Tag Archives: Taitung

Happy Chinese New Year of the 🐭🐀!

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 🐭🐀!

Alangyi Historic Trail 阿朗壹古道 and Paiwan 排灣族 Harvest Festival 豐年祭 @ Nantian Village, Daren Township, Taitung 台東縣達仁鄉南田村, Taiwan

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Yes, the Alangyi Historic Trail 阿朗壹古道 is THE trail to hike!  And especially when the sea and the sky are blue, blue, blue ~ like they were on Saturday ~ YES YES YES!

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The Alangyi Trail runs maybe 8-10 km along the S.E. coast of Taiwan, and walking it takes about 4-5 hours ~ from the very southern tip of Taitung County across into Mudan Township 牡丹鄉, Pingtung County, finishing at Xuhai 旭海 Village, famous for its hot springs and grassland.  The trail is significant in that it is the only section of the whole Taiwan coastline where there is no road. No road means no cars, no lorries, no coaches, no random tourists, no 7-elevens (always a sign of economic development!) ~ and to preserve the natural environment, the area is established as a nature reserve, and strictly managed.  But this only happened after years of protests and disputes about whether to build a road or not.  Fortunately wisdom prevailed, and the Alangyi Trail is just fantastic!

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Nowadays, only 300 people are allowed on the trail per day, permits are required, a guide is needed per 20 people and there are police on duty at either end of the trail.  During the summer, the temperatures are boiling hot, and there are few people hiking on the trail.  In fact, we only met one other group, 30+ youngsters from Changhua – going in the other direction.  Fortunately we had a nice breeze to blow us along!  A typhoon was slowly heading towards Taiwan, but still far off, and as often happens a day or two before a typhoon, the weather was really great (as I write this on Wednesday morning, 3 days later, the typhoon is roaring around outside as it passes northern Taiwan)!

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It is truly an amazing walk, with incredible views!  Is it easy?  Yes.  Is it difficult?  Yes. Both / and!  Much of the walk is right down near sea-level, along the upper part of the stony beach, but at the rocky promontory that is called Guanyin’s Nose 觀音鼻, everyone has to ascend 150m to go up and over the top and down the other side.  It is very steep, so ropes are supplied to grab onto, and there’s steps in some places.  But hey, the views are spectacular – and see the turtle-shaped rock down below!

For centuries, the Alangyi Trail was used by the local indigenous peoples to get from place to place along the coast.  The local indigenous people in that area are mostly the Paiwan People 排灣族 (pause here while you open that link to the Wikipedia site to read about the Paiwan People – it’s fascinating)…. Wonder if in years gone by, they enjoyed this stream as much as we did at the end of the trail?  Yes, we got soaked, but it was oh so refreshing!

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My good friends from Advent Church, 選櫻 (Hsuen-Ying, Grace) and her husband 生豐 (Sheng-Feng, Simon), invited me to join a group of their friends (mostly Grace’s former high school / college classmates and their families – all very lovely!) who they had invited to spend the weekend visiting Grace’s home village of Nantian, in Daren Township, Taitung (台東縣達仁鄉南田村).  This is Grace and Simon… as romantic as always!

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Grace is Paiwan, Taiwan’s second largest indigenous group, and Simon is Amis, Taiwan’s largest indigenous group – who mostly live further north in the Hualien area.  These days there is a certain friendly rivalry between the different tribes / groups ~ although in the past, things were not always so friendly!  Both Grace and Simon work at TamKang High School, Tamsui (as did 2 others in our group), and the school has a teddy bear mascot that travels around with them all over, including on the Alangyi Trail!

Nantian Village is the southernmost village in Taitung County, and runs along a single road between the mountains and the sea. Most people coming to Taitung from the west coast do so over the mountain road from Pingtung, this is the first area they reach on the east coast.  For cyclists on the round-Taiwan circuit, it’s a welcome relief to get over the mountains and down to the coast. But the only people passing through Nantian itself are on their way to the northern entrance of the Alangyi Historic Trail.  Within a few minutes of starting the trail, there’s a river, and that is the border between Taitung and Pingtung – and it is just over that river that the police have a checkpoint to check permits.

