It’s the final weekend of this huge extravaganza, Taiwan’s annual Lantern Festival with lanterns, light shows and huge crowds of people everywhere ~ and in the midst of them all there’s a few lanterns dedicated to Covid-19, made by the Taiwan Prisons Department ~ they’ve certainly attracted a lot of attention! This is the best one…
Since I’ve been back in Taiwan, life has revolved around the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations – and now the Lantern Festival for the Year of the Rabbit. The main Taiwan Lantern Festival this year is hosted by Taipei City ~ thousands and thousands of people descend every evening on the lantern festival sites at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Songshan Cultural Park (the old tobacco factory), City Hall and Taipei 101. There’s plenty to see and do and take photos of, with rabbits galore, and lanterns made by different groups of people, including many by children. The centrepiece is a huge rabbit lantern that revolves every half an hour…
There’s a huge variety ~ these are a few of my favourites…
There’s also new street art associated with the Lantern Festival…
And we did an evening trip up Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain) to see the view – you can even see and hear the Lantern Festival from up there too…
There’s so much to see! The Taiwan Blue Magpie Lantern is one of the most beautiful, and the bird on the top revolves round in a circle…
All worth seeing if you’re in Taipei this weekend!
And finally, just published this week by the Church Mission Society, my latest link letter, including my new postal address – click on the link below…
With the end of the Lantern Festival, so it is the start of the new term and new semester for many of Taiwan’s colleges and universities this coming week. In a few days, facemask restrictions will be lifted for those indoors including children, students and teachers at schools and colleges, all that is except in care homes, medical facilities and public transport – although it’s expected that many people will continue to wear them as a matter of course. Lent is coming too, with Ash Wednesday this coming week. For once, Lent has not overlapped with the celebrations of Chinese New Year or Lantern Festival. It feels like life has been one long celebration since the start of Advent – perhaps it’s time for a bit of reflection, contemplation and penitence! If you’re in Taipei City, then come along to St. John’s Cathedral for our Ash Wednesday Service at 7:30 pm, or to our regular Sunday services, 9:00 am in English, 10:30 am in Chinese and a combined Chinese / English service on the last Sunday of each month at 10:30am. Welcome ~ and see you there!
Canon Chancellor Professor Herbert Ma passed away on December 20, 2022, and his Memorial Service was held on Saturday, February 11, 2023, at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Mrs. Aline Ma, who died on June 18, 2022.
Professor Ma was a well-known figure in Taiwan, having taught law at National Taiwan University (NTU) for 52 years and at Soochow University for over 40 years, served as a Grand Justice of the Constitutional Court for 12 years and as a member of the Examination Yuan for 10 years. He was also visiting professor at many overseas universities, including Beijing, Washington (Seattle), Columbia (New York City), UBC (Vancouver), Paris, Hong Kong and Vienna, and spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard, all adding to his professional skills and reputation.
At 9:00 am on Saturday, a Memorial Ceremony was held at St. John’s Cathedral. Just before the event started, the Very Rev. Philip L. F. Lin, Dean of St. John’s Cathedral brought the family together for prayer…
The ceremony was attended by many of Professor Ma’s former colleagues and representatives from different government departments and universities. A Presidential Citation was read out from the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen. The flower arrangements at the main entrance to the cathedral were sent by President Tsai and vice-president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-Te. Flower arrangments lined the walls of the cathedral as well as the entrance, each from a different institution or individual known to Professor Ma.
On behalf of the national government, Dr. Weng Yueh-sheng 翁岳生, President of the Judicial Yuan 1999-2007, presented the national flag to Professor Ma’s son, Mason, in honor of Professor Ma’s great service to the country. The national flag would normally be placed on the coffin, but as Professor Ma was cremated, so the flag was presented to the family.
Former President of Taiwan (2008-2016) and former student of Professor Ma, Ma Ying-Jeou 馬英九, gave a short speech sharing his memories and showing his appreciation. The ceremony then continued as names were read out, and different groups paid their respects by bowing 3 times towards Professor Ma’s urn in front of the altar. The ceremony ended when everyone had had their turn to pay their respects.
