Tag Archives: Taiwan Culture

Autumn Colours, Mountain Views! 台灣聖公會2017年蒙恩得福家庭生活營 Taiwan Episcopal Church Fall Trip 2017

Beautiful red maple leaves against a blue sky ~ now how’s that for a perfect picture of autumn?!

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And the best place in Taiwan to see maples in autumn is at the high elevations, up in the central mountain range.  So off we all went, all 60 or so of us, in a total of 9 (yes, nine!) minibuses, all in a long line.  Almost processional – well, after all, churches like ours are good at processions!  Large coaches cannot travel so far in the high mountains, so minibuses are ideal. The trip was 3 days and 2 nights, Tuesday – Thursday, and all were invited ~ and here we all are!

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The Taiwan Episcopal Church has organized many trips over the years, usually in the spring or autumn, to interesting places ~ like in November 2015, when we went to the Matsu Islands.  That was my first church trip.  And now this is my second.  I had managed to rearrange some classes, and most of the members of my Thursday afternoon class at St. John’s Cathedral actually came on this trip too ~ so I signed up – thanks to Bishop Lai and all my students!

Church members, their relatives and friends came from a wide range of the churches that make up the Taiwan Episcopal Church ~ we had 3 clergy, 3 clergy spouses, many energetic seniors, some couples, some younger working people and one lovely 3-year-old boy, who came along with his grandmother and her sister, and he only fell asleep once!

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We all met on Tuesday morning in Taichung, gathered from all corners of the country – and set off eastwards, up into the mountains.

The Central Cross-Island Highway from Taichung to Hualien was constructed in the late 1950’s, about the same time as President Chiang Kai-Shek and his government were establishing farms up in the mountains to provide employment for retired servicemen.  These days, the farms are still managed by the Veterans Affairs Council – together with the Tourism Bureau and some private companies – mainly for the benefit of visitors.  Visitors like us ~ and thousands of others who travel there every year.  We visited two of the famous farms, Wuling Farm 武陵農場 and Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場, both places packed out with people enjoying the scenery.

When I left Sanzhi on Tuesday morning, it was, as always, raining.  It had already rained for 4 days, and so it continued, for all the 3 days we were away.  Cold too.  Miserable, in fact!  It is still drizzling today.  And cold.  But up in the mountains, there was blue sky every morning, all morning ~ and the clouds came rolling in beneath us in a sea of clouds every afternoon.  It did rain a little at night, but we never saw it.  Ah, it was wonderful!

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The highest point on the Central Cross-Island Highway is just below the very famous mountain, Hehuanshan 合歡山 (3,416 m).  Just nearby is Mt. Shimen 石門山 (3,237 m), well-known as supposedly being the easiest of the ‘100 Peaks of Taiwan‘ 百岳 to climb.  So up we went!  There was a biting wind, and it was 6ºC at the top – that’s very cold for us subtropical coastal dwellers!  Maybe a third of us managed to get to the top, where breaks in the clouds gave us great views down below.

The road has been badly damaged due to typhoons and landslides and earthquakes and everything else, and is still under repair in many places.  But our minibus procession got us through and down the other side to Lishan and then Wuling….

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We stayed the night at a hotel in the Wuling Farm area 武陵農場, about 2,000 m above sea-level….

And we woke up the next day to beautiful blue skies and autumn colours…

The nearby river is famous for its Formosan Landlocked Salmon (yes, we saw some, but they’re impossible to photograph!) and further upstream is the Taoshan Waterfall 桃山瀑布, known as the ‘Sound of the Mist’ Waterfall.  The walk there is 4.3 km each way – through the forest, and takes about 3 hours in total there and back.  It was my first visit ~ and we had a wonderful morning.  It is really beautiful!

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Nearby is Taiwan’s second highest peak, Xueshan / Syueshan 雪山 (Snow Mountain), which I went up in 2011 ~ this time we went up to the trail entrance to look at the view. The view is spectacular. And so are all the lovely people in our group!

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And then down to visit some of the Wuling Farm tea-growing area, and a small museum dedicated to what the farm was like in the old days….