And what else is going on in Nantian?  Well, there’s fish farming, mainly for shrimp, there’s a camp site, small guest houses, a cement factory out on the main road, 2 Presbyterian churches, and a beautiful stony beach.  In the past, the stones were big and well-rounded, so people collected them up and carved them for sale.  These days, apparently the coast has changed, the sea level is rising, the stones are much smaller, and well, it’s not easy to make a good living.  Many of the local people have moved away to the cities looking for work – and return for festivals, and some in their retirement.

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Some scenes of Nantian and the local area, starting with the chief’s stone…

There’s an interesting bamboo art work installed there too, ‘The Vector of the South‘ 南方以南 ~ the bamboo looks like waves coming up from the shore, over the seawall and across the fields….

Grace’s elder brother, who we call ‘Da-Ge’ 大哥 (literally ‘big brother’) returned to the family home 10+ years ago, after quite some time in northern Taiwan, to take up his responsibilities as one of the chiefs of the Paiwan Tribe.  He is just so lovely!  He kept us entertained with stories, songs and jokes, and he and his wife are such committed Christians, sharing their faith, testimonies, choruses and music with everyone!  They, together with relatives and members of the village, welcomed us into their lives for the weekend ~ they were just so hospitable and generous.  By inviting us to join their village for the weekend, we could learn so much about their culture and traditions, and they were able to get some income from taking care of us ~ such visits are officially known as (starting with their Paiwan name), ‘Jakisuvung Cultural and Educational Eco-Tourism’ 家給蘇豐文教生態旅遊.  We stayed in a local guest house (B&B), which was run by the lady who was our guide for the Alangyi Trail, and whose younger sister was Grace’s former classmate!

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The Paiwan Harvest Festival 豐年祭 is an annual event in many Paiwan communities, celebrating a successful millet / rice harvest, and copious amounts of millet / rice wine are on offer!  It involved a whole weekend of activities in Nantian Village, starting on Saturday morning with the official opening ceremony when VIPs from the local government, the elected official representative from Taitung County Council, tribal chiefs and many others came along. There was dancing and singing too….

The main event of the day was the archery competition ~ wow, they are so skilled!  Every village has a team and they were all there, competing all morning.  Women, men, old, young, everyone took part; apparently they practice for hours – and it shows!

We even had a go ourselves, though we only shot from half the distance – and still managed to miss, ha ha! But Grace, who said this was her first time to try, got a bull’s eye, first time.  Actually it’s not a bull, it’s a mountain pig!

And then we all went off up the river, through the river in fact, wading upstream until we came to a clearing where we had a really fun Paiwan-style barbecue.  In fact, 3 days later and I can still smell that smoke all over!

The following day, the community spent the morning killing and preparing the pig, and certain other ceremonies.  The main event of the festival for us was on Sunday evening. Just beforehand, the heavens opened, the rain came down, and they decided to relocate to the village community centre. Da-Ge’s wife and the ladies of the village had been cooking all afternoon, and there were huge amounts of delicious Paiwan-style food. “Must try everything”, they said. Just don’t ask in too much detail what everything is – and remember that nothing in that mountain pig goes to waste!  Ah, I had a great time!

Most of the people were there in traditional Paiwan costumes, and we had flower head rings….

And there was dancing.  There’s always dancing at festivals, and we joined in too.  I filmed the following video for 5 minutes before I got down and joined the end of the line!  Do watch – and keep an eye on the blue bucket of millet / rice wine 小米酒 in the middle of the table, and the ‘waiters’ who go around serving everyone!

And this was the final dance – just for the community themselves… watch to the end, but I had to stop filming at the final minute, I was laughing so much!

On Monday morning, our group had a chance to visit Da-Ge’s home and try on some of their traditional Paiwan costumes.  There is apparently no special significance to the colours, blue, red, black – it’s personal choice.  We also had a chance to wear the chief’s headdress, which is, oh, so heavy!  The rules are that at ceremonies and festivals, only the chief and his family can wear the headdresses, but in their home and for photos at other times, anyone can try them on.  So we did!

