Tag Archives: Taipei

Goodbye Taiwan!

Gotta go when you gotta go ~ and so goodbye Taiwan until next year!

So much going on and so little time ~ so a small selection of other people’s photos of the last few weeks.  Teaching, preaching, eating, drinking, sightseeing and more…

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And, my friends from Taichung who came for the weekend ~ we went on the Pingxi Line and to Shifen Waterfall.  Ah, selfie heaven!

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This is the alternative Pingxi Line set of photos – the ones I took – ah, gotta love ’em all!

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It’s time to go when it’s time to go ~ and all UK people in Taiwan apparently know that to prepare for a 6-month visit to the UK, just before they leave Taiwan they must go to visit the dentist and hairdresser – cos both are so expensive in the UK, and not so easy to arrange either – but here, ah it’s wonderful!

So that done, I’m ready to go!  Prayers appreciated…

Chiang Kai-Shek Official Residence 士林官邸 & Martyrs Shrine 忠烈祠 @ Shilin, Taipei

Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS), ‘leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in exile in Taiwan’, arrived in Taiwan in 1949 with his wife, Soong Mei-Ling.  A year later, they moved into their new home, the Shilin Official Residence 士林官邸 and stayed there until Chiang Kai-Shek’s death in 1975.  Visitors were many and famous, including then US Vice-President Nixon in 1953, and President Eisenhower in 1960. This is the building today….

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During the Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945), the building was the location of the Shilin Horticultural Experimental Station, and surrounded, of course, by beautiful gardens.  These days, house, chapel, pavilions and garden are all open to the public.  The gardens are free, the house costs NT$ 100 entrance fee for ‘general visitors’ (that’s most of us), and a free audio tour is available in English and other languages.  No cameras or cellphones are allowed inside the house, so I have no photos of the inside, sorry about that.  Just use your imagination…

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The gardens are popular with many local people and visitors.  Deservedly so.  The flowers and shrubs – especially the rose gardens – are beautiful, all well-maintained and with lots of colour.  There are workers everywhere tending to the plants.  As a result, I think the gardens are much better than even the botanical gardens in Taipei. Check out these photos..

The house is also popular with tourists.  Lots of them, and mostly from overseas.  I went to visit the house for the first time today, a little reluctantly I admit.  Chiang Kai-Shek is nowhere near as popular these days as he used to be – as more and more of the truth of what really happened under his rule is brought to light.  But then every country has its own terrible secrets, and the UK is no exception.  So I tried to go with an open mind to learn…

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Firstly, the house, as a house, is really lovely, and each room is decorated and furnished beautifully in a mixture of Chinese and western styles.  And with no cellphones and cameras allowed, the atmosphere is like a real museum.  It’s a serious place.  Many of Taiwan’s historical places, in an effort to attract tourists, have brought in tons of touristy things to do, which many would say lowers the tone considerably.  Shilin Official Residence shows how it can be done properly.  The audio tour though is due for a remake.  It’s similar in style to the CKS Memorial in Taipei, full of how wonderful the Chiangs were, presenting their daily life as idyllic, and their relationship as perfect.  Intriguingly, their Christian faith is central to the presentation.  Chiang Kai-Shek had a large picture of Jesus in his room and the story of how he became a Christian (through his wife and her parents) and the couple’s daily prayer and Bible reading habits are well-explained on the audio tape.  His faith, of course, only adds complexity to the whole paradox of his life and actions, but that is for thought and discussion another time, another place.  There’s also a chapel in the grounds where the couple and their visitors attended Sunday services.

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And there’s a grand piano, made of plants…

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And it just wouldn’t be the same without any mascots of any kind, so at the back of the gift shop near the main entrance to the gardens, are Chiang Kai-Shek Teddy and Soong Mei-Ling Teddy, ready for your photos…

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Oh yes, and Soong Mei-Ling’s Cadillac, with an interesting number plate (Chiang Kai-Shek’s own cars and all his official possessions are at the CKS Memorial in Taipei)…

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From the Official Residence, going around Jiantan Mountain, it is not far to the Grand Hotel, also built by Chiang Kai-Shek, and not far from there is the Martyrs Shrine – officially known as the ‘National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine‘ 國民革命忠烈祠, also built under the orders of Chiang Kai-Shek, and dedicated to the war dead of the Republic of China…

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I’ve passed by this place many times, but today was my first visit.  And the main reason for going to the Martyrs Shrine is to see the Changing of the Guard, which happens every hour on the hour throughout the day (can also be seen at the CKS Memorial and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei)…

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I was there for the 12 noon ceremony, the hottest time of the day and just before the rain came down – got there as the tourists were just arriving…

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The guards stand completely still and swelter for a whole hour in their uniforms, while their assistants mop their sweaty brows and generally keep them from keeling over in the heat.  There are 2 guards at the main entrance, and 2 more up at the entrance to the actual shrine.

