Tag Archives: Taipei City

🌸🌸 Yes, the Cherry Blossom’s Out! 🌸🌸

The dark pink cherry blossom is in bloom all over Taipei, looking spectacular! Everyone says it’s even more beautiful than ever ~ maybe because of the very cold start to January ~ with 2 separate days of snow on Yangmingshan, the mountains above Taipei. Whatever the reason, the world has become pink, and it’s beautiful!

The cherry blossom season up at Yangming Park (in the Yangmingshan National Park area) officially started today, and today was also the first day of our holiday for New Year…

This is the cherry blossom at St. John’s University, taken yesterday…

And at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Taipei on Wednesday…

There’s also plum blossom just coming to an end – also in CKS Memorial and over at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park too….. This is the ROC national flower, the focus of much poetry and art, and commonly used for girls names: 梅 Méi

And there’s even a few daffodils coming out today at Yangming Park ~ spring must really be coming. YES!

One week to go to Chinese / Lunar New Year / Spring Festival ~ on Friday February 12. Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

It’s the Year of the Ox (ox / cattle / cow: 牛 pronounced ‘niú’ – hence the pun for ‘new’) so wishing you all a

Happy 牛 Year!

The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go ~ to Yangmingshan 陽明山 with Tze-Foun 子寬 and Dong-Gua 冬瓜!

You just can’t beat a fine Saturday on Yangmingshan. And especially in the company of 2 very strong young men! A cold start, but sunny and dry all day, very muddy in just one place, but otherwise perfect. The 2 very strong young men who came with me yesterday are former students here at St. John’s University (SJU). Tze-Foun子寬 (in dark red) from Malaysia graduated 18 months ago and one of his dreams has been to go mountain climbing in Taiwan, while Dong-Gua 冬瓜 (in the black T-shirt) is from Taiwan, and last went up Yangmingshan when he came with me about 5 years ago. Both are now working full-time so fitting in exercise is a challenge – but if they hadn’t come with me, I think they were just planning to go to the Taipei Game Show instead. Yangmingshan is just so much better!

So, Saturday was THE day. Weather forecast perfect. We left SJU on the first bus at 5:45 am. From Qingtian Temple, just above Beitou, we did the western circuit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 and Mt. Miantian 面天山, then the 3 of the Datun range 大屯山 West, South and Main Peaks and back via Erziping 二子坪. On the top of Mt. Miantian, we met 2 SJU alumni (photo below), and there were lots and lots of people everywhere, ah yes, we talked to everyone! After all, it’s not every day that a group made up quite like ours goes mountain climbing together. And survives to tell the tale – and still smiling!

Kudos to Dong-Gua whose endurance levels were 100%, he persevered and completed the whole circuit, despite apparently not having done any exercise for the last 2 years, nor having any breakfast on Saturday morning, as well as breaking the sole of his boot on mountain No. 3, ripping his trouser leg wide open on mountain No. 4, and surviving more or less only on chocolate and coffee until midday. He never feels the cold and spent all day in a T-shirt, while the rest of us were well done up – check out his boot below!

Kudos too to Tze-Foun who put in 100% effort, with tons of energy, enthusiasm and patience, and despite longing all day for his lunch and getting leg cramp in the last few hours, he now has all sorts of ideas for taking his friends up the same route, and has lots of people already interested for the next trip. He’s shared his experiences widely with everyone at church today, oh he was so excited ~ his coming on our trip was such a blessing!

Gotta smile though, we all have aching legs today, even though yesterday was slow going and we hardly worked up a sweat all day. Ah but it was fun! Last time I did that circuit, in August last year, it took nearly 6 hours, with 4 hours 30 minutes of moving time. This time it took us 9 hours, and moving time was the almost the same, 4 hours 20 minutes. Speed is not everything, but we did have a lot of rests for Dong-Gua to recover his energy! Hey, the guys were so lovely, and we were all so happy to finish in one piece. And they did get very creative with the sticks they found to help them along!

A great day out, thanks guys!

And we came down to the cherry blossom at the Qingtian Temple bus stop, just coming out and looking beautiful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent Church & St. John’s University Charity Fundraising 2020 @ 天主教福利會 ‘Cathwel Service’, Shenkeng 深坑, Taipei

Cathwel Service (Cath-wel is short for Catholic Welfare) 財團法人天主教福利會, is the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services, founded in 1949, originally to help unmarried mothers and their children. It continues its ministry helping disadvantaged women and children; many of the children have special needs, others have various disabilities. Some will be adopted by families in Taiwan, some by families overseas (you’ll find lots of info about their experiences of international adoption via google), others will remain at the centre until they reach adulthood. Currently there are about 40 children living at the centre, called Jonah House – with different age children on different floors. We visited yesterday, and saw some of the youngest children, and met some of the staff. All the other children attend local schools during the day. Despite the cold temperatures and rain outside, everyone there was so warm and friendly!