We also visited a massive huge tree, Bischofia javanica (considered sacred, hence the red ribbon).  That’s where we learned all about the local ecology and more.  Teddy came too!

What else?  Well, actually I had arrived a day earlier than most of our group, and together with Grace and Simon, the 3 of us went to visit the newly-opened social welfare center run by the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross 聖十字架慈愛修女會 (known as the Maria Theresia Social Welfare Foundation 財團法人台東縣私立天主教聖十字架瑪利德蘭社會福利基金會) in Shangwu Village 尚武村, Dawu Township 大武鄉, which is very near Nantian ~ in fact it was in Dawu that Grace went to junior high school.  And the first person we met when we arrived at the center there was one of her old classmates. Ah it’s a small world!  This is their church and fruit growing in the garden. The fruit is Morinda citrifolia, known as cheese fruit / vomit fruit / starvation fruit, and I can tell you it is totally 100% disgusting!

In December 2016, St. John’s University and Advent Church raised NT$ 325,000 (US$ 10,000) as part of our annual fund-raising project and donated it to the sisters (see that blog post here) for their ministry.  They were planning to convert their kindergarten classrooms into a day care center for elderly local people.  Thanks be to God that the work is completed, and the official opening ceremony and mass was held on June 16, 2018.  We couldn’t go to the ceremony, but we were able to visit on Friday instead.  They are still waiting for the final permission from the local authorities to be able to use the new buildings, and we had a tour – they are so light, bright, well-equipped and fully furnished.  It was so good to meet Sr. Miljenka Schnetzer 宋玉潔修女 again, she arrived in Taiwan from Switzerland in 1979, and has been in Shangwu since 1992….

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We also visited the famous train station at Duoliang 多良, famous because if you stand there long enough a train will come out of the tunnel and pass by – such a pretty photo-op ha ha!

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And then there were the sunrises over the sea – 2 of them in fact.  On Friday we got up and left at 4:30 am to see the sunrise from the high viewpoint…

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And then again on Monday morning, when there was more cloud – the only sign that the typhoon was coming.  Great that we could still see Lanyu and Lyudao Islands from up there (but too far away to appear in the photo)….

One of the main highlights of the whole weekend was meeting Grace’s family, especially her big brother and his wife and family.  I had dinner at their home on Friday evening.  They are so friendly and welcoming!  This is Da-Ge and Simon…

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And yes, we spent a lot of time laughing!  Da-Ge’s wife told me that on the chief’s headdress there are some tufts of red hair, and yep, sure they’re there – and very red!

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She said that those tufts of red hair represent the hair of the foreigners who had had their heads chopped off by the Paiwan people in years gone by, when they arrived on the Taiwan coast to invade and attack the people here.  The Paiwan were a headhunting people, and always kept some of the hair as a mark of pride.  It’s true.  That was really what was happening along the Alangyi Historic Trail all those centuries ago.  It might all look very scenic and beautiful now, but in those days it was not a place where visitors were assured of a warm welcome!

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Wikipedia says, “In the past the Paiwan had a fearsome reputation as head-hunters. When Paiwan warriors returned home from a headhunting foray, the women would gather together in front of the courtyard to welcome their heroes and would sing songs of triumph. The heads of their enemies were then hung on stone pillars in front of which were displayed wine and offerings.” The Japanese, Americans, Dutch, Spanish all came to Taiwan – either to invade and attack, or they were trying to pass by the island on their way elsewhere but got shipwrecked in a typhoon, and many of them were attacked and killed.  Check out the Rover Incident of 1867 and the Mudan Incident of 1871, the latter took place in Mudan, which is at the Pingtung end of the Alangyi Trail.  It led to the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1874, and eventually Taiwan came under Japanese rule  from 1895-1945, during which the Japanese tried to control and subdue the indigenous peoples, leading to endless conflicts, armed uprisings, massacres – and resulting in even more oppression.  Many indigenous people, including Grace’s family (in the time of her great-grandparents and grandparents) were forced to relocate during the Japanese colonial era – they moved from Pingtung to Taitung, eventually settling in Nantian.

