Jiading or Queding), where their son, Rev. Joseph Ho Ray-En 何睿恩牧師 is the newly-appointed priest in charge. The 30-minute drive towards the coast was lined by fallen trees after the typhoon and we discovered that the kindergarten had been closed an extra day on Thursday because of power and water cuts ~ they had also been flooded and were drying out when we arrived.  Such a warm welcome from the principal and staff and the 95 children who were having their lunch when we arrived, they loved to practice their English!

During lunch, the heavens opened and the sky came falling down.  Oh, such rain!  It was still going when we arrived at Grace Church, Tainan where we stayed the night and where Philip and Nancy have been based only since August 1.  Being new in the city, they’d invited their church members and friends, Hsiu-Chin and her husband to take them on a city tour for our benefit, and they did a great job – they also came along for dinner and the following morning too.

Tainan is the first and oldest city in southern Taiwan, and jam-packed full of history ~ and so after the rain stopped a bit, off we went to visit the famous and very beautiful National Museum of Taiwan Literature and the even more famous Taiwan Confucian Temple (built in 1665) and then Tainan Theological College and Seminary 台南神學院, run by the Presbyterian Church (founded in 1876 by Thomas Barclay from Scotland) ….

Philip and Nancy were biology teachers before they moved into full-time church ministry and so at 6:30 am on Saturday morning (and after a little persuasion!) we were up bright and early for a walk in the nearby but badly-affected-by-the-typhoon Barclay Park for a nature tour. Trying to keep up with Philip was quite a task but Raj managed it ~ and the rest of us followed far behind!

And so a fond farewell to Philip and Nancy, who were starting a nature class at Grace Church that morning, and off we went to visit my good friends, Dr. John Fan and his very lovely wife, Judy.  Judy is my former student from my adult English classes at St. James’ Church many years ago and their children were in the St. James’ Kindergarten. John is a psychiatrist, Judy a nurse and only a few weeks ago they moved to Tainan to open a psychiatric clinic not far from Grace Church.  So we spent a wonderful morning with them and their oldest son, Tim at the clinic, and later at the restaurant. Finally at last, after days and days of traveling round Taiwan, finally, finally Raj found someone who shared his passion for football and had heard of Leicester City F. C. Ah, he was so happy!

And so by train from Tainan, 45 minutes to Chiayi to visit St. Peter’s Church.  Mr. Carl Lee and his wife Anny kindly picked us up. Their vicar, Rev. Simon Tsou Tsai-Shin 鄒才新牧師 is actually in the USA at the moment on a visit to the Diocese of Los Angeles, so we were warmly welcomed by Simon’s wife, Lisa and their gorgeous son Jonah, who took to Raj immediately and kept appearing for a hug or a word of English. He was so fast that all the photos are blurred, but you get the idea!

Our purpose in visiting St. Peter’s Church was to meet and listen to one of their younger church members, Mr. Isaac Chen Wei-chieh 陳瑋杰 who was one of the 3 delegates from the Diocese of Taiwan to attend the Council of Churches of East Asia CCEA Youth Forum in Malaysia in the summer.  He had such a wonderful and moving experience at the Youth Forum, and as the subject was mission, and in particular the Five Marks of Mission, he kindly shared with us all about his experiences.  Quite a daunting challenge, but he did a great job!  Some of the church members also joined the meeting and we had some songs and prayers too, followed by tea.  Isaac and Raj got along very well, and it was such a great time of sharing and reflection together.  It was one of the highlights of Raj’s visit, he was still talking about Isaac on the way to the airport on Monday!

We then had a few hours for sightseeing and dinner, so our first stop was Hinoki Village, with 28 beautifully-restored Japanese-style Cypress buildings originally used by the Alishan Forestry Workers during the Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945). The rain stopped just in time!  And then to a yummy Thai Restaurant, followed by Raj’s first visit to a Night Market.  Such fun, and thank you Carl, Anny and Isaac for your kindness!

And so to our last church (our 10th in 5 days!) ready for our Raj’s last full day in Taiwan on this trip ~ to St. James’ Church, Taichung with our church intern, Mr. Felix Chen Ming-You 陳銘佑. He is preparing for NSM ministry as a priest, and is on a placement at St. James, but helping out with the St. Peter’s Church Youth Group on Saturday evenings while their vicar is away.

He happily drove us to St. James, and we got there late evening, to be very warmly welcomed by the rector, Rev. Lily Chang Ling-Ling 張玲玲牧師.  On Sunday morning, Lily was to be at St. Peter’s Church, covering the service there, so we had Morning Prayer at the 9:30 am St. James’ English Service.  Raj had been invited to preach and we had a very dramatic sermon based on the day’s epistle reading from 2 Timothy 1: 1-14, especially verses 6-7: ‘I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.’  It was great fun, and of course will be long-remembered by everyone!  We even had a special group photo after the English Service…

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After a tea-break, we also attended the second half of the Chinese service which was led by my good friend, former student and retired priest, Rev. Sam Cheng Ching-San 鄭慶三牧師 who serves at the Church of the Leading Star in Taiping, about 30 minutes drive from St. James.  Then to the church lunch!

Jerry Liang, lay minister of the St. James’ English Congregation, and his wife, Jean and grandson James took wonderful care of us for the afternoon and off we went to WuFeng, an outer suburb of Taichung, near Jerry’s home and the mountains. The area suffered huge damage and devastation during the major earthquake on September 21, 1999 – nine months after I arrived in Taiwan, while I was living at St. James’ Church. There is now a museum there, called the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan‘ 國立自然科學博物館九二一地震教育園區 and “dedicated to the 7.3 earthquake that struck the center of Taiwan at 1:47 am on Tuesday, 21 September 1999. The museum is located on the site of the former Guangfu Junior High School; the shell of the building forms the exterior walls of the museum and the Museum’s Chelungpu Fault Gallery crosses the fault on which the earthquake occurred.”

It is both very terrible and very humbling to see so much damage and devastation, knowing over 2,000 people were killed in Taiwan on that day, and yet also amazing to see how well the damaged school has been preserved.  It was my first visit, and also Jean’s first visit. Many people have so many bad memories of that day and the aftershocks that followed, that lots of local people feel unable to visit – until now.  Many people visit the museum for the earthquake experience with shaking floors etc etc, but I was more interested in the damaged buildings and preservation…..

Then we visited the nearby WuFeng Lin Family Garden at Ming-Tai High School, originally built in the early 20th century but badly damaged by the 1999 earthquake and now restored. Beautiful!  We bought some traditional Taiwan Pearl Milk Tea and sat and drank it there, along with Jerry’s neighbour, Rev. Sam Cheng.  Amazingly this was the one and only place in all our 5 days of traveling around Taiwan that seemed unaffected by the typhoon.  The school has some tall cypress trees decorated with lights and baubles as for Christmas, and none of them seemed to have any damage at all!

And so back to St. James for a farewell dinner with Lily and senior warden Samuel Chen and his wife Luanne, supervisor of the St. James’ Kindergarten.  Raj was presented with some Chinese tea which had an ancient Chinese poem written on the box, Jerry read it out and we had a great time discussing the meaning.  For Jerry’s account of the day and lots of good photos, see his blog post here.

After the dinner, we had one last visit to make, to Lily’s mother, aged almost 90, who is staying with Lily and was busy playing on her iPad!  She loved meeting Raj and he loved meeting her.  She looked at his photos and shared about her life.  Turns out her surname is the same as mine, so we must be related!