We left Wuling and headed back to Lishan 梨山, where we’d passed through only the day before.  Lishan (literally means Pear Mountain) is home to the Atayal People 泰雅族, many of whom are Christians.  The area is also about 2,000 m above sea level, so lots of fruit and vegetables can be grown here that normally only grow in cold countries – like dear old England.  The steep mountainsides in Lishan are no longer covered in big forests of beautiful trees but instead are covered in fruit trees, and at this time of year there’s no leaves, and the fruits in season are covered in paper bags to protect them – so the mountains look bare – but covered in white flowers, which turn out to be paper bags.  They’re mostly apples, pears and peaches.  It’s amazing – and yet devastating – all at once, to think what amazing things man has done to produce all that fruit, and yet at what cost to the environment.  Reminds me a bit of the UK Lake District really – but just replace fruit with sheep!

Anyway, we went to buy some of the apples – oh, and cabbages….

Incredible clouds nearby….

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And no, it didn’t rain, eventually the blue sky came through!

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Oh yes, and a very regal line of trees….

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Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場 is one of the Veterans’ Farms, very high up in altitude, and before it got dark, we just had time to visit Tianchi ‘Heavenly Lake’ 天池, where President Chiang Kai-Shek liked to visit when he was at the farm.  Check out his green house….

We stayed at the most amazing Lishan Guest House, just down the mountainside from the farm, and designed in the same style (and by the same architect, Yang Cho-cheng 楊卓成) as the Grand Hotel, Taipei. This was where President Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife stayed when they were in the area – but the building was badly damaged in the 1999 earthquake, and reopened in 2012 – as a hotel.  It is very very popular, and certainly scores 100% for atmosphere ~ all that red colour, and all those lanterns!  There are no lifts / elevators, and we were assigned the top floor – 3rd floor.  So me and Ah-Guan, good friend from St. James’ Church, Taichung, struggled up to the third floor – to find that we had been assigned the room next to the Presidential Suite.  It was a ‘hit the jackpot, won the lottery, gob-smacking moment’ lol!

We were clearly in the room that originally would have been used by the presidential bodyguard, and the most amazing thing was that we had access to the presidential balcony.  This was the balcony with THE VIEW!  And so we spent a happy hour or two welcoming all our friends to come and have a look!  The presidential suite, as far as we could see (from peering in the windows!) has been left much as it was when President Chiang and his wife stayed there – we could see into a tea room, and into the mahjong room at the end….

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That evening, after dinner, and after the Atayal Concert, we had a short service in the hotel dining room for our group.  Ah, what a happy evening, and what a wonderful group of people!

Next morning, Thursday, yesterday in fact, and I was up bright and early (well not very bright, but certainly very early!) to see THE view across the mountains…..

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See the Taiwan flag? From directly outside the presidential suite, it’s positioned exactly right in the centre of the ‘V’ in the mountains…. how’s this for a view?!

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The hotel and the whole area is very atmospheric.  Ambiance, man, it’s all about ambiance!

And so after breakfast, and more tours of our presidential balcony, we packed up, checked out and spent the morning at the Fushoushan Farm.  What a place, and what a history!  It is famous for a huge pine tree with an interesting story…

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And even more famous for its Apple King Tree, with over 40 different kinds of apple grafted into one tree…

We had a tour of the farm….

And finished with the maple trees area near the main entrance, where a zillion people were taking a zillion photos, ah, it was photo-heaven!

And so it was reluctantly time to say goodbye to the farm and head back over the big mountains, westwards… but first a photo-stop near Hehuanshan, at the Central Cross-Island Highway summit (3,275m) – the highest point on the highest main road that crosses northern Taiwan, and a major destination for cyclists!

Follow my finger and in that direction is Nanhu Big Mountain, (the one on the left of the pointed one!) which we climbed in 2012…

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This is a gathering of all from Advent Church, plus Mr. Di, our tour leader (third left)….

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And finally to lunch, and back to Taichung High-Speed Rail Station to return to our separate destinations…. and I got home at 7:30 pm.  And guess what, it was still raining in Sanzhi, in fact it hadn’t stopped all the time I’d been away!