The Dutch are famously remembered in Taiwan as having red hair (here in Tamsui we have Fort San Domingo, known as 紅毛城, the ‘fort of the red-heads’, originally built by the Spanish and then seized by the Dutch, and rebuilt by them in 1644).  Hence the tufts of red hair in the headdress!  So we spent all weekend laughing together about whether I was gonna get my head chopped off before we left on Monday – and wondering whether I’d live to see another day!

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But Da-Ge assured me that now that Paiwan people are Christians, love has conquered all.  No longer do we need to kill each other, but we can live and work together in peace.  We’re all one family, of whatever tribe – and even whatever colour hair!  That’s the main theme of the song sung at the festival, where everyone joined hands to dance. These days even the shaman’s traditional rituals associated with the harvest festival are replaced by prayers to Almighty God, giving thanks and asking for God’s blessing, and all in Jesus’ name.  And here we all are, one family!

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So, Grace is from a Paiwan family and Simon is from an Amis family.  Nowadays, such marriages are very common.  In Advent Church, I like to tease Grace and Simon as being the most romantic couple in the church ~ they are members of the church choir, and they have quite some competition from other choir couples for that title!  But these two still win the prize ~ every day they are like they just got married.  And they just really like each other so much…. so adorable!

Thank God for a wonderful weekend of gracious people, deep culture, rich traditions, beautiful scenery, amazing weather, delicious foods, safe journeys and lots of laughter.

Thanks to Grace and Simon for all their leadership and organization, to all our group for their willingness to learn and to fit in with everyone and everything, and to Da-Ge and his wife and family for their warm welcome and kindness to us.  It was truly inspiring to see how God is working in one family, in one community, in one people, in one small corner of Taiwan, to His honour and glory!

Off to Green Island 綠島 Lyudao, Taitung, Taiwan with the Taiwan Episcopal Church 台灣聖公會2018年蒙恩得福家庭生活營!

Ah, Green Island.  What a place it is.  For some in Taiwan it evokes memories of their youth and a taste of freedom as they rode motorcycles around the island enjoying the scenery.  For others, it evokes terrible stories of grim horror and nightmares, of stories told in secret, whispered between family members.  An island of such immense beauty, and yet, also such immense tragedy.

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Ironically, the most immense beauty is so well hidden that you only really get to see it by immersing yourself in the sea and either snorkeling or scuba-diving your way through the coral reefs, or by traveling in a semi-submersible glass-bottomed boat.  The fish and the coral are truly amazing.  We went snorkeling and it was really the highlight of the trip, and indeed of any trip to Green Island.  But my camera doesn’t work underwater, sorry about that, so all I can do is recommend you check out this You Tube video of someone who did go snorkeling in Green Island here, our experience was just like his. Which means we had a really fantastic time watching all sorts of fish of every different colour and size, all swimming so close.  And the really wonderful snorkeling coach turned out to be one of our students here at St. John’s University on a work placement as an intern for his last semester before he graduates next month.  He was great.  And he made the snorkeling so relaxing and enjoyable, even for our group who ranged in age from 13-83!  Here we are getting all dressed up….

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Green Island (綠島: pronounced as ‘Lyudao’ in Chinese) is “a small volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean about 33 km (21 miles) off the eastern coast of Taiwan”, originally inhabited by the Amis people.  The first Chinese arrived about 200 or so years ago and the only traces of Amis habitations these days are some ruined homesteads.  Most of the people live along the northern and north-west coast of the island, and are served by 2 elementary schools and one junior-high school, a small airport, a harbour, a Baptist Church, Jehovah Witnesses Meeting Place, lots of temples, one 7-Eleven, one Family Mart, one big 2-story Duty-Free Shop, restaurants and BBQ places galore, several soft drinks shops, many government buildings and a huge number of hotels and diving / snorkeling centres.  Tourism is the main business of the island. The harbour is lined with motorcycles for rent, ready for the passengers disembarking from the passenger ferries that make the one-hour journey to Taitung maybe 5 times a day in each direction.  Tourism big time!