Our visit came as a result of our Christmas 2020 Charity Fundraising Events at St. John’s University (SJU) and Advent Church, which raised a total of almost NT$ 250,000 for the charity (see the previous post for details of our charity bazaar). Thanks be to God ~ and to everyone who contributed!

We visited as a group of 8, representing both SJU and Advent Church. We were also able to collect the official receipts, which will be distributed to all those who made a donation, so that they can file their tax returns. The Cathwel Service CEO, Ms. Yen-Chi Ting, presented an official Certificate of Thanks in the chapel, first to our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and then to Mr. Ming-Chuan Chen, our Advent Church senior warden.

And us altogether…

The chapel is stunning! It is in the basement area of the building along with the carpark, but it is below an open area above. I gather it used to be a fairly traditional RC chapel until it needed renovation due to a badly leaking roof last year.

Fr. Fabrizio Tosolini (杜敬一神父) is an Italian RC priest who has taught the Bible for many years at Fu-Jen RC Seminary, Taipei. Many of our clergy have also studied there under him, including our SJU chaplain, Rev. Wu, so he was able to describe to us the meaning of each picture. Fr. Tosolini is a member of the Missionary Order of Saint Francis Xavier and also a very gifted artist. He painted the pictures that decorate the newly-renovated chapel, which was completed and opened only last month, December 2020.

The picture above the altar is of Jesus, his mother and his disciple, John. The writing on the 2 long red pieces of paper was done by the children. On the left, words of Jesus: ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you because you have revealed the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven to little children’, and on the right it says, ‘If you fall in love, stay in love’ (from the Arrupe Prayer, attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, which starts ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God’, and is also very popular as a song).

On the right-side wall, there is a line of 14 small paintings, serving as the Stations of the Cross…. check out the eyes!

On the left wall and at the main entrance are other paintings, mostly much larger…..

This organization is based in Shenkeng 深坑, on the SE edge of Taipei, an old coal-mining town on the edge of the mountains. They have a large building right on the main road in front of Shenkeng Old Street. This is the mosaic version!

Shenkeng Old Street is famous for its stinky tofu and every other kind of tofu. This is it!

After our visit to the centre, we just had to visit the Old Street for some of the famous tofu, plus other dishes ~ kindly hosted by Ming-Chuan and his wife…. It was all delicious!

This is the Old Street, with hardly any people. At the weekend, it’s full, but even so, with the pandemic, there are no international tourists. We all agreed it was a much nicer Old Street than our local one in Tamsui!

It was, and is very cold, and it’s been raining and cold for days. A massive cold front has swept in and frozen us all up! “6°C, feels like -1°C” said my phone yesterday morning. This is not a country that does ‘cold’ very well. We have no central heating, everything is built to keep us cool not warm! Everyone is wearing a ton of layers, inside and outside – temperatures inside and outside are more or less the same. Our houses, offices, schools and lifestyle are much more suited to summer than winter – Taiwan is on the Tropic of Cancer, after all. But a few years ago, we did have snow on Taipei’s Yangmingshan Mountains, and the news yesterday morning said that 5 cm of snow had fallen up there overnight. However, the mountains were hidden from our view – in swirling clouds and rain all day. Until that it is about 4:30 pm, after we had got back from Shenkeng, when the clouds cleared ~ and yes, in the far distance we could see a sprinkling of white snow! We all rushed out and up to the 3rd floor of St. John’s University to take photos. Such excitement!

Update, Saturday – and the snow has stayed throughout last night and today. Those mountains have looked the same all day today. We’re all excited about the snow, but everyone is freezing cold!

Enough excitement for one weekend. Stay warm everyone, and thanks as always for your continuing support!

Sea of Flowers @ Taipei Guandu Plain! 🌺

Every year, the Taipei City Government arranges for local farmers in the area of Taipei City known as the Guandu Plain to plant flowers in some of their fields. Every year it’s so beautiful!

Most of the fields there are normally used for rice, but at this time of the year, the flowers make a nice alternative, and apparently help the soil too after the rice harvest.

And so now we have the wonderful display, a sea of flowers!

The flowers are mostly cosmos and zinnia, and this year they cover over 4 hectares. The fields are close to where the Keelung River joins the Tamsui River, and lie not far from the riverside bicycle path.

So last Sunday morning, very early, about 7 am – on my way by YouBike to Good Shepherd Church in Shilin, Taipei, so I spent 30 minutes checking out the scene. The Yangmingshan Mountains at the back were in cloud, but otherwise the light was stunning and it was early, so there weren’t yet too many people there taking photos.

It’s beautiful! Kudos to Taipei City Government – and the farmers.

The Taiwan News article about this is here.

If you have time and the opportunity, get on a YouBike and get there quick, it’s well worth it!

Happy Buff-Selfie Day You-Biking @ Taipei!