A big thank you to our leader, Mr. Di Yun-Hung ‎(狄運亨) for planning and managing the whole trip, along with a tour company team who drove us in their minibuses, and organized all the routes and meals and everything. It was a wonderful trip – the highlights being the waterfall, the maple leaves and of course the presidential balcony views…..

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But it was also wonderful to be together with such a lovely group of people, renewing old friendships, making new ones, enjoying time together, taking lots of photos of everyone in different groups, and having a lot of fun!

And finally, thanks be to God for His amazingly stunning creation ~ and the colours (and miracle) that is the season of autumn ~ YES!

Sanzhi 三芝 Matzu Temple Centenary Celebrations, 1917-2017

Today is THE day, the climax of 5 days of celebrations, and as I write this, events are ongoing, with firecrackers and drums and trumpets and singing and offerings and all sorts of activity, and being attended by nearly everyone in the whole town.

And all in the rain and cold!  It’s been like this all weekend, but hey, when there’s a festival in town, a bit of rain and cold won’t stop anyone.

But this was the scene on Thursday, the last time that the sun appeared in Sanzhi!

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Two weeks ago, I wrote here about the preparations for the centenary celebrations of the Sanzhi Matzu Temple (honouring Matzu / Mazu / Matsu, Goddess of the Sea), officially named 三芝小基隆福成宮 Fu-Cheng Gong.  The 5 days of celebrations officially started on Wednesday, and today is the new moon, the first day of the 10th lunar month, so it’s the big day today!  See all these people? And their umbrellas….

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There’s been a lot of preparation, red lanterns strung all around the town, large gateways on the main roads leading into town, and for these 5 days virtually the whole town has gone vegetarian.  Market stalls selling meat – and butchers shops (there’s at least 10 in total) have closed down completely for the 5 days, including the famous 三芝老地方 Lao Di-Fang Steamed Baozi Restaurant, and plenty of others where the main specialty involves meat or fish.  Others are open, but only selling vegetarian food.  Even the huge Farmers’ Cooperative Supermarket has all fresh meat removed from the fridges.

All the roads leading to the main temple have been closed today and large tables set up on the roads, on which people are making their offerings, and each local village is assigned a different table area….

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Some of the tables near the temple contain what is more like an exhibition, including one of an amazing dragon ice sculpture (yes, honest, it’s all ice – with real dripping water!)…

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There’s lamps carved out of water melons….

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And there’s plenty of offerings of dead animals, including pigs….

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Goats (spot the lit cigarettes)….

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And geese…

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The lady at the bread shop told me that this was the place to see all of Taiwan’s folk culture on display all at once, and once only in 100 years.  It certainly is, and so in that spirit, I share with you the photos, firstly of last night at the main temple area….

And these of this afternoon…

And now this evening, as I passed by……

Really quite something eh?!

Pop idols @ Taiwan-Style!

Been doing a bit of research among some of our students in the 15-17 year age group to find out who their pop idols are ~ part of my English conversation classes, so bringing you up to speed, here goes!

Top of the list by far for everyone are the boy bands from S. Korea – all brought together on TV talent shows and promoted by the mega-entertainment industry that is so big in S. Korea.  And currently top of the list of all of them is BTS.  Super Junior is long over, now it is BTS.  Our girls say the BTS group of 7 are all SO handsome, and their singing and dancing are all SO amazing.  To excel at all those 3 things is what qualifies them as No. 1.  And they are the reason for half of all Taiwan girls aspiring to learn Korean language.  Forget English, Korean language is the way to go!  They told me to check out the BTS You Tube video ‘DNA’, so here it is – I particularly like their use of colour – how’s this eh?!

For the boys, the equivalent is the Korean girl band, Sistar, all so ‘sexy’, and their singing and dancing are all so good.  They recommend you check out ‘Shake it’, and you’ll see why they’re so popular.

The other popular Korean male is Lee Jong Suk, actor and model who comes in the category of ‘very handsome’ as well as for his acting ability.