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Every year, Bishop David J. H. Lai and Mr. Di Yun-Heng from St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung organize a 3-4 day trip for members and friends of the Taiwan Episcopal Church to visit some wonderful scenic places.  In November 2017, we went to Wuling Farm in Taiwan’s central mountain range to see the beautiful autumn colours (see that report here).   This year, we went to Green Island from Tuesday to Thursday, May 8-10.  Sadly Bishop Lai was unable to come with us due to an important meeting, but 33 of us joined Mr. Di to go along.  It was great!  This is the first group photo…

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Church members and friends from our churches in Taipei, Chungli, Taichung and Kaohsiung joined the trip.  The northern group met early on Tuesday morning at Taipei Rail Station, where we had tickets for the 6:50 am train to Taitung. I had stayed overnight at the diocesan office hostel so as to be there on time, and Bishop Lai not only took me to the station, but also came in to meet everyone and pray for us all.  And he gave us some tea, which we were to enjoy drinking together on the trip.

The southern group traveled over from Kaohsiung, and the Taichung group joined them, and we all met at Taitung Train Station soon after 11:00 am ~ off we went for lunch and then to the ferry.  Actually I didn’t eat any lunch, in preparation for the ferry – which is renowned for being a rough ride.  Glad I didn’t, as it was rough, and many people were seasick.  Enough said.  It was only an hour.  I survived, many didn’t!

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The weather forecast was for the plum rains to come on Tuesday night.  In fact they had already come to Taipei on Monday night, but Tuesday was a mostly sunny day on Green Island.  We made the most of it.  The rain was coming.  Actually it didn’t really hit us until Wednesday afternoon when it poured down for several hours.  That cooled the temperatures nicely.  Green Island is famous for its high summer temps.  And for its deer meat.  And for its sea food. We had flying fish!

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We were staying on the northern coast in a hotel just near the sea, and we enjoyed all the views.  It really was so convenient.  Early morning walks around, and a half-day tour meant that we saw most of the island.  Even if it was in the rain!

One of the highlights was the Lyudao Lighthouse, which we managed to visit just before the rains started: “On 11 December 1937 the Dollar Steamship Company luxury ocean liner SS President Hoover ran aground in a typhoon on a reef at Zhongliao Bay. All 503 passengers and 330 crew survived and were safely brought ashore. Over the next few days the cargo liners SS President McKinley and SS President Pierce took the survivors off the island, helped by boats provided by the Japanese cruiser Ashigara and an Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer. Dollar Lines sold President Hoover’s wreck to a Japanese salvage company, which spent the next three years breaking her up in situ. In response to the wreck, members of the US public gave money through the American Red Cross for a lighthouse to be built near Zhongliao village. Lyudao Lighthouse was designed by Japanese engineers, built by local islanders in 1938 and is 33.3 metres (109 ft) high.”  And of course, it’s a great place for photos!

We spent Wednesday evening having a short service, led by Rev. Lily Chang, using the Ascension Day liturgy, in preparation for the next day which was actually Ascension Day. Lily shared about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ Project, an international and ecumenical global wave of prayer between Ascension Day and Pentecost.  We spent time each thinking of 5 people we were going to commit to praying for over these 10 days, and spent a few minutes praying for them in small groups.

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And then we drank Bishop Lai’s tea.  Here we are making the tea and talking to him on face-time!

Green Island is beautiful.  Green.  Very green.  And very beautiful.  But unfortunately it has also seen a huge amount of tragedy.  And that tragedy cannot be ignored.   Green Island is a prison island.  There are three prisons in total, although only one is in use today.  That prison was within walking distance of our hotel.  The outside walls are decorated in 3D wall paintings, and there is a small field with goats there, plus all sorts of touristy things for people to do on a prison theme.

