#MyAdventCalendar2021 #Day6: This is Bishop David J. H. Lai 賴榮信主教 and his wife, Lily who we visited today at their home in Tainan. Bishop Lai retired as Bishop of Taiwan in February 2020, and really enjoys welcoming visitors to drink tea and enjoy fellowship, while Lily is out at art classes & learning new things like Nordic Walking ~ they both love being retired!
Due to the pandemic, they have not yet been able to visit their children & grandchildren in New York since they retired, but they say they are so grateful to God and to you all for your prayers for their health and well-being. Please do pray for them!
Tainan on Taiwan’s SW coast is packed full of places to see, treasures to find and special foods to taste; it’s Taiwan’s oldest city and former capital city so it has a long and vibrant history. It’s also the cultural capital of Taiwan – so forget Taipei – Tainan is where it’s all happening! Our 26 hours there this past weekend was never going to be enough to see everything – but then that was never the intention. Just a few sights would be enough! And especially on the last weekend of August in what is being hailed as Taiwan’s hottest summer ever recorded. It was hot, mostly 27-34°C, but less humid than northern Taiwan, and definitely less sultry and muggy than Taipei City. This was the beach at Yuguang Island 漁光島 about 10:00 am on Saturday morning – the place to watch firework displays, sunsets and surfing…
Let’s focus a bit on T-A-I-N-A-N and what I noticed ~ T: Tradition / A: Architecture / I: Innovation / N: Nature / A: Art / N: News
T for Tradition: and there’s plenty of that in Tainan, from traditional buildings to traditional foods, Tainan has it all! We visited the Tainan Confucius Temple, built in 1665 as a temple and school, the first educational institution of its kind in Taiwan. The central buildings are currently under repair, but it’s all free to enter and well worth a wander around…
A for Architecture: Tainan’s historical affiliations have resulted in a whole range of old buildings built in different styles, according to who was in charge at the time, starting with Dutch Formosa 1624-1662 > Kingdom of Tungning 1662-1684 > Qing Empire 1684-1895 > Republic of Formosa 1895 > Empire of Japan 1895–1945 > Republic of China 1945–present..
The place to go is Anping on the west side of Tainan near the sea – it’s full of old houses, temples and much more…
There’s the Anping Old Fort 安平古堡, built by the Dutch after they captured Anping in 1624, originally called Fort Zeelandia, and completed in 1634. In 1662, Koxinga successfully captured it from the Dutch, and changed the name to Anping. His statue is there in the grounds. The inner fort became the seat of government for Taiwan, and so it was known as the King’s Fort. During the Qing Dynasty, excessive silting up of the shore gradually reduced the fort’s importance and the Qing soldiers took many of the building materials for the Eternal Golden Castle.
The Eternal Golden Castle 億載金城 is the other fort to visit of historical importance – built to resist the Japanese troops who invaded Taiwan due to the Mudan Incident in 1874. It was the first western-style fort built in Taiwan, completed in 1876, and equipped with British Armstrong cannons….
I for Innovation: The 6-storey Hayashi Department Store 林百貨opened in Taiwan in 1932, founded by Japanese businessman, Hayashi – and it was clearly the place to be seen at the time – a new, modern Taiwan had arrived. Hayashi’s most popular attraction was the elevator, which is still running – Taiwan’s first ever. Not even Taipei had an elevator at the time. All sorts of fashionable goods imported from Japan were sold there, and still are. During World War II, the rooftop was converted to an anti-aircraft artillery site and it was bombed on March 1, 1945 by the US Air Force. The roof was destroyed, later repaired, but several bullet holes can still be seen. There’s also a Shinto Shrine on the rooftop. The building was later used for offices, but in 2014 it was reopened as a department store, reinventing itself selling beautiful designer clothes, gifts and locally famous delicious foods but all decorated in 1930’s Japanese style. It was full of young people when we visited!
N for Nature: The east side of Tainan was originally sugar plantations, run by the Taiwan Sugar Corporation, and some of the original buildings survive, including the Sugar Research Institute and training centre. The Taiwan HQ is there too. Much of the land is now used for housing, hotels and shops – but the Barclay Park and the surrounding area is a great area for nature walks and early morning and evening exercise. You can walk right out to the old sugar factory area and see the old buildings.
The nearby hotel, Evergreen Plaza Hotel is also run by the Sugar Company (see their logo on the top of the hotel). Great views from the top over the city!