So is it all Koreans?  Not completely, but largely, well, yes!

Chinese idols are Jing Boran –  apparently a ‘cute’ and ‘handsome’ singer and actor; Kris Wu – ‘handsome’ actor, singer and model, and Andy Lau from Hong Kong, famous for singing and acting and for being ‘handsome before’ (when he was younger, that is!).

Then there’s American and Canadian idols, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift, Linkin Park, Bon Jovi, The Chainsmokers.

There’s a Malaysian singer Shila Amzah who has an amazing voice, I’ve checked out her videos – she sings in Chinese, and yes, she’s good.

So what about Japanese idols?  Japan is famous for anime (computer animation) videos, and the most famous idol of that genre seems to be Hatsune Miku, a fictional anime character of a 16-year-old girl with ‘long turquoise twin-tails’ and an amazing singing style – ‘a humanoid persona voiced by a singing synthesizer application’ – her official video is here… check it out!

And so what about homegrown Taiwan idols?  Are there any?  Our students have a really hard time thinking of anyone famous in Taiwan who they regard as an idol!  So finally, dragging it out of them, I have finally found four:  J J Lin 林俊傑 (based in Taiwan, but actually comes from Singapore!) whose singing is great but he is apparently neither cute nor handsome, Show Luo 羅志祥 whose singing and acting are good, but also apparently not very handsome, the group S.H.E whose 3 girls all sing and dance – and apparently beautiful too, and finally, Julia Wu 吳卓源 who has an amazing singing voice, and sings in Chinese, but turns out to be from Australia, and lives in the USA – anyway, here she is!

So what makes a pop idol? Looks is the big one, followed by skills in acting / dancing / singing – the more skills the better.  And if you write your own songs, well that’s an extra idol bonus!  But idols all come to an end, either fading with age or misdemeanor, or for Korean boy bands because they have to go off to military service, and while they’re gone, along comes another boy band to take their place.  But for the time being, it is BTS.  When I ask if these BTS boys have girlfriends, I am assured that they wouldn’t dare, because all the fans would be so upset – they can get girlfriends later, after they stop being so popular!

Anyway, hope I’ve brought you to speed a little with what’s going on in the world of pop idols, Taiwan-style!

Sanzhi 三芝 Matzu Temple Centenary Celebrations ~ Coming Up Soon!

Two weeks ago the plot of wasteland opposite where I live suddenly sprang into life.  Trucks full of bamboo poles arrived.  People came.  Cranes and trucks and people and – well, action!  One week later, and this was the view from my front gate last Sunday….

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Happening now right outside my house is the ongoing construction of a huge 4-storey structure, the site of a forthcoming 醮 (pronounced ‘jiaò) and loosely translated as meaning a Taoist Ritual.  Copy this character ‘醮’ into Google images and you’ll see plenty of examples of what it might look like in a few weeks time!  Now 6 days later, and this is the same scene this morning in the pouring rain…

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Our little town of Sanzhi 三芝 up here on the NW coast of Taiwan has as its centrepiece a temple honouring Matzu (Mazu / Matsu), Goddess of the Sea.  The temple’s official Chinese name is 三芝小基隆福成宮 Fu-Cheng Gong, and it was constructed in 1917.  So this year there are huge Centenary Celebrations planned, scheduled for November 15-19, coinciding with the new moon and start of the 10th lunar month.  Preparations are well under way, which is why that huge structure is going up outside my house.  There’s also large archways at either end of the main road leading into and out of Sanzhi.  This is the publicity notice…

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The temple is surrounded by market stalls all day every day, but specially at the weekends.  It’s the water bamboo season, so lots of people are selling their produce, even in the pouring rain and strong wind – which is coming from the north, so it’s gonna get cold!  This was the temple area this morning – the lady with the wheelbarrow is selling water bamboo. It’s like a kind of leek, and the local specialty in Sanzhi area.

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Now it’s the time of the full moon, and today and tomorrow Matzu and all the deities and idols from the temple are off on a tour around the area, offering blessings to those who worship as they pass by, accompanied by at least 2 trucks of people playing very loud trumpets and cymbals and gongs and bells…. here they are!