Outside his professional life, Professor Ma played a major role in the development of the Taiwan Episcopal Church from its very earliest days until today, and his role was marked and appreciated by all those who attended his Memorial Service, starting at 11:00 am. The video of the service is here…
Professor Ma was the first chancellor of the Diocese of Taiwan, charged with the responsibility of overseeing legal affairs in the diocese. For over 15 years he also served as Chair of the Diocesan Standing Committee, and on many occasions as a diocesan delegate to the General Convention in the USA. To many church members, Professor Herbert Ma’s name became synonymous with the Taiwan Episcopal Church itself; the two were so closely associated for so long.
St. John’s Cathedral was full for the Memorial Service, with about 220 people in attendance, including nearly all the Taiwan Episcopal Church clergy, who had spent the previous 2 days on retreat together. Those who could not fit into the cathedral watched the live stream from the cathedral meeting rooms. The music was led by the cathedral choir, including a wonderful solo from Mr. Yang, who worked alongside Professor Ma as diocesan secretary for many years. Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang gave the sermon, followed by tributes, including a very moving one from Bishop David J. H. Lai. Bishop Lai worked closely with Professor Ma as his diocesan chancellor throughout his time as Bishop of Taiwan from 2001-2020. Bishop Lai shared that a few days after Professor Ma’s death, he had a very special dream in which he saw an angel leading Professor Ma by the hand into the gates of heaven. Bishop Lai recalled how in September 2015, a few months before Professor Ma’s 90th birthday, he formally appointed Professor Ma as ‘Canon Chancellor’ of the Diocese of Taiwan in recognition for his sixty years of faithful service to the Taiwan Episcopal Church.
There was also a tribute from a former student, and a lovely one from Professor Ma’s daughter Vera, who shared some wonderful memories of her beloved father. Vera had also shared a moving tribute at her mother’s memorial service in August. This was followed by a video presentation showing photos of Professor Ma’s life with commentary from Professor Ma’s eldest daughter Gabrielle. Professor Ma’s love of music included a video of him in his retirement playing his favourite hymn on the piano, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’, which we then all sang together. The final hymn was ‘Thine be the Glory’. After the final hymn, everyone was invited to take some orchid flowers and line up along the nave to lay them around Professor Ma’s urn and bow towards the family. Everyone was given a Memorial Book to take home, in which many had shared their written tributes and photos of Professor Ma.
Professor Ma’s ID card states that he was born on November 27, 1926, although this is the date according to the lunar calendar, which was the one commonly used at the time; on other official data (such as Wikipedia), his birth date is registered according to the western calendar as December 31, 1926. Every year on his lunar birthday, Mrs. Ma would make a birthday cake for her husband. The date Professor Ma died, December 20, 2022 was actually his birthday according to the lunar calendar, and his family smile at the thought that Mrs. Ma would have a cake ready to welcome him into heaven!
Professor Ma was born in Hankou City 漢口, in the Hubei Province 湖北省 of China, one of the 5 main cities in China at the time, into a family with a long history of serving the country in the legal field. The Qing Dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912, and during that time, the county magistrate held judicial, administrative and political power. Both Professor Ma’s grandfathers held this position, his paternal grandfather in Henan Province 河南省, and his maternal grandfather in Jiangsu Province 江蘇省. In 1911, the final year of the Qing Dynasty, Professor Ma’s father, Ma Shou-Hwa 馬壽華 (1893-1977) graduated from the Henan Law and Political Academy (one of 5 modern Chinese Law Schools at the time), and in 1912 he became one of the very first judges of the newly-formed Republic of China, serving among other posts as Prosecutor General in Hankou, where Professor Ma was born. He was also well-known for his great talent as a calligrapher and painter, especially portraying bamboo. His beautiful works of art are in the National Palace Museum collections in both Taipei and Beijing, also in the Taipei National Historical Museum, as well as in pride of place in the Ma family home.