The other 2 prisons are no longer in use and are open to the public, located near the village of Gongguan on the NE side of the island.  I visited the place on the first afternoon, and also walked past early one morning.  Then we went as a group for a short visit on our afternoon tour – in the pouring rain.

The whole of the bay there is filled with prison buildings and prison property.  It is now known as the ‘Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park’ and is managed by the government department called the ‘Preparatory Office of the National Human Rights Museum‘, who also manage the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park 景美人權文化園區 in Taipei.  I went to Jingmei a few weeks ago, partly in preparation for coming to Green Island (my report about that visit is here).  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. Many went on to serve their lengthy prison sentences at the prison on Green Island.

The leaflets handed out at the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park give a brief introduction, as follows, “The park was originally home to 2 prisons built to accommodate political prisoners during the time of the White Terror.  First was the New Life Correction Center (1951-65), operated by the Taiwan Security Command, reflecting Taiwan’s isolated position in the global Cold War.  Later came the Ministry of National Defense Green Island Reform and Reeducation Prison (1972-87).  It was also the time of the rising tide of the human rights movement, when overseas human rights activists came to the rescue of Taiwan’s political prisoners.  The postwar history of the repression of human rights in Taiwan finds its concrete expression in the relics and exhibition activities of this park.”

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The New Life Correction Center (1951-65) at its peak had 2,000 prisoners, divided into 12 squadrons, and from 1951-54, there were also about 100 women.  With staff included, there were about 3,000 people in total.  Conditions were harsh.  Hard labour involved clearing land, breaking up rocks and coral, constructing walls and buildings.  The authorities made certain that the inmates were kept fully occupied with hard labour and thought-reform instruction so as to tire them out physically and mentally. But every evening, prisoners were allowed an hour of ‘free’ time, and many used that time very constructively.  Today, some of the buildings remain derelict, but in others, the museum has tried to recreate the situation of the inmates.

One exhibit shows the translation of the ‘Life of Jesus’ that one of the prisoners, Mr. Tu Nan-Shan secretly completed, from Japanese into Chinese, with 9 revisions, during his time here.

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Another shows the violin that enterprising prisoners made from wood collected from a shipwreck, with the strings taken from wire from discarded electrical cable.

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Next door to the New Life Correction Center is the ‘Green Island Reform and Reeducation Prison’ (1972-87), better known as ‘Oasis Villa’ 綠洲山莊.  The main area of prison cells is in the shape of an ‘X’, for better control from the central area.  Lots of famous prisoners were incarcerated here, and “after their release, many of the prisoners jailed between the late 1940s and the late 1980s went on to establish the Democratic Progressive Party, most notably Shih Ming-teh. Cartoonist Bo Yang also served his prison terms here.”

In a separate heavily-gated section there is the solitary confinement area.  Some have padded cells.  Some are completely dark, others have only one small window at the top.

Finally there is the Human Rights Monument, where the words of Bo Yang are written in Chinese, translated as: “In those times / How many were the mothers / Who, for their sons / Imprisoned on this island / Wept through the long night?”  The names of all those who were incarcerated here are given, along with the dates of their imprisonment or death.

But the tragedy of Green Island is not just restricted to the prison area.  Even street art has appeared all over, some related to the prison.

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On my final morning, I went as far as Swallow Cave, which is at the far end of the bay where the prisons are.  Past the graveyard for the 13th Squadron, ie those who died from sickness or suicide.  Inmates, officers and troops were all buried together.  On the same site.  What irony.

Swallow Cave is dark.  Dark physically and very dark spiritually.  I prayed the whole time I was there.  Local people don’t go there.  It was the place where the prisoners were forced to rehearse and perform their thought-reform plays, paint their backdrops and cremate those who died.  Swallows were flying in and out.  Water was dripping from the roof.   It is a natural cave, but the black volcanic rock makes it even darker.  I hated it.  But I went.  Fortunately there were also many beautiful plants growing nearby.

