Tag Archives: Taiwan Presbyterian Church

Adventures with Advent Church Choir 台灣聖公會降臨堂詩班 @ Jiji 集集, Checheng 車埕 and Wang Hsiang 望鄉部落 Kalibuan Village, Nantou County!

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A choir that has fun together, laughs together and goes on trips together is sure, yes, sure to sing and harmonize better at church on Sunday mornings.  And y’know, our Advent Church Choir is not just any old choir singing any old hymns. This choir is really quite special.  They are dedicated, not just to singing in the morning worship, but also to their rehearsal time on Sunday afternoons.  They spend hours and hours practicing.  And when they sing in the morning service, they sing with great joy.  They look happy.  Smiles all around.  This is a gift from God.  Not every choir sings quite so joyfully, believe me. What’s more, they are all friends.  And friendship means having fun together.  And having fun involves an annual trip somewhere interesting, usually involving an overnight stay, and singing at that church on the Sunday morning.  Visiting other churches and other denominations is a great blessing, and in doing so, we bring greetings from the Taiwan Episcopal Church, and our own church, Advent Church @ St. John’s University, Tamsui, Taipei.  The annual choir trip is officially called their choir retreat.  And so it was that this past weekend, I was invited to tag along too.  Thanks to the choir, especially their leader, Meng-Zhen, who invited me to join them.  So, early on Saturday morning, off we went in cars driving to Nantou County, in central Taiwan, about 3-4 hours south of Taipei…

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First we went to Jiji Town 集集 , famous for its train station, originally constructed by the Japanese colonial government in 1933, but very badly damaged in the Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake. Since rebuilt, incorporating the original design, and now a major tourist destination for Taiwan people.  And that means us – that’s us at the train station above.  The station is beautiful, and the surrounding station area is full of things to take photos of.  And with.  And next to.  And behind, in front of, above, below and around.  You can jump up.  Or sit down.  Or buy a balloon.  Or whatever.  By the time you have taken 100 photos, the train might have arrived.  For that is our main purpose.  To get the train along the Jiji Line to Checheng 車埕 Train Station.

The Jiji Train Line was built in 1922 as a single track to help move construction materials used in the Sun Moon Lake Hydroelectric Project.  Get to the very front of the train and the view is especially wonderful!

Checheng 車埕 Town lies just below the Mingtan Reservoir and Power Plant, with water coming into the reservoir from Sun Moon Lake further upstream.  Checheng itself is an old logging town, with a log pool and old buildings where the Japanese workers lived and laboured in the wood-processing plant and in preparing the logs for transportation downhill on the railway.  Now the buildings are a huge museum with all sorts of interesting things to do and look at….

About an hour or so from Checheng, further up in the central mountains, is Wang Hsiang Village.  Our main destination ~ and the real reason why I came along on this trip.  Any chance to visit an indigenous village with friends who know people there – and I’m in!

Wang Hsiang 望鄉部落 is known as Kalibuan in the Bunun language. This is a Bunun Village.  The Bunun people 布農 are a Taiwanese indigenous people, traditionally living in the very high mountains of central Taiwan.  Famous for their singing and their physical strength – turned out I recognized several of the men in the village who have come with us on our mountain expeditions in the past, helping us to carry everything and cook the food.  One of the aims of our visit this time was for us to learn something about the village – and the challenges, customs, faith and way of life of the people there.  The current population of Wang Hsiang is over 900, all members of the Presbyterian Church (built in 1951), where we worshiped on Sunday and our choir sang, accompanied by Yu-Jie on the piano – all so beautifully!

The Bunun choir sang too, their songs are incredible.  The church has 2 services, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with 200 at the morning service – often extending to 300 if all the children come too.  The church was so full that many were sitting outside.  Services are held in the Bunun language, but with a power point so everyone can follow the words in pinyin.  Actually, for our benefit, the sermon and some of the announcements were in Chinese, with translation into Bunun.  The preacher was Rev. Wu, who was visiting from a neighbouring village.  Most of the people now are second or third generation Christians – a challenge in itself, and in his sermon, Rev. Wu talked about how for Kalibuan Church to be a strong church, it needs victorious Christians, who are well-equipped through prayer, Bible reading, teaching and fellowship, united in love, and with a vision to go out and share the Gospel with others.