Professor Ma’s mother came from a very large extended family, surnamed Wang. Born in the same year as her husband, they married at age 18 and spent the rest of their lives together; they even died in the same year, only 8 months apart. It is interesting that history has repeated itself, and Professor and Mrs. Ma both died in the same year, 2022, only six months apart. Professor Ma’s mother was well-loved, with a very kind and caring personality, eager to help the poor and disadvantaged, and later helped to bring many of her family and relatives out of Communist China in the 1940’s to Taiwan. While Professor Ma’s father worked in Hankou, Nanjing and Shanghai, his mother settled with their children in the former French Concession area of Shanghai, which was an English-speaking community. While schooling was heavily in Chinese Classics, Professor Ma had years of private tutoring in the English language. Being bilingual was a great asset to Professor Ma throughout his professional, academic and church life, and a great help to the Taiwan Episcopal Church in its development.
The young Professor Ma studied in the Department of Law at Fudan University, Shanghai, but the 1930’s and 40’s were a period of great turmoil due to the war with Japan and then the Chinese Civil War. In 1947 the Ma family (his parents, older sister with her husband and children, Professor Ma and his younger sister) came to Taiwan following Wei Tao-Ming 魏道明, the first civilian Governor of Taiwan Province (1947–1949). Professor Ma’s father first served as a commissioner of the Taiwan Provincial Government and later as Chief Justice of the Administrative Court after the Central Government moved to Taiwan. Professor Ma was in his third year of Fudan University and managed to transfer to National Taiwan University Department of Law, from where he graduated in 1950 with the best score in his class. He was therefore retained on the law faculty of the university immediately on graduation, thus laying a firm foundation for his distinguished academic career that followed.
Professor Ma’s father was a classical Confucian scholar and placed great emphasis on the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship. Apart from Professor Ma’s brother-in-law, who had been baptized in China, the family’s first direct contact with Christianity came through neighbors in Taipei who had also arrived from China and were members of the Episcopal Church. The neighbors met at home for worship. The family worship services were led by a pastor from the China Inland Mission, Yang Yong-Jing 楊詠經. Professor Ma and his younger sister attended the services, and both were later baptized by Pastor Yang.
The family worship services continued, eventually outgrowing the home, and permission was given by the Presbyterian Church for the Episcopal Church members to use one of the original Japanese Anglican churches in Taipei for services on Sunday afternoons. Gradually the Episcopal Church began to expand and develop, buildings went up, and church structures put in place. Taiwan was placed under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Hawaii, first under Bishop Harry S. Kennedy (1953-60) and then Bishop Charles P. Gilson (1961-64). With Bishop Gilson, Professor Ma wrote the Constitution and Canons of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, Bishop Gilson in English and Professor Ma in Chinese. Professor Ma became Vice-Chancellor (under the Diocesan Chancellor of Hawaii) and later Diocesan Chancellor of Taiwan, a position he held until his death. In recent years Ms. Amy Chin was appointed as Vice-Chancellor to help Professor Ma with this ministry.
In 1955, Professor Ma met the lady who was to become his wife, Mrs. Aline Ma, Siao Ya-Lin 馬蕭亞麟. Mrs. Ma was born in Shanghai, China in 1930, but her mother died when she was very small. Her father (a banker) feared for the safety of his only child due to the war with Japan, so at the tender age of 7, he sent her with relatives to Germany. But it was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire; she found herself in a country also preparing for war. The relatives were based in Berlin, studying at Berlin University; and the young Mrs. Ma went to live with a Prussian general’s family in Brandenburg City, where she always said she learned ‘order, discipline and punctuality’! The Prussian family had Chinese connections in Beijing dating from before the Boxer Rebellion, but could not speak Chinese, and on arrival, Mrs. Ma had no German language. All alone in a strange land aged only 7, it is amazing that she not only survived but thrived in the circumstances. By the time her father visited her a year later, her German was fluent, but unfortunately she had forgotten all her Chinese, and only remembers sadly being completely unable to communicate with her father. In fact that was to be the last time she ever saw her father again, as war and civil war intervened and they remained apart for the rest of his life. He later remarried and had 3 more children, all of whom Mrs. Ma got to know in later life.