Yes, it’s New-Buff Day, which means it’s also Buff-Selfie Day!

So, the story goes like this. Over the last few months, Taiwan has done really well in handling the Covid-19 pandemic and in supplying face-masks to the rest of the world. I offered to help out family and friends – and so far have sent out 8 packages of over 500 real genuine Made-In-Taiwan face-masks to family and friends in the UK.

Very delighted to receive a Hot-Weather ‘Buff’ as a thank you gift in return, with a request for photos wearing it. A ‘buff‘ is a tubular piece of material for wearing as a head or neck covering; some people are also wearing them as required face-coverings in the pandemic. I am wearing one just to keep the sun off my face, they also keep the cold out in winter. This one is special for hot temps, with UV protection. Wore it yesterday on my You-Bike ride to work at the diocesan office.

Took zillions of selfies, but selected just 10. Thought you might like to see them too – posted more or less in order. Gives an idea of life on a You-Bike in Taipei!

My route is from Tamsui along the bike path by the Keelung River to Shezidao Bridge 社子大橋, around Shezidao, along to Dadaocheng 大稻埕, and into Taipei to the diocesan office, which is near the CKS Memorial…. 27 km.

Coming home my route goes up along Zhongshan North Road 中山北路 to the bridge near the Grand Hotel to rejoin the bike path to Tamsui… 23 km.

6:00 am start, arrived in Taipei about 8:00 am, after many stops for photos. And traffic lights. And to let buses pass. And to drink water. And many more! Left after the temperatures started going down a bit about 4:00 pm and got back to Tamsui about 6:00 pm. 50 km round trip. Very hot!

New Buff is great, keeps the sun off, and let’s air in, which is the main point – and it’s much cooler than what I was wearing before.

And the colours are my favourites! Happy Buff-Selfie Day!

PS Sept 4: Since publishing the above post, I’ve received a request for a photo of the You-Bike! This is a friend and me a few weeks ago on the same route, with the bike in the photo – it’s the best bike-sharing scheme ever, and very cheap!

Happy Buff-Selfie Day You-Biking @ Taipei!

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2020!

Or as I prefer, the West-East Vertical Traverse! This is THE mountain challenge for all those looking for a day out from Taipei, an 11-hour hike over the 10 mountains in the Yang-Ming Shan range that lie just above Taipei City. It’s effectively a ridge walk, total 26.25 km (16.3 miles), 1,817 m (5961 ft) of ascent and over 53,000 steps in total. And totally worth it!

This post is an adapted version of my previous trip published here on October 28, 2019, but updated because I’ve just done it again, yesterday, April 18, 2020, and also because all 10 summits are now open to the public. The photos below are those taken yesterday too (except for this one, added as a further update, taken on May 1, 2020 of the view of the whole ridge, as seen from Taipei City, actually taken on the Shezidao Bridge at 7:00 am, far left is Mt. Xiangtian).

Yang-Ming Shan range taken from Shezidao Bridge, Taipei City, 7:00 am, May 1, 2020

Spring or autumn is the best time to do this hike, because summer is Qixing too hot (and it rains nearly every afternoon) and winter is too wet. You need a number of dry days before the actual day, otherwise the paths are slippery, especially the roped ones. So yesterday fitted the bill exactly!

The first time I did this hike was in May 2018 (see that account here), but by the next time, in October 2019, the route had slightly changed, with one of the summits (Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 ) closed to the public – to avoid the cattle, which are actually a mix of water buffalo and Tajima cattle, after someone was killed by one. The Mt. Zhugao summit marker post was moved to the highest point on the Lengqing Path, and renamed Jixinlun 雞心崙. Now it’s all open again, though the Jixinlun summit marker is still there – but it is hardly a real summit, so the big challenge lies in including Mt. Zhugao back in the itinerary once again. So that’s what I did yesterday – and just made it on time!

Fortunately the whole hike can be done in more manageable and smaller sections – it divides nicely into 4, which can be done over 4 days or 2. If you take the harder option, and do it all on one day, be prepared for aching limbs for 3 days afterwards – it’s hard work! Check out yesterday’s elevation record….

On each of the summits, there is a marker post, and on the top of each post is a Chinese character in metal ~ use a pencil and paper to do like a brass rubbing (or just take a photo!) Put together in order and these characters make a phrase. The 10 Chinese characters are: Mt. Ding (“陽”), Mt. Shiti (“明”), Jixinlun (“山”), Mt. Qixing East Peak (“東”), Mt. Qixing Main Peak (“西”), Mt. Datun Main Peak (“大”), Mt. Datun South Peak (“縱”), Mt. Datun West Peak (“走”), Mt. Miantian (“活”), and Mt. Xiangtian (“動”). The whole phrase, 陽明山東西大縱走活動 translates as the ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse Activity’. These are the 10 summit posts (left to right in the order I did them), though with Mt Zhugao instead of Jixinlun ….