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The Changing of the Guards Ceremony involves 5 of them marching up to the shrine, changing the 2 guards up there, then they march back again and change the 2 at the front, and perform at both places.

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Amazing choreography.  Worth it for that alone.

Due to an incident at CKS Memorial a few days ago, when protesters threw red paint on the statue of Chiang Kai-Shek (see that news report here) the actual shrine was closed to visitors today.  All the other buildings in the compound were closed too, like this one….

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And probably will be for some time to come.  So we watched from afar – along with at least 3 coachloads of tourists, mostly from the USA, who arrived for the Changing of the Guard just as it was starting and left immediately it finished.  This was taken after they’d all gone. Quiet once again…

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Just before the rain came down…

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So, do go to visit both places with an open mind – in order to learn something of the recent history of Taiwan and the Republic of China.   No country’s history is devoid of war and conflict, and Taiwan has plenty of both, much untold and unresolved.  It’s well on its way in trying to bring to light events of the past, but progress is slow, protesters are restless, and many are the struggles and stumbling blocks in the road ahead.

Farewell Sanzhi & Hello Taipei!

Yes, said a fond farewell to Sanzhi 三芝 this week – the town / district where I’ve been living for the past 3 years ~ and of course said a sad (!) farewell to all the termites who had seriously taken over my house – and my life!   This photo below shows where I was living in Sanzhi – in this vast housing estate of flats / apartments  ~ and it was great!  I was on the ground floor facing into the central area of the estate.  Lovely neighbours ~ and very safe, central and convenient for buses and shopping.  The building next door, on the right, used to be a bowling alley, now it’s a large shop selling everything, and very reasonably priced.

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Sad really that I moved, cos I like Sanzhi (well, in spring, summer and autumn!) especially the early morning walks along the river, watching kingfishers, water lilies, lotus flowers, enjoying the mountains and fresh air ~ and the nearness to the sea.   My farewell tour on Wednesday evening was to the local scenic spot – the lighthouse at Fugueijiao 富貴角, on Taiwan’s northern tip, looking splendid in the sunshine – originally built in 1896, and only open to the public in recent years.

Now I’ve moved back to St. John’s University ~ which is officially part of Tamsui, not Sanzhi.  Actually I’ve moved my stuff back there, and I’m now staying in Good Shepherd Church, Shilin, Taipei for the next month – where I have 2 weeks of classes starting on July 30.  Shilin is an urban / suburban area of northern Taipei, famous for it’s night market, National Palace Museum and for the foreign community who live in the hills above Shilin, enjoing the cooler weather.  The church is at the other end of Shilin, near the river and on a main road full of traffic, but with nice sunsets like this one last night.  The mountain in the distance is Guanyinshan 觀音山, over at the end of the Tamsui river, and the large round building in the foreground is part of Yang-Ming High School across the road…

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And the local scenic landmark in Taipei is of course Taipei 101.  Must go, must see!  Today the weather forecast was rain, and as I write this, it is pouring down ~ but this morning the rain stopped for a few hours, the sun came out and I took this photo from Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan 象山), behind Taipei 101.  The best views of Taipei are to be had up there, and from the mountains behind too – but oh so hot and humid to climb in the summer.  Worth it for the views though, can see for miles!

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And why have I moved? Well, I’m off to the UK in mid-August for 6 months ‘home leave’, and the plan is that when I come back to Taiwan, all being well in February 2019, then I can live once again at St. John’s University – though in a different place than I was in before I moved to Sanzhi.  In case you’re wondering, no I’m not moving because of the termites, I think I’d become quite fond of them 😉😉….  and anyway they give me a good illustration for tomorrow’s sermon. Thanks guys 😍😍!