The young Mrs. Ma spent the whole of the Second World War in Brandenburg City, suffering along with the German people, but in 1945 she and her relatives escaped the Russian occupation and fled to Switzerland where she was sent to boarding schools. After graduation, she had no resident permit to continue living in Europe, and so in 1955, unable to return to China, she travelled to Taiwan alone. Initially staying with relatives in Taipei, and later living on her own, her major disadvantage was that although she could speak German, French and English, she could not speak Chinese, which made it difficult for her to find a job. German was her first language. After having changed jobs many times as a typist for English, finally she found a job as secretary to the President of Academica Sinica, Chu Chia-hua 朱家驊, who had studied in Germany, and needed a secretary who could speak and write German. It was, in fact, her inability to communicate in Chinese that brought Professor and Mrs. Ma together, but they could communicate perfectly with each other in English. Their fathers had known each other in Shanghai, and the young couple met for the first time at a wedding reception hosted by mutual friends.
Professor and Mrs. Ma were married in 1957 in St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei. After their marriage, the Ma family continued to live together, 3 generations under one roof. Their 4 children were born between 1959-64, Gabrielle 佑敏, Mason 佑聖, Vera 佑真 and Beatrice 佑遠. All the children were baptized at St. John’s Cathedral.
Although Professor and Mrs. Ma and the children were active in the cathedral, his parents were not. For his father, the major obstacle continued to be ancestor worship, and yet Professor Ma himself felt no conflict. At an ecumenical conference on this subject, he discussed with the participants how the Christian faith and Chinese tradition could be reconciled. He also published articles on this subject, and later instigated the Ancestor Memorial Liturgy for the Taiwan Episcopal Church. In the articles, he wrote that our ancestors are human beings, and when they die, they are still human beings, not gods. There is only one Almighty God, and we need to separate our ancestors from the divine. We can still pay our respects to our ancestors without regarding them as gods. After much thought, Professor Ma’s father accepted his explanation, and henceforth adopted an attitude of respect rather than worship of his ancestors. Having resolved this issue, his parents were now ready to be baptized and became Christians.
Mrs. Ma taught German, first at the German Cultural Center and then for 30 years at National Taiwan University, she also took care of 4 children and her parents-in-law, and supported her extremely busy husband. Mrs. Ma had come from a non-Christian family and was baptized after her marriage. For several years she led the cathedral E.C.W. (Episcopal Church Women) group, and later the diocesan E.C.W, and in 1977 she attended the E.C.W. Triennial Meeting at the General Convention in Philadelphia as representative of Taiwan. Several times she also accompanied her husband to attend the General Convention in the U.S.A.
In retirement, Professor and Mrs. Ma led a quieter life, though that was a relative term, with many visitors and phone calls from people seeking their wise counsel. Some came to hear the story of Mrs. Ma’s extraordinary early life, which has now been published in German and Chinese. They both continued to be very involved in the life of the church, and at every major church event, Mrs. Ma would be at her husband’s side, smiling and caring for everyone who came to greet them. Throughout their 65 years of marriage, Mrs. Ma was a tower of strength and support for her husband, and Professor Ma always acknowledged how blessed he was to be married to such a great woman.
During the pandemic, Professor and Mrs. Ma largely remained in the safety of their home, participating in church services and events online. The most recent major church event they attended in person was the consecration of Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang as Bishop of Taiwan, on February 22, 2020 in St. John’s Cathedral. At the end of the service, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry paid tribute to Professor Ma, presenting him with a letter of thanksgiving in recognition of his ministry, constancy, wisdom and faithfulness over the past 65 years to the Taiwan Episcopal Church. Standing beside Professor Ma, as always, was his beloved wife, Mrs. Ma, smiling and content.
As we give thanks to Almighty God for the amazing life and witness of our beloved Canon Chancellor, Professor Herbert Ma, I personally will always remember him for his wise and gracious presence at church events and on visits to his home. Always calm and thoughtful in conversation, his deep knowledge and wide experience brought light and clarity into every discussion, especially in matters related to the Taiwan Episcopal Church and its history, law, international relations and culture.