Although it is titled the East-West Traverse, and the marker posts are numbered in that direction, actually it is easier to do it from west-east, mainly because of the times of the buses. The east end of the hike is a place called Fengguikou 風櫃口. The bus stop is about 1 km down the road from there, at a place called Fengguizui 風櫃嘴. The bus is the small city bus M1 (市民小巴1) from Jiantan MRT Station, and there’s not many of them! Every morning, the first bus leaves Jiantan MRT Station at 6:10 am going up to Fengguizui, taking about 30 minutes. The next bus after that is 10:10 am, so don’t miss it! The Taipei MRT opens at 6:00 am each day, so for those of us further away, it’s impossible to get to Jiantan MRT Station so early.

You also need to know that the final M1 bus of the day from Fengguizui down to Jiantan MRT goes at about 6:10 pm. That is the one to get! If you miss it, you have to walk down much further to Shengren Waterfall Bus Stop where there are many buses, but the road is long and winding, and the short-cut paths are steep – plus by then it’ll be dark, so timing is everything! The other reason for finishing at Fengguikou rather than starting from there is that the final part of the hike may be be long (6 km from Qingtiangang 擎天崗) but it is the least steep part of the whole hike, and after a long day going up and down, it’s nice to take things a bit more easily!

So all in all, I think it’s better to start at the west end of the hike, which is at Qingtian Temple 清天宮登山口 and walk eastwards. The bus you need is the S6 (小6) bus from Beitou MRT, and there are lots of buses all day long, and lots of people on a weekend all queuing for the early buses! Get there early. The earliest I could get to Qingtian Temple on Saturday was at 7:15 am. Qingtian Temple village has a temple or two, a public toilet and a large noticeboard with a map. The whole trail is very well-signposted as long as you know the order of the mountains. The trails on Yang-Ming Shan were mostly built in the Japanese Era, and they were built to last forever, mostly of stone. This is the view from Qingtian Temple Trail-head over towards Guanyinshan…

The trail from Qingtian Temple to the first summit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 takes just over an hour, going via the usually-water-less Xiangtian Pond. The path is nearly all in the trees, and among the bamboo, so it’s shady – but also slippery in wet weather…

On the way, you pass the Memorial Stone to Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito, erected in honour of his visit to the area in 1923 and his marriage the following year…

I was on the grassy summit of Mt. Xiangtian (949 m) by about 8:40 am – check out the Oldhams Azalea (Rhododendron oldhamii) – endemic to Taiwan and in flower all over the mountains at this time of year….

Twenty minutes later, I reached Summit 2, Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) at 9:00 am. There’s a viewpoint and raised rest area there, 2 huge microwave reflectors and views down to St. John’s University and the whole northern coast – but it was hazy. No problem, it saved me time not taking so many photos, and time was a bit of the essence!

Taking the path straight down from Mt. Miantian leads back to the main path. Turn right for about 10 minutes heading to Miantianping 面天坪, where there’s a pavilion always full of people enjoying a day out. The path up to Mt. Datun West and South Peaks (and eventually to Mt. Datun Main Peak) starts here, on the left. The Datun Mountain range 大屯山 lies ahead. This is the steepest part of the whole hike coming up. Bring some cheap gloves to cling onto the fixed ropes that are provided to help you haul yourself up and down. Yesterday it was very slippery, and without ropes would have been a nightmare. But be prepared for aching arms and shoulders!

The ascent of Mt. Datun West Peak 大屯西峰 is steep and exhilarating, with lots of large rocks to get over. The top (985 m) is mostly rocks too, and the descent is equally steep, so it’s better to go down backwards. At the bottom, head on to Mt. Datun South Peak 大屯南峰, which is a shorter but even steeper climb than West Peak…

However once you get to the summit (959 m), that’s it with the ropes (and the gloves), they won’t be needed any more on this hike. The descent is much easier. The path brings you out ready to hike up to Mt. Datun Main Peak 大屯主峰, which is a bit of a slog up endless stone steps. The summit (1076 m) is high up above the path, there’s a viewpoint, and it’s the top of the road for the cyclists who like to come up on their bikes from Taipei. On Saturday, it was mostly foggy, so no views, but on a clear day the views of Taipei are great. You can drive up here by car, but not during the butterfly season, which is happening now. By then it was almost 11:30 am. 5 mountains down, 5 to go. We’re half way along – yes!

Then follows a long walk down from Mt. Datun Main Peak, either by road, or by path to the Anbu Entrance. I took the path, it comes out at the road, and there you turn right. Heading to the next big mountain, Mt. Qixing ~ and it is easier (but definitely not so pleasant) to walk along the main road. There are buses, cars and cyclists coming from all directions, but following the trail along down below the road is mossy and often slippery, and takes ages. I walked along the road – to the junction, then cross over and turn left, walk up to the car-park and up over the small grassy hill – spurred on by the call of the coffee shop at Xiaoyoukeng!

At Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑遊客服務站, the fumaroles were spouting forth tons of yellow and white sulphur gases, stinking the place out. They are fun to check out. There’s also a visitor’s center (with maps, displays, water machines to refill water bottles, and friendly National Park people to answer all your questions), toilets and coffee shop. Due to the coronavirus precautions, like all government buildings, there is someone on duty to check temperatures of those coming in to the center to fill up the water bottles – and you need to wear a face-mask. Face-masks are also compulsory on all public transport – never go out without one!

From here, spurred on by coffee, it’s time to launch forth up the highest mountain of the day, Mt. Qixing 七星主峰. The newly-restored path is beautiful. This is always the place with the most people, and the youngest people – groups of students, young couples and families. And yes, it was heaving, but it’s not a difficult climb, in fact it’s fairly manageable even for people more used to walking in high heels on city streets, hence the vast numbers of people going up at the weekends. I got to the top (1120 m) at about 1:30 pm, and there was a line of about 30 people queuing to take photos at the big summit post.

About 20 minutes later, I got to the top of the Mt. Qixing East Peak七星東峰 (1107 m). From there, the descent is long. I got to the Lengshuikeng Visitor’s Center 冷水坑遊客服務站 at about 2:45 pm, time to refill the water bottles and cool down. But time was moving on – gotta get to that bus! But first I had to go to Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 via Jixinlun 雞心崙, the highest point on the Lengqing Path. You walk eastwards from the visitor’s center on the path, cross the bridge and turn right towards the pond. At the pond, turn left up the steep steps. At the top of the steps, turn right, and about 5 minutes later is a viewpoint, and the marker is positioned there. Then on to Qingtiangang 擎天崗, which was also full of people. Everyone was there to relax on the grass, eat picnics and see the cattle. There were plenty of big fat buffalo, all lazing around, and all very smelly – these ones in the photo are Tajima cattle…

Eight summits down, two to go. At this point many people give up and go home by bus. The next section and challenge is to cover 6 km (plus a further 1 km by path / road to the bus stop) to get to the eastern end of the trail at Fengguikou. But this is also the nicest part in many ways. The trail alternates between forest and grassland, finally getting to the summit of Mt. Shiti / Shitiling 石梯嶺 (863 m). Beautiful! By then I was running very late, and only got to the final summit, Mt. Ding 頂山 (768 m) at 5:20 pm, so it was non-stop action from there, on down to Fengguikou Trail Head 風櫃口登山口. At the car-park, there’s a path immediately to the right that goes from the trail head to cut off the winding road.

I arrived at the Fengguizui Bus Stop just as the bus appeared – it goes up to the terminus, turns round and comes back and picks up all the people at about 6:15 pm. Five minutes later and I would have missed it, and would have faced a long walk down that steep hill to the Shengren Waterfall bus-stop. Phew, was I relieved!

This is a highly-recommended but a bit-of-a-killer hike and I am expecting to be aching for the next week! Very grateful for cool-ish weather, not much sun, hardly any real mud, ropes, dry paths, friendly people, hot coffee, easy access, good and cheap public transport, friendly and knowledgeable National Park staff, clear signposts, spring flowers, energy, free time and strength – and especially in this time of the coronavirus when so many other people in the world are in lockdown, grateful that here we are, free to do a whole day of hiking in the mountains. Thanks be to God!

PS The 2021 version of this hike, done on February 21, 2021 had much sunnier weather, and so much better photos. Check them out here

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2019!

Or as I prefer, the ‘West-East’ Vertical Traverse! This is THE mountain challenge for all those looking for a day out from Taipei – a 10-hour hike over the 10 mountains in the Yang-ming Shan range that lie just above Taipei City. It’s 25 km, almost 1,700 m of ascent and about 45,000 steps in total. And totally worth it!

This is my account of my trip last Saturday, October 26. Spring or autumn is the best time to do this hike, because summer is too hot (and it rains nearly every afternoon) and winter is too wet. You need a number of dry days before the actual day, otherwise the paths are slippery, especially the roped ones! The only other time I’ve done this hike all in one day was in May 2018 (see that account here) but the route has slightly changed since then, with one of the summits (Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 ) now closed to the public – to avoid the cattle, which are actually a mix of water buffalo and Tajima cattle, after someone was killed by one last year. The summit marker post has also been moved to the highest point on the Lengqing Path, and renamed Jixinlun 雞心崙.

Fortunately the whole hike can be done in more manageable and smaller sections – it divides nicely into 4, which can be done over 4 days or 2. That’s what I was doing on free days during the summer, and I would get home before the thunderstorms rolled in during the afternoons. If you take the harder option, and do it all on one day, be prepared for aching limbs for 3 days afterwards – it’s hard work!