Ximending 西門町 Street Art, Taipei

There’s a ton of graffiti-style street art in Taipei, mostly in Ximending ~ and with an hour to spare yesterday lunchtime I went over there to see what’s new.  Lots of new stuff has appeared since I was last there, all dated 2018.  This is a mishmash (sorry, artistic collage) of 29 photos of what’s there…

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Ximending at lunchtime is heaving with groups of young people and couples wheeling suitcases around, checking in and checking out of hotels ~ it’s THE place to stay for independent travelers from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore etc.  Lively by day, and even livelier by night.

You can get a good feel of a city or country by how people paint their walls and buildings, inside and out, whether it’s Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, Picasso and his massive 3.5 x 7.8m mural, ‘Guernica’, or street artists painting urban walls in Taipei.

So to get the feel of Taipei, come on down to Ximending and check it all out!

Escaping Taipei’s Heat up in Wulai 烏來!

Ah, Wulai.  Think hot springs, cherry blossom and Atayal indigenous culture.  And mountain scenery.

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And views…

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And, sadly, in the last few years, think typhoons too.  Wulai has had more than its fair share of bad news.  Most recently, “in August 2015, Wulai was devastated by Typhoon Soudelor, wiping out several hotels and destroying hot springs in the region. The course of the Nanshi River that passes through the district changed and the riverbank was eroded heavily by surging water. Heavy landslides were attributed to the overdevelopment of the mountain areas around the river which damaged the soil and watershed along the slope lands”.

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But restoration work on the riverbed is ongoing, new bridges are going up and there are diggers and cranes and all sorts of construction work going on.  Wulai is on the mend!

The cable car is working again, the Yun Hsien Resort way up on the mountain top is open again, the Wulai Trolley Car is up and running, cafes and restaurants and hot spring hotels are ready and waiting for visitors.

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This past week, temperatures in Taipei have been setting May records, 37ºC and more, but ‘feels like 42°’.  Sweltering heat and humidity, and, despite thunderstorm warnings, none seems to have materialized to break the heat.  None where I’ve been anyway.  So, what better place to go than Wulai to seek some respite?  I was there yesterday.  Actually it was still baking hot ~ but only 33, ‘feeling like 39’, and that’s way better than 42!  Ah well, at least this frog was happy ~ a ‘Swinhoes Frog’ Odorrana Swinhoana, endemic to Taiwan and named after naturalist, Robert Swinhoe, 1836-77, who served as Bristish Consul in Tamsui.

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Wulai is a mountain town 25 km south of Taipei, easily accessible by bus (No. 849), taking 40 minutes from Xindian MRT Station – at the end of the green MRT line.  And only costs NT$ 15!  The road winds up and up to 250 m (not particularly high altitude, but feels like it!) and comes to a stop at the entrance to Wulai Town, perched on the steep banks of the Nanshi River.  The town is sprawling and nothing special as a town, but its location is.  And as it’s the home for the Atayal people 泰雅族, everywhere is decorated in their symbols and colours.

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Check out the RC Church, dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, built in 1963.  I met Fr. Arturo from Chile who serves there, dressed in Atayal colours.  Lots going on there, he was getting ready for a mass.  On Sundays, he gets about 30 people coming along, and he had a class of children on Saturday waiting to start too.  We even had a photo taken together..

Check out the 80m high waterfall, 25 minutes walk up the road.  Beautiful.

The river looks almost turquoise from the road above…

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And check out the cable car that runs up to the Yun Hsien Resort.  The cable car crosses the river with amazing views down.  Takes all of 2 minutes.  Costs NT$ 220, which includes cable car return trip and entry to the resort.

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The view from the top of the cable car looking down at Wulai ~ you can see where all the landslides have taken place….

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Yun Hsien Resort 雲仙樂園 is really quite incredible.  Who would ever think to build a resort up there on the very top of the mountain, and accessible only by cable car?  The temperatures up there were several degrees cooler than down in Wulai, and there was a nice breeze. There’s a hotel, boating lake, flowers and forest walks and archery and all sorts of things to do and look at.  Even peacocks.  But its main attraction has to be its location.  It is quite an incredible feat of construction to build a resort up there.

The flowerbed turns out to be Taiwan-shaped!

Views from the cable car on the return journey….