Professor Ma played a very profound role in public life, but at home, together with Mrs. Ma and the family, the atmosphere was less serious, and their home was warm, cosy and hospitable. On my visits there, it was always a joy to see Professor Ma relaxed and happy, sharing memories and photos of past travels and family history. Visitors were many and varied, from all walks of life. From the highest to the lowest all were warmly welcomed; regardless of background all were treated with the same respect and dignity.
I count it a great privilege to have known both Professor and Mrs. Ma, to have benefitted from their wisdom and counsel, and to have been welcomed into their home and shared meals and fellowship with them and their family. They will be greatly missed. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
N. B. In 2014, Professor and Mrs. Ma kindly agreed to share their life stories with me for an article published in the diocesan Friendship Magazine. Many of the details above are taken from that article, and a special tribute to Mrs. Ma on her death in June 2022 was published here.
‘Ready? I holler up the stairs, hoping the kids will hear the urgency. But they’re kids so they drag their feet, one last TikTok to watch, a few more seconds under the warmth of a blanket. But then I think that they are not so unlike me—especially when it comes to Jesus’s call for us to be ready. In Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples “You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” I’d prefer to know the exact time and date and until then, stay in my cozy corner. But in this season of preparing for Jesus’s birth, I need to get ready—to open my heart, share my gifts, and offer praise—all in God’s good time.’ (Richelle Thompson)
BBC News last night under the headline, “China condemns British lawmakers’ Taiwan visit“, start their report with “China has accused British lawmakers of “gross interference” in its internal affairs as a group of MPs visit Taiwan. Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee arrived on Tuesday and have met high-level officials, including Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu….. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that Mr Wu held a banquet for the UK delegation and spoke about “increasing authoritarian threats” as well as “worrying issues at home and abroad”.”
As part of ‘getting ready’ this Advent, may we pray for all such ‘worrying issues at home and abroad’, including prayers for wisdom for our world leaders and for peace, in Taiwan, Ukraine ~ and in our own hearts.
Meanwhile, I’m getting ready to return to Taiwan in the new year ~ yes, of course I miss you Taiwan! 我想念台灣!
Yes, ‘Easter Advent Calendars’ are all the rage – and there’s lots available, as you can see above. This is your chance to forget the dreariness of Lent and its grim associations with fasting and penance; instead we can have a fun 24 days leading up to Easter. But get yours quick, as the 24 days have already started!
Lent feels extra long this year, and we have Tomb-Sweeping Festival coming up this weekend, plus tons of rain and miserable weather, so we need some good news to look forward to ~ and so what better than to focus our sights on Easter. Even the cherry blossom, which looked beautiful for a brief few days, has now given up waiting for the sun to return. Petals cover the ground ~ the season is nearly over for another year….
These were the moody skies along Taiwan’s northern coast at Fuji Lighthouse, LaoMei and along to Yehliu Geopark just after the rain stopped a few weeks ago. See the people queueing to take their photos with ‘The Queen’s Head’ rock?!
It’s not all bad news weather-wise, and we had a few weeks of sunshine earlier this month, and a few hiking trips up to Yangmingshan – see the sea of clouds in the distance….
And views from Guanyinshan …
While for those more interested in staying in the city, in Taipei’s Da-an Forest Park, there’s a series of water fountains that are powered by pedal power…
We’ve had nice views of Advent Church from the offices on the 5th floor too…
But then last week the rain started again, and it’s been raining more or less since then. Good job we’re all mostly indoors with the new semester well and truly underway – and my English class too….
And diocesan office February and March birthday celebrations ….
Yes, facemasks can come off for photos! Taiwan continues to do well in the pandemic, though there are still cluster outbreaks in different places, with yesterday’s headline being ‘Domestic COVID-19 cases spike in Taiwan as clusters grow’. Yesterday, there were 83 new domestic cases in 6 clusters, the highest number since last June, today there’s another 34 added to the total. One cluster of 39 is in Keelung, linked to a karaoke bar, spread to the police force and resulting in even the city’s mayor now being quarantined after he had contact with an infected police officer. Another cluster of 63 is among Thai migrant workers working on a power plant in Taoyuan. There were also 120 imported cases yesterday, 93 today. Even though a negative PCR test is required to travel to Taiwan, testing is also done on arrival at Taoyuan Int’l Airport, and a surprising number always found to be positive – 55 today. Total COVID death toll is 853.