This was the scene outside the temple this morning as I passed by – in the rain and wind. Inside the temple the deities were being covered up in plastic bags to keep them dry, then loaded onto the trucks….

But I was really at the market on my home from early morning exercise in the rain, to get some fruit from my nice fruit lady and her husband…..

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Ah Sanzhi, always full of colour and always something happening!

PS Updated Monday evening, tonight ~ and the view from outside our front gate now looks like this…

Amazing, eh?!

Four Four South Village 四四南村, Taipei

There’s no escaping Taipei 101 ~ it towers over everything in the Xinyi District of Taipei ~ including the old military dependents’ village of Sisinan 四四南村 (Four Four South Village), which is high on the list for tourists, who love taking photos of Taipei 101 and in front of the coloured doors.

The buildings have a lot of character….

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But it’s really hard to get all of Taipei 101 and the old buildings in the photo – diagonal is the best!

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Ah yes, blue sky, warm temperatures, what a great autumn so far ~ and Taipei’s looking great!

Ju Ming Sculpture Park and Museum 朱銘美術館, Jinshan, Taipei

A sunny Saturday afternoon in September and what better place to go than Ju Ming Sculpture Park, officially known as Ju Ming Museum and only 20 km from here round the northern coast, with stunning views over the sea and mountains.   This was the main entrance today…

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My first visit there was in November 2016 (see my blog post here) ~ and I was very impressed.  It houses all the incredible art work of Ju Ming 朱銘, the world famous Taiwanese sculptor, born in Miaoli, Taiwan in 1938.

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The park is big – and on a sunny day, it’s a bit hot out there. But definitely worth seeing and wandering around and looking at the far distant views!

Ju Ming’s sculptures come in different ‘series’, on different themes.  This time I’ve only taken photos of sculptures I particularly like, so the armed forces theme is a bit under-represented.  But there’s soldiers and sailors and air force figures all over the place, here’s some….

And then there’s the Taichi series, which are huge and mostly black and mostly beautiful!

And then there’s the Living World series which are of all colours, all styles, all materials, all fun, and all over the place ~ I love ’em!  Every seat around the park has a figure sitting on it, every corner has a sculpture, it’s great!

Some of the Living World series are inside, this is a huge mural on the wall….

and these lovely lines of ladies….

and sunbathing metal figures – with others trying to stay awake in a meeting!

And outside there’s an amazing tree called a ‘Common Screw Pine’ with huge fruits…

And a few other sculptures which are nice but I’m not sure what series they belong to!  This one is a horse up above the trees…

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Ju Ming Museum is one of those must-see places, it’s a great afternoon’s outing. And one last view of the main entrance as I was leaving, these sculptures look like what everyone feels like after a day at a museum ha ha!

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Ah, I love it!

Rainbow Grandpa and his Beautiful Rainbow Village 彩虹眷村!

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Rainbow Village 彩虹眷村 on the outskirts of Taichung is such an amazing place – it’s easily the most attractive set of buildings in the whole of Taichung ~ YES!

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It’s the last remaining few houses of a Veterans Village, built for the old soldiers and their families who came to Taiwan after 1949. Most the houses are already gone, demolished and the land redeveloped, but old Mr. Huang (Huang Yong-Fu 黃永阜), known as ‘Rainbow Grandpa’ (彩虹爺爺), was not letting that happen to his village. Now aged 95, he decided to start painting the remaining houses a few years ago, and in doing so, has saved his wonderful village!

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Not only has the place been saved from demolition, but the whole village has been preserved – and in fact has been closed recently while the Taichung City Government gave the place a whole new roof. Now it’s newly open, so I had to check it out.  Mr. Huang was on hand for photos, and there’s even some walls newly decorated.

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I love this place!  I love the idea that one man with a paintbrush and a lot of determination and creativity can save a whole village from demolition!

And now there’s tons of tourists visiting, and guess what? It’s on a direct bus route from St. James’ Church ~ YES!