A for Art: Tainan is reinventing itself and converting some of its old buildings into interesting places that mix old and new. The Tainan Art Museum Building 1 is an old police station, built in 1931 by the Japanese in art deco style – the front part is kept as before, the Detention Room is now the coffee shop, and the back part has had a whole modern section built on…
And the Art Museum Building 2 is a whole new modern art gallery, large and bright and with lots of glass…
N for News: The first big news is that while in Tainan in a bookshop, I found a copy of ‘Stories of the Sahara’ 撒哈拉的故事 by Taiwan’s most famous travel writer of modern times, Sanmao 三毛 (1943-1991), originally published as a series of short stories of her life with her Spanish husband living among the Sahrawis, the local indigenous people of Western Sahara, in the mid-1970’s. The stories were written in Chinese, mostly as a series for a Taiwan newspaper, then published as book, later translated into Spanish, and now at long last, finally an English translation has recently come out. I’ve just finished reading the electronic version, this book is the real thing. Highly recommended reading for the long journey to Tainan, or to recover after a day’s sightseeing. Order a copy today!
And the other big news, and the whole reason we were in Tainan this past weekend was that our former bishop of Taiwan, Bishop David J. H. Lai and his wife Lily retired to Tainan on February 22, 2020 immediately after the consecration of his successor, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang. They have been inviting us to come and visit Tainan ever since, so I went with Huei-Ling from our diocesan office – by High-Speed Rail from Taipei (1¾ hours). We are very grateful to Bishop Lai and Lily for their wonderful welcome, generous hospitality and kindness to us both, taking us to visit so many places and enjoying such delicious foods. Lily is from Tainan, Bishop Lai was a student at Tainan Theological College, and before becoming bishop, he was in charge of Grace Church, Tainan, so it’s like they have returned home. They are clearly loving their new life, with friends and family nearby – and we had the honour of visiting their new home for tea-drinking. They are the True Treasures of Tainan!
Tainan is a great city, full of interesting places to see, all not far from each other, and famous for its delicious snacks, of which we only had time to try a few. All good – this was at the Hayashi Dept Store!
A visit to Tainan, yes, even for just a short time, is very highly recommended. You’ll certainly find plenty of great treasures to see, so do make the most of it and enjoy every moment!
Chinese New Year (CNY) Celebrations for the Lunar New Year / Spring Festival have been going on non-stop all week here in Taiwan! There are mice and rat characters everywhere 🐭 🐀 and Mickey Mouse and his friends have never been more popular. Plus red lanterns galore 🏮🏮🏮….
However, the Taiwan News is dominated by wall-to-wall reporting of the Wuhan Coronavirus situation, which has created a lot of fear, particularly among those who have stayed at home over CNY and watched a lot of TV. We all remember the SARS outbreak in 2003, which the Taiwan government handled really well, but still, many have cancelled their travel plans and are avoiding large gatherings and public transport, and we’re all hoping that the situation does not get worse. There are quite a few suspected – and some confirmed – cases in Taiwan, but so far all remain contained. Kindergartens are back in action as from yesterday, state schools start on February 11. I’m here at St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung, where all children and staff have their temps checked on entering the school, and everyone is wearing a face-mask and being extra-careful. Face-masks will be worn by all in our churches on Sunday too, and church activities limited for the next few weeks, just to be on the safe side.
But Taiwan people know the importance of celebrating the new year, and despite the concerns, we all had great CNY celebrations! On Chinese New Year’s Eve, I was invited by the Wang family from St. James’ Church, Taichung for their traditional family reunion dinner. Very honoured to sit next to Grandma Wang, aged 87, who kept us all entertained with stories of her early life and 20 years of living in Paraguay. And delicious food, as always – thank you!
Saturday January 25 was officially the first day of CNY, and my good friend A-Guan had invited me to join her on a 6-day road trip to southern and eastern Taiwan. None of her children wanted to go with us, so the two of us set off, in sunny weather heading south for Tainan, en route visiting all sorts of interesting sightseeing spots. First to Gukeng to the Pink Castle 古坑珍粉紅城堡, then to Rosahill, followed by some famous Gukeng coffee, and lastly to Wushantou Reservoir 烏山頭水庫 where it was overcast, but hey, it didn’t rain!
The Temple of Heaven at Wushantou Reservoir is being repaired, but it is modeled on the one in Beijing…. impressive eh?!
In Tainan, we were warmly welcomed by Rev. Philip J. L. Ho, his wife, their second son and his family, plus their daughter, all of whom had gathered for the CNY celebrations – actually his second son and family live very near me in Tamsui, ha ha! On Sunday we worshiped with the congregation at Grace Church, Tainan, and I was delighted to meet Rev. Samuel Liao and his family. We were all given red envelopes – as is the tradition, but instead of a token one dollar coin or chocolate money inside, we each received a new NT$ 100 note, plus a Bible verse. Mine was Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer 在盼望中要喜樂，在患難中要忍耐，禱告要恆切”. Thank you Grace Church!