Border controls are still strict, and the country is still closed to tourists and those without visas ~ although hotel quarantine for all arrivals is now reduced from 14 days to 10, followed by 7 days’ home quarantine. The government is saying that there’ll be some sort of quarantine requirement for the rest of this year at least. The general public continues to widely support these measures, even though individuals who need to travel overseas of course find them very inconvenient. But given the choice between these strict pandemic restrictions for arrivals, or opening up like other countries have done, and risk huge numbers of cases – so far, I have not yet heard anyone say that they think we should change track. Most of us have just had our booster shots in the last 2 months, and daily life continues more or less as normal. Wearing face masks gives us the freedom to do so much without worry, and they come in all styles and colours. Check out our ‘Stand with Ukraine’ facemasks from the Taiwan Presbyterian Church….
I just spent the weekend at St. James’ Church, Taichung. The main topic of conversation there was last Tuesday night’s series of earthquakes (the biggest 6.6 but very deep) centered on Taiwan’s east coast, which shook everyone wide awake at 1:40 am and then continued through the night. Me too. No more sleep from then on, and like most people, I was distinctly bleary-eyed for the rest of the day. People living up in high-rise buildings had by far the worst of it, but here in Taipei, it seems more people were amused to be woken by the very noisy beeping of the earthquake text alert, rather than by the actual earthquake. Anyway, things have quietened down since then. Until next time.
I was there at St. James to do the sermon at the English service. Mostly, I like to speak on the Bible readings and link in with the News if it’s relevant, but both have been hard in recent weeks. On February 20, the Gospel reading was Jesus telling us to love our enemies. Ironically, only 4 days later, on February 24, came the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lent started on March 2, with a sermon the following Sunday on Jesus’ temptations – check out the one of power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world, so relevant to the Ukraine war. Then we had Jesus and the barren fig tree last week, with all those questions about suffering.
There is so just much suffering in the News. In Ukraine, we see the awful suffering caused by the Russian invasion, the terrible bombing of hospitals and residential buildings, the thousands of refugees trying to escape the war. In Mainland China, we see the authorities trying to halt the recent Covid surge with lockdowns of whole mega-cities for weeks at a time, while in Hong Kong, there’s been overflowing hospitals and empty supermarkets, with the world’s highest death rates. And in Australia, we just saw the worst floods ever recorded in New South Wales, thought to be directly related to climate change. Plus ongoing crises in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, S. Sudan, Haiti and more. Plus plus plus, there’s so much more each of us could add. And all this is bad enough, but then we see governments paralyzed by political wrangling, inaction, and incompetence. It’s easy to feel frozen in horror at it all.
The war in Ukraine has had a profound effect on Taiwan, completely unlike any other war I’ve seen in recent times. The phrase, ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?’ is much quoted in the media as a warning that Taiwan could be next. And interestingly, in response, Taiwan seems to be undergoing something of a transformation, as we watch with amazement the way the Ukrainian people have stood firm and defended their land. The Taiwan government has come out strongly in support of Ukraine, and in the last few weeks, we’ve had hugely successful donation drives, marches, rallies and prayer services. Everybody is talking about Ukraine, even small children at school. Taiwan has also watched with amazement the way the world has come together to impose sanctions on Russia. While many young people in Taiwan say they would defend Taiwan if attacked, older people, on the whole, have always been of the opinion that we don’t stand a chance and should just surrender. But now, watching the courage of the Ukrainians and seeing the world unite against the aggressor, has given Taiwan a boost that maybe that same courage and support might be forthcoming if we are next. The government is busy capitalizing on this momentum of change, and among other things, military training is already being upgraded and increased in both quantity and quality.