Wang Hsiang was not always a Bunun Village.  The history of Taiwan’s indigenous people and their relationship with the Japanese authorities during the colonial period of 1895-1945 is complex.  The Japanese authorities wanted Taiwan to modernize and develop, and all in Taiwan to be law-abiding model citizens under their control and management.  The indigenous peoples, especially those in the high mountains (like the Bunun people) – who were known as fierce warriors, resented such interference and responded with hostility. This led to conflict, violence, uprisings, killings and brutal crackdowns.  The Japanese authorities forced the high mountain peoples to relocate to lower altitudes where they could be more easily controlled, and killed many of their fiercest warriors who opposed their authority – including those in this photo, displayed on the village wall. This is the last known photo of the men before they were put to death.

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Wang Hsiang was originally inhabited by the Tsou 鄒 people, and when the Bunun people first moved here, there was much conflict.  But as the Bunun people grew in numbers, so eventually the Tsou moved away to the Alishan area, where they still are today.  The story goes that when the Bunun people were forced to move down from the high mountains, they were offered 3 choices of location, and they chose Wang Hsiang because of its distant view of Yushan 玉山, Taiwan’s highest mountain (3,952 m).  From their original high mountain village they could also see Yushan in the distance, so they felt more at home.  Their original home village was located up over 3,000 m in altitude, with snow every winter.  Down in Wang Hsiang, they’ve had snow once in the last 20 years.  The name, ‘Wang Hsiang’ means ‘looking towards home’ and that described their own longing to be back in their high mountain village, which was over the mountain of the same name – and / or maybe it described the feeling of the young homesick Japanese police officers stationed in Wang Hsiang.  Many theories of where the name came from… but the view is there all the same.  Except in the afternoons, the clouds roll in and it often rains in the high mountains ~ like on Saturday afternoon, when we arrived.  Yushan is in the clouds on the left of that big mountain in the centre…..

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Towards the end of the Japanese Era, the first missionaries appeared in the Wang Hsiang area and eventually the village elders made the decision to convert to Christianity.  In doing so, they also realized that their days of headhunting and violent conflict with the authorities were over, and so started a complete transformation of their way of life and thinking.

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These days, the pastors and church leaders are Bunun people from the village, and together with the tribal and village leaders, several income-generating projects have started locally.  These are community enterprises, designed to benefit the whole village.  Originally considered one of the most underdeveloped and backward of the local villages (they were the last to be connected to mains electricity, for example), in recent years there has been much hard work, and success is coming slowly but surely.  The government provides a lot of support, like free wifi throughout the village.  These days also, when the Bunun people remember the Japanese era, not all is completely negative, they say they are grateful for the infrastructure, education facilities and benefits provided by the government.  But still, it must have been terrible at the time.  Recent development projects are in 3 main areas: leading and supporting mountain-climbing expeditions – training and licensing as mountain guides and high-altitude porters, providing guest house accommodation for mountain expeditions and for weekend visitors / ecotourism (like us!) and thirdly the development of high-altitude agricultural projects, particularly fruit and vegetables.  Ah yes, and coffee too…

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This was not the first time I had stayed in Wang Hsiang. Last year at this time, on the night before our ascent of Yushan, we also stayed in Wang Hsiang.  This time, we stayed in a different guest house and had a tour of the village with one of the local guides.  This time also, the personal connection was that Sheng-Feng (Simon) and Hsuan-Ying (Grace), one of our choir couples (who had also invited me to join their trip to visit Grace’s home village at Nantian, Taitung earlier this month – see that post here) are old friends of the pastor and his family – actually they had been student members of a fellowship group that he led in Taichung many years ago.  That personal connection made all the difference, and we enjoyed hearing their stories and sharing time together in the guest house…

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The food was amazing.  Loved it all!  Delicious, completely so!  The bamboo tubes are a traditional dish – filled with sticky rice. The lemon slices are flavored with – guess what?  That dark stuff is coffee granules.  Really special!  And then we sang…

On our tour of the village, we learned that it consists of 4 streets, all leading off to the left of the main road.  The walls of all the houses and gardens have mosaic / stone patterns showing aspects of Bunun daily life.  Each house – and corner – has a notice explaining about each place.  Really amazing.  In some places, millet, the staple food was lying out in the sun drying….

We finished our tour with a group photo at the village sign at the entrance to the village…

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Early on Sunday morning, some of us climbed up the hill behind the village.  Bit foggy, but by the time we got back the mist had cleared and the view toward Yushan was beautiful. Yushan is the pointed peak in the far distance.