And back to Wulai Old Street by the Wulai Scenic Train 烏來台車 which started life as a rail cart, originally designed by the Japanese government in 1928 to transport timber, logging tools, tea and passengers – now only used by tourists.  NT$ 50 one way.

Must-visit the Wulai Atayal Museum 烏來泰雅民族博物館 which has lots of displays – and English explanations.  Most interesting are the facial tattoos, headhunting traditions, displays of weaving of the local people ~ oh yes, and the added bonus of air conditioning!

And of course there’s plenty to eat in Wulai, and drink, and things to buy.

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A good place to visit from Taipei for the day ~ lots of people cycle up to the waterfall from Taipei, others enjoy the hot springs – but really they’re best in winter, or they just relax in the river.  Plenty to do and see, and eat ~ and help the Atayal people of Wulai get back on their feet after the typhoon disaster of 2015.  An interesting place.  Even if the natural environment is badly damaged and over-developed with resorts and hotels for the tourism industry.  Still, let’s hope and pray that this year’s typhoon season is kinder on the people of Wulai than in the past.

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2018!

Can’t quite believe it.  10 mountains.  10 hours of walking.  1 day.  25 km.  53, 437 steps.  Highest point: 1,120 m.  The WHOLE Yang-Ming Shan traverse.  Up and down, and down and up all day long.  Steep steep steep, but dry.  No mud.  A little sun. Perfect!

All 10 mountain markers….

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Yang-Ming Shan is the range of mountains above Taipei City.  I’ve been up there many times and done the whole ‘traverse’ in sections before.  This time last year, I did it all over 2 days (see that report here).  This is the first time ever I’ve done the whole thing in one day.  This is the highest point, Qixing Main Peak, 1120 m, and the one with the most people, ha ha!

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Started off intending to do only half, but met some people who were doing the whole thing and somehow we all ended up doing it all together.  Started at Qingtian Temple in Beitou at 7:10 am.  Ended at Fenguikou Trail-head about 5:00 pm in time for the 6:10 pm bus down the mountain.  So actually I did it west to east, despite the title.

These butterflies were having a slightly more relaxing day than we were!

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And today?  E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D!

Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park 景美人權文化園區, Taipei

Prepare to be seriously uncomfortable.  This museum is not for the faint-hearted.   It is gruesome, horrible, degrading, and yet strangely compelling; all at the same time.  The fact that it exists at all is a testament to the vision and determination of some of those who were incarcerated there and who were prepared to work hard to ensure its success.  It is a must-visit kind of place.  But only with a must-be-prepared state of mind to listen, learn and reflect.  For here, in this place, you will come face to face with what man’s inhumanity to man means in real life.

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The Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park is the site of the former Jingmei Military Law Detention Center of the Taiwan Garrison Command (1968-87) where political prisoners were incarcerated, indicted and sentenced during Taiwan’s White Terror Era ~ the suppression of political dissidents following the February 28 Incident in 1947.  Martial law in Taiwan lasted from 1949-1987.

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The White Terror Era 白色恐怖 was indeed a very very dark chapter in Taiwan’s history.  And it was not that long ago.  Many of the victims and some of the perpetrators are still alive today.

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From Wikipedia: “The term “White Terror” in its broadest meaning refers to the entire period from 1947 to 1987. Around 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned during this period, of which from about 3,000 to 4,000 were executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party) government led by Chiang Kai-shek. Most actual prosecutions, though, took place in 1950–1953. Most of those prosecuted were labeled by the Kuomintang as “bandit spies” (匪諜), meaning spies for Chinese communists, and punished as such.  The KMT imprisoned mostly Taiwan’s intellectual and social elite out of fear that they might resist KMT rule or sympathize with communism.”

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What is now the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park, in Jingmei, Taipei was the place where many of these political victims were held in custody, prosecuted, tried and imprisoned. These days it is part memorial, part museum, and is open to the public, free of charge.  There’s a free audio guide in English with 19 audio-places to visit.  I was there yesterday afternoon, and spent 2 hours wandering around, seeing everything.

The actual memorial is at the main entrance to the museum, titled ‘Imprisonment and Liberation.’ The victims’ names are added too, with the dates of their imprisonment(s) in white or, for many, the date of their execution, in red.