On each of the summits, there is a marker post, and on the top of each post is a Chinese character in metal ~ use a pencil and paper to do like a brass rubbing (or just take a photo!) Put together in order and these characters make a phrase. The 10 Chinese characters are: Mt. Ding (“陽”), Mt. Shiti (“明”), Jixinlun (“山”), Mt. Qixing East Peak (“東”), Mt. Qixing Main Peak (“西”), Mt. Datun Main Peak (“大”), Mt. Datun South Peak (“縱”), Mt. Datun West Peak (“走”), Mt. Miantian (“活”), and Mt. Xiangtian (“動”). The whole phrase, 陽明山東西大縱走活動 translates as the ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse Activity’. These are the 10 posts (left to right in the order I did them) and 10 Chinese characters (kind of left to right in the correct reading order) below….

Although it is titled the East-West Traverse, and the marker posts are numbered in that direction, actually it is easier to do it from west-east, mainly because of the times of the buses. The east end of the hike is a place called Fengguikou 風櫃口. The bus stop is about 1 km down the road from there, at a place called Fengguizui 風櫃嘴. The bus is the small city bus M1 (市民小巴1) from Jiantan MRT Station, and there’s not many of them! Every morning, the first bus leaves Jiantan MRT Station at 6:10 am going up to Fengguizui, taking about 30 minutes. The next bus after that is 10:10 am, so don’t miss it! The Taipei MRT opens at 6:00 am each day, so for those of us further away, it’s impossible to get to Jiantan MRT Station so early.

You also need to know that the final M1 bus of the day from Fengguizui down to Jiantan MRT goes at about 6:10 pm. That is the one to get! If you miss it, you have to walk down much further to Shengren Waterfall Bus Stop where there are many buses, but the road is long and winding, and the short-cut paths are steep – plus by then it’ll be dark, so timing is everything!

The other reason for finishing at Fengguikou rather than starting from there is that the final part of the hike may be be long (6 km from Qingtiangang 擎天崗) but it is the least steep part of the whole hike, and after a long day going up and down, it’s nice to take things a bit more easily!

So all in all, I think it’s better to start at the west end of the hike, which is at Qingtian Temple 清天宮登山口 and walk eastwards. The bus you need is the S6 (小6) bus from Beitou MRT, and there are lots of buses all day long. Also lots of people on a weekend all queuing for the early buses! Get there early. The earliest I could get to Qingtian Temple on Saturday was at 7:20 am. Qingtian Temple village has a temple or two, a public toilet and a large noticeboard with a map. The whole trail is very well-signposted as long as you know the order of the mountains. The trails on Yang-ming Shan were mostly built in the Japanese Era, and they were built to last forever, mostly of stone. This is the view from Qingtian Temple Trail-head over towards Guanyinshan…

The trail from Qingtian Temple to the first summit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 takes just over an hour, going via the usually-water-less Xiangtian Pond. I was on the grassy summit (949 m) at about 8:30 am and 20 minutes later, reached Summit 2, Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) at 8:50 am. There’s a viewpoint and raised rest area there, 2 huge microwave reflectors and views down to St. John’s University and the whole northern coast. But as it was alternating cloudy and sunny all day, so views were limited. That was a relief in a way, I didn’t have to keep taking photos! This is the silver-grass, at its best in the autumn….

Taking the path straight down from Mt. Miantian leads back to the main path. Turn right for about 10 minutes heading to Miantianping 面天坪, where there’s a pavilion always full of people enjoying a day out. The path up to Mt. Datun West and South Peaks (and eventually to Mt. Datun Main Peak) starts here, on the left. The Datun Mountain range 大屯山 lies ahead. This is the steepest part of the whole hike coming up. Bring some cheap gloves to cling onto the fixed ropes that are provided to help you haul yourself up and down. Be prepared for aching arms and shoulders the next day!

The ascent of Mt. Datun West Peak 大屯西峰 is steep and exhilarating, with lots of large rocks to get over. The top (985 m) is mostly rocks too, and the descent is equally steep, so it’s better to go down backwards. At the bottom, head on to Mt. Datun South Peak 大屯南峰, which is a shorter but even steeper climb than West Peak. However once you get to the summit (959 m), that’s it with the ropes (and the gloves), they won’t be needed any more on this hike. The descent is much easier. Berries en route to attract the birds….

The path brings you out ready to hike up to Mt. Datun Main Peak 大屯主峰, which is a bit of a slog up endless stone steps. The summit (1076 m) is high up above the path, there’s a viewpoint, and it’s the top of the road for the cyclists who like to come up on their bikes from Taipei. On Saturday, it was mostly foggy, so no views, but on a clear day the views of Taipei are great. By then it was almost 11:00 am. 5 mountains down, 5 to go. We’re half way – yes!