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One of our group had a drone – this is us!

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And so to church.  First to the rehearsal – our choir are dedicated!  Our music conductor on the retreat was Shiao Chien, she has a real gift of enthusing everyone with a love of singing and music, and always chooses really suitable songs to sing.  She had also asked everyone to wear one (any one!) of the Advent Church T-shirts, of which we have many,  going back years, hence all the bright colours.

Also at the church were a group of young ABC (American-born Chinese) whose families are originally from Taiwan, they are here for a few weeks in the summer as part of a project to help Wang Hsiang children learn English.  They also sang a song, and the church provided lunch for us visitors after the service.  Ah, it was so delicious!

A big ‘Thank You’ to Advent Church Choir for their kind invitation and welcome to me to join their trip.  Thanks to Paul and Christina for driving me there and back – and all the way home.  It was all a wonderful adventure.  The choir all love singing and having fun ~ a great combination!

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Thanks too to the pastor and people of Wang Hsiang Village, for their hard work and time to make us so welcome.  And thanks be to God for safe travels, beautiful views, delicious food, new experiences, fresh mountain air, and of course, friends, fellowship and fun!

Chinese New Year 2018!

Ah yes, and as with every Chinese New Year, food featured highly!  Food, food and more delicious food.  YUMMY!  For most people, the New Year celebrations revolve around family reunions, gatherings with old friends, temple visits to pray for blessings for the new year, preparing food offerings and worship at the family ancestor shrine, and of course the enjoyment of meals and delicacies of every kind.  Many people also take the chance to travel, but just as many people say they can’t face the traffic jams and prefer to stay home.  Meanwhile those in the tourism and transport business work from morning to night, making the most of the opportunities ~ or just busy, busy, busy, after all it’s high season.  And red is the colour to be seen everywhere, whether in decorations in homes, hotels and businesses, or in the new clothes that everyone wears, or in the red envelopes that are given or received in every home.  Ah, red, a great colour!  In Chinese tradition it symbolizes blessing, good fortune, happiness.  Yes, I love red!

Of course, we were all too well aware of the tragedy of the recent earthquake disaster in Hualien, and of those who were killed, injured, bereaved, made homeless or with damaged homes and businesses.  Hualien is a major tourist destination for Taiwan people at Chinese New Year, and even though local government leaders and those involved in the tourism industry wanted people to continue with their travel plans where possible, in fact many cancelled.  This had a knock-on effect for the whole of the east coast, and Taitung too was relatively free of people, and therefore also cars, which meant less traffic jams.

The most important meal of Chinese New Year is that of Chinese New Year’s Eve, when the whole family gathers together, and sons and their families return to the family home.  I’d been at St. James’ Church, Taichung all the past week, and my good friends there, the very lovely and welcoming Wang family kindly invited me to their home for the New Year’s Eve meal, where mother, father and 2 daughters were busy preparing all kinds of goodies ~ home-made everything!  All very very delicious and very beautifully served.  Thank you!

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On Chinese New Year’s Day, last Friday, we set off from Taichung heading south.  ‘We’ is my good friend, Ah-Guan and her daughter, Yaling.  Ah-Guan had kindly organized everything, she is really great fun for traveling with!  We were heading for Tainan.  First stop was Chiayi County, Budai Township 布袋 to see the High-Heeled Wedding Church. This is quite some landmark.  ‘Church’ it is not.  Or maybe it is.  Cross, there isn’t.  And no services planned.  It is actually a photo-shoot location for couples taking their wedding photos, as is the tradition in Taiwan, a few weeks before their actual wedding.  Built to make your wedding photos look like you’re in a kind of dreamworld, Cinderella-style.  Actually I like it.  Not all the cute photo-op things around, but the actual glass monument itself.  It’s very bright blue and very shiny, made of glass.  Hey, every town needs something to draw people in, and well, Budai has a bright blue high-heeled church!

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But the story behind it is one of tragedy.  This coastal area of SW Taiwan lacks freshwater, and in the 1950’s, people dug deep wells to get drinking water, which unfortunately proved high in heavy metals, especially arsenic. Long-term consumption of arsenic causes poor circulation and eventually can cause the feet to turn purplish-black (from gangrene), thus known as ‘Blackfoot Disease’.  The only solution was amputation.  This caused a huge amount of suffering at its peak in the 1960’s. One local girl had to have her feet amputated just before her wedding, so the wedding was cancelled and she spent the rest of her life being taken care of by the church.  Blackfoot Disease therefore denied her the chance of following the traditional Taiwanese custom of stepping over the fire-pan on her wedding day, symbolizing leaving her old life and starting a new one.  As the bride would be beautifully dressed, she would also be wearing high-heeled shoes on her wedding day…..