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“With towering walls symbolizing confinement, the jagged monument penetrating the site of the former Prosecutor’s Office for Military Tribunal like a sharp razor represents the deconstruction of authoritarian power.  The space between the directional folding walls narrows and widens, as if swinging in between states of imprisonment and liberation, before it eventually leads towards White Dove Square, that symbolizes freedom”.

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From there, we move to the nearby military courts, set up as they were for the trials in 1980 of the leaders of the Kaohsiung Incident, which received widespread international coverage and media attention.

The 6 military barracks are now filled with displays and exhibitions.

But the most infamous building is the Ren-Ai Building, the actual prison.

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Many of the rooms have displays showing what they would have been used for during the time they were in use.  The guard room, where prisoners would enter the prison, and from where they would leave for their executions or further imprisonment, has a clock set at 4:04 am (the word for number 4 (四 sì) sounds like the word “death” (死 sǐ) in Chinese). Shackles hang on the walls.

There’s also a medical room and a small shop.

And the room where family members would have had the chance for a 10-minute talk (must be in Mandarin Chinese) to a prisoner via the telephone on the other side of the glass wall.  All calls, all letters, all contact were of course monitored. The Chinese characters, 肅靜 (su-jing) meaning ‘Quiet’ are painted on the walls.

The cells also have displays of how the prisoners would have lived.  The cells are small, cramped, smelly.  Many were kept in solitary confinement.  Others had padded cells in case of self-inflicted violence.  All were very hot and humid in summer, and damp and horrible in winter.

The prison guard has his own cell, nicely done out with bed and desk and even a closet for clothes.

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Outside are the exercise yards.

On the other side are the work rooms.  Some of the lower-risk prisoners had jobs working maybe 10 hours a day in the prison laundry, washing, ironing, folding clothes and sheets, not just for the prison, but also for other government agencies, like the military hospital.  There’s also the boiler room, the canteen, the library, and an exhibition.

The main entrance to the prison…

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When I visited yesterday, there was a group of about 15 people on the guided tour that starts each day at 2:30 pm, and there were also a small number of family groups going around on their own. The place is hardly over-visited.  It is also not exactly easy to get to, a 20-minute-walk from the nearest MRT station (Dapinglin) and 15 minutes from the nearest You Bike station.  Instagram shows some school groups visiting, but not many.

But it is well worth visiting.  This aspect of Taiwan’s history is uncomfortable for many.  In May 2016, as part of her inaugural address, Taiwan new president, Tsai Ing-Wen announced plans to set up a truth and reconciliation committee, to “address the historical past in the most sincere and cautious manner. The goal of transitional justice is to pursue true social reconciliation, so that all Taiwanese can take to heart the mistakes of that era.”  In December 2017, the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice 促進轉型正義條例 was passed.  However, a lot of people remain less than enthusiastic, and many questions remain, well explained in this article here.  What to do with the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial is part of that debate, and due to its prime location and appeal to tourists, it is one that brings forth many and varied opinions.

Many of the prisoners from Jingmei went on to serve their sentences in the prison on Green Island, off Taiwan’s SE coast.  Watch this space – we hope to visit!

A few months ago I visited Cambodia’s Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (see that report here).  Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to visit the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park and learn a bit more about Taiwan’s darkest era.  Ah, Cambodia AND Taiwan.  Both went through hell.  Both are trying to come to terms with what happened.  But visiting a country and living in a country are 2 different things – and call for 2 different responses.  The scale was different, and it is difficult not to compare the two, and in doing so, there’s a risk of trivializing Taiwan’s own experiences.  For those in Taiwan who suffered during the White Terror era, it was a long and terrible nightmare, and what happened at military detention centers such as Jingmei will haunt Taiwan for generations to come.

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The Christian faith teaches that confession, forgiveness and reconciliation are part of the process of healing.  Jesus’ words, “The truth will set you free” are part of that teaching.  Chinese culture emphasizes harmony, often at the expense of truth.  But it is only when the truth is told and justice is brought, so healing can begin, reconciliation be achieved and true harmony descends.

Prayers requested.  For Taiwan.  For us all.  And for God’s mercy to prevail.

Updated on May 11, 2018: for my post on our visit to Green Island, including the visit to the prisons there, please see the link here

Updated again on May 19, 2018: today’s Taipei Times is reporting here on the official opening of the Jingmei Human Rights Museum that took place yesterday, the day after the official opening of the Green Island Human Rights Museum, both run by the same government department.