Then follows a long walk down from Mt. Datun Main Peak, either by road, or by path to the Anbu Entrance. I took the path, it comes out at the road, and there you turn right. Heading to the next big mountain, Mt. Qixing ~ and it is easier (but definitely not so pleasant) to walk along the main road. There are buses, cars and cyclists coming from all directions, but following the trail along down below the road is mossy and often slippery, and takes ages. I walked along the road – to the junction, then cross over and turn left, walk up to the car-park and up over the small grassy hill – spurred on by the call of the coffee shop at Xiaoyoukeng!

At Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑遊客服務站, the fumaroles were spouting forth tons of yellow and white sulphur gases, stinking the place out. They are fun to check out. There’s also a visitor’s center (with maps, displays, water machines to refill water bottles, and friendly National Park people to answer all your questions), toilets and coffee shop.

Now, spurred on by coffee, it’s time to launch forth up the highest mountain of the day, Mt. Qixing 七星主峰. The newly-restored path is beautiful. This is always the place with the most people. And yes, it was heaving, but it’s not a difficult climb, in fact it’s fairly manageable even for people more used to walking in high heels on city streets, hence the vast numbers of people going up at the weekends. I got to the top (1120 m) at about 1:00 pm, and there was a line of about 30 people queuing to take photos at the big summit post. Fortunately for me, nobody was interested in the small marker at the side, which is the one what I needed to take a photo of. About 20 minutes later, I got to the top of the Mt. Qixing East Peak七星東峰 (1107 m), where there was a line of about 10 people all trying take photos of the only summit marker. I joined the queue – but I was the only one not wanting myself in the photo!

The descent is long – and usually crowded with people. I got to the Lengshuikeng Visitor’s Center 冷水坑遊客服務站 at about 2:00 pm, time to refill the water bottles, drink hot chocolate, eat snacks and chat with all the many visitors. It was at the visitor’s center that the guides told me that the Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 summit marker had now been moved, due to the path closure, and is now renamed as Jixinlun 雞心崙, the highest point on the Lengqing Path. You walk eastwards from the visitor’s center on the path, cross the bridge and turn right towards the pond. At the pond, turn left up the steep steps. At the top of the steps, turn right, and about 5 minutes later is a viewpoint, and the marker is positioned there.

By 3:00 pm, I had arrived at Qingtiangang Visitor’s Center 擎天崗遊客服務站 which was also full of people. Everyone was there to relax on the grass, and see the cattle. There were plenty of big fat buffalo, all lazing around, and all very smelly. 8 summits down, 2 to go. At this point many people give up and go home by bus. The next section and challenge is to cover 6 km (plus a further 1 km by path / road to the bus stop) to get to the eastern end of the trail at Fengguikou. But this is also the nicest part in many ways. The trail alternates between forest and grassland, finally getting to the summit of Mt. Shiti / Shitiling 石梯嶺 (863 m). I got there about 4:00 pm. The fog had lifted, and there were good views. The sun was beginning to go down and the light was special. But I didn’t want to hang around. I had a bus to catch and the light was fading ahead…

By 4:30 pm I was at the final summit, Mt. Ding 頂山 (768 m), and from there, on down to Fengguikou Trail Head 風櫃口登山口. At the car-park, there’s a path immediately to the right that goes from the trail head to cut off the winding road, but it’s steep, and it was dusk, so I took the long winding road, also to the right, heading towards Shilin, which took ages. But the sun was setting, it was lovely!

I arrived at the Fengguizui Bus Stop at about 5:30 pm, and waited for the bus at 6:10 pm, in the dark with a group of students and other walkers coming down from Yang-ming Shan. The phone signal is very poor in that area, so you have to move around a bit. This is the altitude diagram of the hike…

And guess what? As I was standing at that bus-stop, in the dark, on a remote mountainous road in a far corner of the Yang-ming Shan mountains, one of those students waiting with me suddenly asked me if I was Teacher Catherine from St. James’s Kindergarten in Taichung. I was and I am! It turned out she had been in my class when she was 5. She’s now at university, and this is the first time we’ve met since. Amazed that she should recognize me after all these years. But Taiwan is that kind of place, you never know who and where you might meet some lovely person who knows you!

This is a highly-recommended, but a bit-of-a-killer hike! Two days later and I am still aching all over, especially going up stairs. Grateful for cool weather, not much sun, no mud, dry paths, friendly people, hot coffee and hot chocolate, easy access, good and cheap public transport, friendly and knowledgeable National Park staff, clear signposts, lots of silver grass, energy, free time and strength – and unexpected reunions at bus-stops!

Thanks be to God!

PS Updated on April 20, 2020: a more recent account of this same hike is posted here, with all 10 summits now fully open.

Taiwan’s Culture and Stinky Tofu ~ with our friends from Latin America and the Caribbean!😊😊😊

Yes, 3 more busy days out in the last 2 weeks visiting some wonderful places around northern Taiwan with our 18 lovely friends from Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who are here at St. John’s University as part of the “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 ‘TaiwanICDF‘.