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The church mentioned in this story is the Presbyterian Church in Beimen District 北門 (don’t confuse this Beimen with the Beimen in Taipei City), the next area to Budai, though actually in Tainan County.  We visited Beimen next.  The most famous local resident was Dr. Wang King-ho 王金河 (1916-2014), who dedicated much of his life to treating patients with Blackfoot Disease at his clinic there, now a museum.

“An outbreak of Blackfoot Disease began in Beimen in 1956, and Wang partnered with medical professionals at National Taiwan University to research the disease. Missionary Lillian Dickson moved to Beimen in 1960 and opened the Mercy’s Door Free Clinic, which was funded by her organization Mustard Seed International, with Wang as head physician.  Hsieh Wei, a doctor based in Puli, Nantou, would make weekly round trips to perform amputations on patients at Mercy’s Door.  After Mercy’s Door closed, Wang returned to his own clinic before retiring in 1996.”

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The museum is well worth visiting, but I will spare you any photos of the preserved amputated feet that are on display.  Gross is the word.  Sorry, but it’s horrible.  Not for the squeamish, like me.  Slightly more bearable are the old medical instruments that were used, but the tools like the saw, and the operating table and the old photos make it all very gruesomely horrific.

Beimen also has a new ‘church’ to add to its tourist attractions, this one a Crystal Church 水晶教堂.  We went there too.  And the old Beimen salt washing workshops, now converted into a visitor center.  And we loved the ‘Money Coming’ 錢來也 Grocery Shop (Qianlaiye), built in 1952 originally as the cafeteria for the salt workers ~ what a great name for a shop!

And then we went to Jingzaijiao Tile-paved Salt Fields 井仔腳瓦盤鹽田, the oldest salt-field in Taiwan, started in 1818.  This is quite an amazing scene!

The nearby houses are quite beautiful…

And so to Tainan 台南, where we stayed at Grace Church, with our good friends, Rev. Philip Ho and his wife, Nancy and daughter Kathy.  They were so so so good to us!  Yes, great home-cooked meals and kindness galore.  They also had planned our itinerary so well, Philip driving and Nancy really ace on where to go and how to get there.  And they love posing for crazy photos… we took many like this!

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And this….!

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The next day, we were up bright and early for a tour around the area, including the bird reserve famous for the black-faced spoonbills. Actually we didn’t see any of those, but we saw plenty of others of the species listed, including Avocets, Caspian Terns, Curlews, Sacred Ibis, Redshank and all kinds of herons and egrets. We also met some of the wardens who help to staff the reserve and they were so keen to let us look through their telescopes and tell us the birds we were looking at.   Philip used to be a biology teacher, so he knows all the plants, animals and birds too.  A great field-guide!  Actually, there’s less than 3,000 black-faced spoonbills in the whole world and about two-thirds of the world’s population spend the winter in the Tsengwen River estuary, Tainan. But the tide was out, and so were the birds!

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So off we went to see lots of other interesting places, ending with a visit to the site that was St. Michael’s House in Tainan (opposite the Tainan Theological College,) which since the house demolition some years ago, is now used as a large vegetable garden, for local people and church members.  It’s a little oasis in the midst of the big city!

On Sunday, we went to the service at Grace Church, where Philip is the vicar.  The church is on the site of the Grace Church Kindergarten, and they have a very wonderful and very friendly congregation!

Their flower arrangement, combining Lent and Chinese New Year was beautiful!

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I was especially pleased to meet Rev. Samuel Liao, one of our retired clergy and his wife and family.  He is always so encouraging and cheerful, and loves to hear updates of the Anglican Church in England.  Hey, all of us are in red, or shades of it!

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A great service, and a group photo.  Or two, since some of our friends came a bit late and missed the service.  We met lots of old friends.  Ching-Ping, former teacher at St. James’ Kindergarten and her son.  Also Christopher, my colleague here at St. John’s University, his wife Linda and family, along with Linda’s mother who lives in Tainan.  And here they all are.  As it was Chinese New Year, there was no lunch after the service, but we had coffee and plenty of chat!