After coffee time and a delicious Korean lunch, kindly hosted by Hsiu-Chin and her husband, we set off for Fengshan, Kaohsiung, where we were to be staying 2 nights with Ichen, our good friend from St. James – and her family. Once there though, it was such a beautiful day, that we couldn’t stay inside for long, and so we went by MRT along 3 stops to Weiwuying, Kaohsiung (still in Fengshan District), famous for it’s street art and wall murals, and the new state-of-the-art performing arts centre. I love Weiwuying – and there’s always new murals to look at – and this time a new multi-coloured seat to take photos on 🙃🙃 and hey, I met one of our church families from Advent Church, Tamsui visiting their family home in Fengshan for CNY!
On Monday, the weather forecast was good, but rain and cold were promised from Monday night onwards, so we needed to make the most of the sunny weather! A-Guan took us first to see the old iron-bridge 舊鐵橋 that used to link Kaohsiung to Pingtung across the Kaoping River 高屏溪, originally built to transport sugar. It was once the longest bridge in East Asia – built in 1914 in the Japanese Era. I loved it! The middle section was washed away in a typhoon some years ago, but much survives and is open to the public. The main train line crosses the river on a bridge close by. We also visited the nearby kiln and tile workshops, and in the afternoon we went to Pingtung to Liudui Hakka Park, plus other places – but there was a lot of traffic, everyone making the most of the fine weather!
On Monday evening, Rev. Lily Chang joined us, ready to leave bright and early on Tuesday morning. By 9:00 am, we were saying goodbye to Ichen and her family – they were so good to us, with delicious breakfasts and dinners, lively conversation and lots of laughs! We drove down the coast and over the mountains to Taitung – by the newly-opened road that goes through the tunnel – it’s great and saves a huge amount of time! We were heading for Bunun Village Farm 布農部落, our favourite place to stay in Taitung. This village project was started by Rev. K. S. Pai over 25 years ago, and is supported by many churches in Taiwan, with the aim of encouraging the local Bunun Indigenous people to remain in the area, rather than leaving for the cities in search of work. The village is a self-sustaining business with guest houses, restaurants, traditional dance performances, weaving, an organic farm and bamboo factory. We love it! We met Rev. Pai, who knows Bishop Lai and our former dean, Rev. Samuel Y. C. Lin from Tainan Theological College days – see the first photo below. I was very surprised to meet 4 Tanzanian students and one from Burundi, most on 4-month internships from Chang-Jung Christian University, Tainan studying Sustainable Development, sponsored by the Jane Goodall Institute 國際珍古德協會. Ah, it was nice to rekindle my Kiswahili!
The photo below left shows the very special traditional Bunun dinner we had on arrival – with millet wine in the bamboo holder ~ and A-Guan won a large glass of the same at the evening show!
On Wednesday, A-Guan took us all over Taitung, a huge circular tour – she really planned everything so well! We went to the local Farmer’s Association – famous for it’s rice products, to the Bunun Village in Haiduan 海端鄉 with its painted walls, to the Hakka Cultural Park and Dapo Lake, and then up to Fuli, Hualien County and over the long and very winding mountain road that led us down to the coast at Dulan 都蘭, famous for its Amis indigenous culture, elementary school bags (one recently spotted at the Paris Fashion Week), surf, old sugar factory turned into art space, and the new RC church. Phew, there was so much to see! And hey, it didn’t rain!
In Chishang 池上 we called in on Yihua and her husband to buy some of their delicious rice-cakes at their shop ‘池上樂米燒’ on the main street opposite the local government offices – they are church members originally from St. Paul’s, Kaohsiung and Grace Church, Tainan – and we also called there 2 years ago when they had just opened their business (see my blog post for that visit at CNY 2018 here). Yihua has a great testimony to share, as well as really yummy goodies to eat!
Our return to Taichung was Thursday, which was actually the return-to-work day for most people in Taiwan after the CNY holidays. We had an extra day, so we avoided the worst of the traffic. On the way, we stopped on the roadside to buy some of Taitung’s famous sugar / custard apples 釋迦 ….
And we also stopped at Dawu, south Taitung to see the painted walls and houses. Nearby is a relocated Paiwan Village built in cooperation with World Vision – the village was originally up in the mountains, but the destruction caused by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 meant they had to relocate to safer lands…
And so back to St. James’ Church, Taichung by 5:00 pm on Thursday evening, after a mega-trip. Grateful thanks to A-Guan, Lily, Ichen and her family, Rev. Philip Ho and family, and all who we met on the way! And thanks be to Almighty God for His many blessings, safety, good weather, friendly people, lots of laughs and tons of beautiful scenery!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year of the 🐭🐀!
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!
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!
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!
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…..
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.”
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 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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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).