The 2 Green Island prisons are not easy places to visit.  Nor the cave.  Nor any of the places where terrible things happened to the prisoners.  Even on the beach, where they had to break up the rocks and use them to build things.  It is all horrible.  Man’s inhumanity to man is indescribably awful.  And seen on Green Island in all its grisly reality.  The government is doing a good job of restoring the prisons and opening them to the public with so many helpful notices around the place, plus a lot of research and work on oral and written history of the prisoners.  It needs to be done, the truth needs to be told.  Even if it is uncomfortable and terrible.  If you are sensitive to this kind of thing, make sure you pray before, during and after your visit.  And pray for the people who were imprisoned on Green Island, or those whose family members were imprisoned there.  The evil and suffering experienced on Green Island did not just disappear when a prisoner was released or the prison closed down.  Healing, release, freedom and peace are not just needed physically, but mentally and spiritually too.  For individuals, for families, for the whole of society.  For now, and for generations to come.

May God have mercy on us all.

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And so to Thursday morning, and we went back to the harbour for our return trip to Taitung.  The ferry trip back was much smoother than the one coming, that was good news.

And I met 2 RC sisters at the Green Island harbour.  They turned out to be Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross 聖十字架慈愛修女會 who had been in Green Island doing some ministry there, and who are the same order as the sisters in Shangwu Village 尚武村, Taitung ~ who St. John’s University annual charity bazaar supported at Christmas 2016.  We had visited the sisters in Shangwu to present the money we raised, and I stayed overnight (my report of that visit is here).  Now these 2 lovely sisters were pleased to report that the work we had donated to, that of transforming their kindergarten into a day care center for the elderly, is now complete and the grand opening is in mid-June.  Wow, thanks be to God!

And so to Taitung, where Fu-Gang Harbour is full of blue fishing boats!

Green Island is an island of such great contrasts.  Well worth visiting.  Well worth snorkeling or seeing the underwater sea life from a glass-bottomed boat.  Well worth visiting the prisons and learning more of Taiwan history.  And well worth walking or biking around the island to take in the beautiful scenery.  Must go, must see!

This was my second trip to Green Island. The first was in July 2003 with friends from St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung, including many small children, when we went round on motorcycles.  That was fun.  But a little hot!  This time it was much cooler. Also great fun!  Thanks to Bishop Lai and Mr. Di for all their planning, support and leadership.  To all the group of friends and church members who came along and shared in such a good time, and so many laughs, and to all who took photos and shared them with us.

And thanks be to God for an amazing trip!

Updated May 18, 2018: The Taipei Times is reporting here on yesterday’s official opening of the Human Rights Museum on Green Island by President Tsai Ing-Wen, “The opening of the museum yesterday marked the 67th anniversary since political prisoners were first incarcerated on Green Island on May 17, 1951.”

WOW! Lanyu 蘭嶼 Orchid Island, Taiwan

Taiwan’s outlying islands are all special, but the crown jewel of them all must surely be Lanyu!  A tiny green dot in the middle of a vast blue ocean, and on a sunny day (or 3) wow, the island glimmers and shines like a little jewel.  Blue sky, blue sea, green mountains, sandy beaches and rugged black volcanic rocks ~ and traditional boats painted in the white, red and black designs of the local Yami / Tao people who use them for catching flying fish, which they then hang up to dry all over everywhere.   A really amazing place!

Lanyu is one of those places that when you first see it, the only word to say is, ‘WOW!‘ Big green mountains completely dominate the view ~ there are 8 mountains over 400 m (1,300 ft) and the highest is 552 m (1,800 ft).  This is the first close-up view we had of the island as we approached it last Wednesday on the boat from Houbihu 後壁湖, near Kenting, on Taiwan’s southern tip.

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The boat trip itself makes you feel you’re setting off on an adventure.   Two boats make the trip together, taking 2½ hours for the approx 60 km / 40 miles trip going directly eastward from Kenting, through waters that are often rough and choppy.  Last Wednesday at 7:30 am, the sun was shining, the sea looked calm, and everyone munched away on their breakfasts as we were leaving port.  An hour later – and most were regretting it!  We stayed outside the whole journey and watched the flying fish ~ and survived in one piece to tell the tale….