Last Saturday off we went through the Xueshan Tunnel, Taiwan’s longest at 12.9 km ~ it runs through the mountains from Taipei to the east coast at Yilan. Since opening in 2006, it’s really changed Taiwan’s east coast, with lots of development, tourism and business opportunities opening up. There’s lots of traffic too, especially on a Saturday when everyone is in that tunnel trying to get out of the big city, escaping for the day or weekend to breathe in some fresh sea air and relax….

And so we joined them, but it took us 3 hours (yes, 3 whole hours!) from St. John’s University to get to our first main stop at Lanyang Museum 蘭陽博物館. The museum has really good displays about the local area, and gave us distant views through the haze over towards Guishan Island. Guishan Island (Turtle Island) is actually the protruding top of Taiwan’s only active volcano. Our friends from Latin America and Caribbean have plenty of active volcanoes in their own countries, so it’s good that Taiwan has one to show to visitors too! This is us at the museum…

Lanyang Museum building was “designed by a team led by Kris Yao those design was inspired by the ‘cuestas’ commonly seen along Beiguan Coast. The museum adopts the geometric shapes of the cuestas where the roof protrudes from the ground at an angle of 20 degrees meeting a wall which rises from the ground at an angle of 70 degrees.” Really impressive. I liked it. Not sure about that big apartment building right behind it, but hey, at least the residents must have a good view!

We spent the day driving around Yilan, enjoying local foods and restaurants and seeing the countryside. At lunchtime, the rain started – and poured down for the next 3 hours, so we spent the afternoon visiting the famous Kavalan Whisky Distillery ~ which also houses Mr. Brown coffee. A little secret ~ the Kavalan Sweet Coffee Liqueur is really delicious, and there was plenty of it to sample ~ but shhh, don’t tell anyone. Ah, but it was a fun day!

Then last Monday, we went to the National Palace Museum, Taipei – it is Taipei’s ‘must-go, must-see’ museum on every visitor’s itinerary, but it’s impossible to see it all on one trip. We had 2 hours and saw but a fraction of the displays, though we did have a detailed tour in English about the bronzes in the museum…

In the afternoon we paid a quick visit to Xiaoyoukeng in Yangmingshan National Park to see the smoking – and very smelly – fumaroles in the mist. Not, apparently, as magnificent or as smelly (thank goodness!) as the ones in St. Lucia, but hey, these ones are smelly enough!

And today (part of the 3-day Mid-Autumn Moon Festival), we spent the day south-west of Taipei. Our first stop was the Yingge Ceramics Museum – which may look kind of grim and brutalist on the outside, but inside the museum, the displays are really creatively presented, reflecting its past as Taiwan’s ceramic town – due to its special clay.

We had a short guided tour in English and then I rushed around taking some photos. Even the luggage lockers are ceramic…

We also visited Sanxia Old Street, built in the Japanese era in baroque style and restored a few years ago. We tried all the local delicacies, including pig’s blood cake and stinky tofu – some of which, well, let’s put it this way, didn’t go down too well with some of us! The croissants and ice-cream though were delicious!

After lunch, we went to Daxi Old Tea Factory…..

And then to Cihu Mausoleum 慈湖陵寢 , “the temporary resting place of President Chiang Kai-shek. When Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, he was not buried in the traditional Chinese fashion but entombed in a black marble sarcophagus since he expressed the wish to be eventually buried in his native Fenghua in Zhejiang province once the Kuomintang (KMT) recovered mainland China from the Communists.” We went to see the changing of the guard ceremony that takes place every hour on the hour ~ we were there for the one at 3:00 pm. Wow, it was so hot, bees were buzzing around and we were directly facing into the afternoon sun. But then the honor guard must have been even hotter, after standing for an hour in their heavy uniforms without moving….

There’s also the Cihu Lake and the surrounding sculpture park where all the ‘removed’ statues of Chiang Kai-Shek are on display….

Our Latin America and Caribbean group of students are so lively and fun, and we’re making the most of their time in Taiwan to take them out and about, showing them the sights and introducing them to Taiwan’s rich culture and history. We enjoy all the delicious (and let’s face it, some not so delicious!) foods on offer at each place, and of course we take a few photos too ~ and I’m grateful that they all think really creatively when I request a pose!

Thanks to St. John’s University for planning all these great trips. Already looking forward to the next one ~ coming soon!

From Latin America and the Caribbean to St. John’s University, Taiwan ~ Welcome!

Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines ~ all countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and all countries that have sent some of their very lovely people to participate in the “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”, hosted by St. John’s University (SJU). Welcome! The official opening ceremony was on Friday August 16, when everyone was welcomed by SJU vice-president, Dr. Wang, on behalf of President Ay (see photo above) and the different groups posed with their flags….