And so to yesterday’s sermon, on the theme of reconciliation (lit. ‘bringing back together’) from the Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son. Last Saturday, I helped a Filipino migrant worker traveling on a bus with a lot of luggage, who was transferring from one factory job to another. She’s been in Taiwan for 3 years, and in all that time, has not seen her children. Her 2 daughters, aged 10 and 6, live in the Philippines with their grandmother. Can you imagine being separated from your children for that long? It was Mothering Sunday yesterday, and while not celebrated in Taiwan on that day, still it’s pretty heartbreaking to imagine what it must be like to be a family in that situation. But the good news is that in her new job, she’ll be able to live together with her husband, who is also in Taiwan. They work in different companies, but now they’ll be in the same area, so for the first time in many years, they can live together.
The next day, I was in Taipei visiting friends who live on the 17th floor of an apartment complex with a view over Taipei. One of those very tall and narrow buildings, that looks like the wind will blow it over, was built 5 years ago – but so far nobody lives there, all due to a family dispute between 2 brothers. Sigh.
And later that evening, last Sunday, I attended a Taizé service run by the National Council of Churches of Taiwan, to pray for Ukraine. It was held in the Jinan Presbyterian Church in central Taipei, and also attended by Taiwan’s former vice-president, Chen Chien-Jen 陳建仁, a Roman Catholic, plus other government representatives and church leaders. That day was the 25th day since the war started, and the service started with the bell tolling 25 times, once each for those 25 days.
A Ukrainian girl read Psalm 140 out loud in the Ukrainian language. It is subtitled as a ‘Prayer for Deliverance from Evil Men’ and she read it with the expression, passion and anger that it deserves. Taipei’s Greek Orthodox priest was there in all his robes, and he led a prayer for peace. An R.C. priest read the pope’s prayer for peace in Ukraine, and one of our clergy prayed the prayer for Ukraine written by the Archbishop of Canterbury. We all lit candles and prayed for peace and justice, and an end to this terrible war.
This coming weekend, we’ll have a 4-day weekend for Qing-Ming aka Tomb-Sweeping Festival, when families come together to visit their family graves, cleaning them up and making offerings. In connection with that, I was at our local elementary school on Friday for a day of learning about ‘My Family Tree’. Never an easy subject for families divided and broken. Actually, it is easier to learn about the Family Tree in English than in Chinese. In English, we happily classify everyone as an aunt, uncle or cousin irrespective of which side of the family they’re on, and regardless of whether they’re older or younger than us, but not so in Chinese. Every category of relative has its own distinct title. Anyway, I wore my ‘Lee’ outfit and showed a few photos of my Lee grandparents, and the kids brought photos too (photos below courtesy of the school). Ah, it was fun!
My next sermon is not until Easter Sunday, oh so wonderful! This Lent has gone on a long long time, so I’m counting down the days. But somehow the thought of an ‘Easter Advent Calendar’ doesn’t do Lent justice. Much as most of us don’t like all that penance and fasting stuff, still a bit of self-reflection and prayer during Lent does put it all in perspective, and fits the national mood as well as the world as a whole. We can’t just ignore all the suffering and pretend otherwise. Fluffy chicks and bunnies and chocolate eggs have their place. But not yet. We still have Holy Week to come. Keep going, we’ll get there before too long!
I’m grateful to our bishop who emphasized on Ash Wednesday that Lent lasts 40 days, but does not include Sundays, which are days, he said, for ‘celebrating Jesus’ resurrection’. Celebrating. Jesus. Resurrection. YES! Keep going, yep, we’ll get there before too long!
PS: The Taizé service to pray for Ukraine is on YouTube…
The title, The Soul (Still) Trembles is taken from the exhibition by Shiota Chiharu running at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum until Sunday October 17. Accumulation – Searching for the Destination is the title of one of the exhibits, as mentioned in my link letter…
But the link letter already needs updating! Since I wrote it 2 weeks ago, things have improved further in Taiwan’s pandemic situation, most notably new rules that say facemasks are no longer required outside in ’empty open spaces’, like beaches and mountains. Yippee! Two more countries, Israel and Indonesia have just come off Taiwan’s list of high-risk countries facing enhanced quarantine rules, which now leaves only 3, India, Myanmar and the UK. More good news is that the number of people who have received their first Covid-19 vaccine has now reached the milestone of 60%. The rollout of second vaccines has just started too, though it’s not easy to get a booking locally – I had to go into Taipei on Tuesday for mine, coinciding with Typhoon Kompasu passing by. It was very very wet. #SoakedButVaccinated is the new hashtag. #VaccinesNotWarships could be another, as related to my link letter. Grateful anyway. Peering at the hospital through the rain ……
It’s the time of the year when the Asia-Pacific region has its annual military exercises, plus Mainland China and Taiwan each celebrate their own national days this month with displays of military might and patriotism, so there’s a lot of tension, as you will have seen in the international news. Thanks to all who have sent messages of concern. Taiwan has also been in the international news today after a deadly fire last night in a high-rise residential building in Kaohsiung, at least 46 people known to have died. Such a tragedy. One of our students lives in the same street as that fire, and watched it all happen. Really terrible.