When the boats arrive at the Lanyu Port at 10:00 am, it’s like Piccadilly Circus out there. Our boat had 300 people, I guess the other one had about the same, and we all arrived at the same time, with the boats leaving back for Taiwan only minutes later with another huge group of passengers.  Minibuses from all the different guest houses are there to pick up their visitors, boxes of deliveries are also being unloaded and loaded, and, well, it’s all a scene of huge chaotic fun!

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With a total area of only 45 km² (28 sq miles), a round-the-island highway that spans a distance of 37 km (23 miles), and so many steep high mountains, it’s not surprising that everyone in Lanyu lives somewhere along the coast. There are 6 villages, and they share the amenities between them, meaning no one village can claim to be the most important.  The 4 elementary schools are evenly distributed, but the high school, hospital, port, two 7-Eleven convenience stores, airport, post office, the single solitary ATM machine and government offices are not grouped in one village, rather spread out all over.

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Officially Lanyu has a population of about 5,000 people, including about 1,500 from Taiwan, the rest are local Yami / Tao people.  (The old name is Yami, the more recent name is Tao, and different people in Lanyu had different opinions about which name they preferred).  What is interesting is that they are not related to Taiwan’s other indigenous people, but instead to the peoples of the Batan Archipelago in the far north of the Philippines – their 2 languages and cultures have much in common.

The people of Lanyu have very strong cultural traditions and customs.  Visitors and tourists are welcomed, but local people make it clear that Lanyu is different from Taiwan, and they do not welcome people taking photos of them, or visitors going too near their homes or adversely affecting their way of life in any way.  Their many churches and prayer stations around the island are mostly locked.  The barbed wire and fences are to keep the goats out, but the people say they have had many experiences of visitors taking their drinks and snacks into the churches and leaving all their rubbish there.  So they keep the visitors out too.  Apart from the caves, we only found one prayer station that was open, in the far south of the island.

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In Taiwan you can buy meals on the street all day long until late into the night, but in Lanyu, it seems the whole island closes down early afternoon while everyone has a nap.  Every home seems to have a kind of wooden covered platform outside where the people rest during the heat of the day.  And then at about 7:00 pm, many of the stalls and restaurants also close down for the night.  Taiwan people will say that the most important thing about daily life is always ‘Convenience’ with a capital ‘C’, but not so in Lanyu.  Life moves along slowly at its own pace, and not even the attractions of making money out of all these visitors is going to persuade the local people to change their way of life.

And that is of course exactly what we loved about it!  Knowing all this, we found the people were very friendly and happy to talk – but then we also adhered to their customs.

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One such custom is that the traditional fishing boats are regarded as almost sacred – and not to be touched, and permission should be sought even to take photos.  And no swimming in the areas where the boats go fishing during the flying fish season.

So what were we doing in Lanyu?  Well, last week was Taiwan’s spring break of 3 days – a day for Children’s Day, a day for Tomb-Sweeping Festival and an extra day on Friday to make it a long weekend, and which everyone else had worked the previous Saturday to make up for.  Our university also had the Tuesday off to give the students a chance to get home before the rush of people on the Tuesday night.

A week before Chinese New Year, knowing we had a 5-day spring break in April, I had asked Miao-Shia, my good friend at St. James’ Church, Taichung if she’d be interested in a trip to Lanyu, seeing as I’ve been in Taiwan all these long years and never been there. She’d never been either, and before we knew it we had a group of 6 of us (Miao-Shia, Shu-Miao, Chung-Pung, Ah-Guan, I-Chen and me), all first-timers, all friends, and what’s more, our wonderful Miao-Shia agreed to organize everything!

And so it was that we set off on Tuesday, arriving at the Houbihu Port late that night, where we stayed in a nearby guest house ~ all ready for the boat to Lanyu next morning.

We had booked a small guest house in Lanyu, with mixed dormitory-style rooms (each bed curtai