It’s also the time of the year when we have our annual earthquake, tsunami and WanAn air-raid drill, receiving a text message for each event ….
Actually this year’s WanAn air-raid drill was held on the day we were all at the diocesan office in Taipei for our monthly birthday celebration lunch, kindly hosted by Bishop Chang for the diocesan office workers, plus others. In past years we would have to stay put for the 30-minute drill, due to restrictions on movement outside, but this year, due to the pandemic, there were no such restrictions. Anyway we had a wonderful lunch! Thanks to all these lovely people in the photo who helped everything go smoothly at recent church events: Rev. Chia-Kuei Wu’s ordination service, Yu-Lin and San-Yuan’s wedding and Rev. Samuel K. L. Liao’s Memorial Service.
I had cycled to the diocesan office that morning ~ and back in the late afternoon too. It’s such a fun way to commute to Taipei, along the riverside paths and into the city at the Dadaocheng Wharf, passing the RC Cathedral ….
Anyway, back to the typhoon, we had another typhoon a few weeks ago too, also with lots of rain, but not so much wind. Still, a few trees fell down on our St. John’s University (SJU) campus and the sea was rough for days afterwards….
The bank had covered up the SJU ATM machine as a precaution…
Otherwise, in-between typhoons, the SJU campus and the sea down below have been looking beautiful!
Last week, we joined the local junior-high school children from Xian-Xiao on a beach clean-up. The weather was stunning….
And over at the local elementary school, we celebrated Taiwan’s success at the Olympics (photos supplied by the school)….
And we also celebrated the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival with a 4-day weekend. Great chance for mountain climbing – and we went last weekend too. It’s the silvergrass season up in the Yangmingshan Mountains, while elsewhere, like Guanyinshan, its the citrus and chili season, plus spiders galore!
And finally, we all need a good book to read on a long trip to a vaccination centre in a wet and windy typhoon, and I recommend the latest in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series… it’s so lovely!
Thank you all so much for your support. The soul may still be trembling with all that’s going on in the world, and in this region particularly, but your prayers are most appreciated.
“Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past… / Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind / Cannot bear very much reality. / Time past and time future / What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present…
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; / Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, / But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, / Where past and future are gathered…
After the kingfisher’s wing / Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still / At the still point of the turning world…”
A few extracts from T. S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton (1935), part of Four Quartets ~ to set the scene for this update from Taiwan…
‘Circling Around @ The Still Point of the Turning World’ kind of describes what it all feels like. After our recent Covid-19 surge that arrived with a bang in mid-May, so Taiwan managed to contain the spread over the summer, and case numbers have gone way down to single figures, and on several days to zero. Having spent until the end of July under Level 3 Restrictions, we are now on Level 2, with facemasks compulsory everywhere outside the home, only taken off for eating and drinking. So life now proceeds with considerable normality, and we’ve got used to all the mandatory temperature checks, QR codes, facemasks, social distancing, hand sanitizer and crowd controls. Most people are still staying local, but hey, there’s still plenty to do locally. Over the last month, swimming pools and beaches reopened, indoor dining restarted, restrictions on national parks and mountain areas mostly lifted. In fact, the last full week of August, we had a week off, and so I was able to go to our local mountain areas, Yang-Ming Shan, Guan-Yin Shan and Chingshan Waterfall. Plenty of fruits, fungi, flowers, butterflies and views….