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And then it was time to say goodbye to Tainan.  Philip and family kindly took us in their car over to the east coast, Taitung 台東 for the next 2 days.  Taitung has the most wonderful coastal scenery in the world!  Blue skies and high mountains too.  And home to many of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.  This journey took many hours to get there, so we stopped for the evening at the famous Chihben (Zhiben / Jhiben) Hot Springs 知本溫泉 area, and went to the Hotel Royal where we had a yummy dinner and the extra blessing of watching the traditional dancing of the Beinan (Puyuma) People, oh and fireworks to finish the evening. (Check out this link for my report of our previous visit to the area over New Year weekend 2016-17, when we followed some of the same route).

So we arrived very late at our destination, Chishang 池上, in the northern area of Taitung, close to Hualien County border, and famous for it’s rice ~ and it’s scenery!

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Up early to see the sunrise and a walk around Dapo Lake, with THE best views!  And what great weather!

Philip and his wife have a good friend, Yi-hua, living in Chishang. Actually, she became a Christian through their ministry when they were in St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, and she was baptized by Philip there a few years ago. In 2016, she moved to Chishang with her husband to start a business selling their newly-invented rice cakes, which are so wonderful!  All made using the 100% real and very famous Chishang rice. There’s savoury and sweet ones, and served with coffee, wow, so delicious.  We arrived on their doorstep (their shop is diagonally opposite the Chishang Presbyterian Church) while they were still asleep (having stayed up to the early hours baking!) and yet they warmly welcomed us in and shared about how God has led them in their business these recent months, ending with a prayer of blessing from Philip.  If you’re ever in Chishang, you just MUST go and visit!

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But now farewell to Chishang, and we were heading first north, then over the mountains to the coastal road and southwards along the coast to Yiwan Card Church 宜灣卡片教堂,  a Presbyterian Church built in 1951, used by the local Amis People 阿美族 (so called the ‘Card Church’ because the design was apparently copied from a card, collected in childhood by one of the church members!) Philip is here below holding an Amis Bible. The church is gorgeous ~ I just love the colours!

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We continued south, visiting famous landmarks and sea vistas, too many to mention, but all in the area around Chenggong Township 成功鎮, where they also have beautiful flowers. And to the Amis village of Pisirian (meaning the place where people raise sheep in Amis language)…

The most famous scenic spot in the whole area is Sanxiantai 三仙台 and its amazing eight-arch bridge.  I walked over the whole thing and up to the light beacon, built in 1915 during the Japanese Colonial Period, the first of its kind on the east coast. I loved it!  I had been to Sanxiantai once before, but many many years ago.  Apparently the best time to go is at sunrise, but we got there mid-afternoon and the clouds were already rolling in fast, so at least it was nice and cool!

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We stayed overnight at the Bunun Leisure Farm, 布農部落 where we had visited also on the same trip as the Beinan Hunting Festival, over New Year weekend 2016-17.

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Bunun Leisure Farm is an initiative set up by Bunun Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Pai Kwang-Sheng and his wife to help the local Bunun People in education and to revive their traditional culture, and to share these resources with visitors, providing a reliable and sustainable source of income for the people.  It was the first time that Philip and his wife had visited, and oh, how they loved it!  We had a wonderful dinner, watched the music performance that evening, and then the dancing performance the next morning, met Rev. Pai who kindly hosted us to lunch and coffee and, well, we were all so so happy!  It is such a great place.  We couldn’t bear to leave!

But leave we had to, in order to get back to Tainan.  And the next day to Taichung.  And after a wonderful dinner, hosted by Rev. Lily Chang for those who help lead and preach at the St. James’ English service, so I headed back to Taipei on Thursday early morning  and eventually home on Thursday night.

What a great Chinese New Year it was!  Special thanks to good friend Ah-Guan and her family, Rev. Philip Ho and his family, and all those who we met, those who welcomed us so warmly and generously, including the Rev. Lily Chang and the Wang family in Taichung, Ms. Xiao in Chishang, Rev. Samuel Liao and the church members of Grace Church, Tainan, Rev. Pai in Bunun Farm and so many more ~ and thanks to the good friends who kindly gave us their Bunun Farm coupons so we could stay there effectively as their guests.  Everyone was so hospitable, gracious and kind.  And not surprisingly, some were exhausted – especially Philip as he did magnificently with so many long hours of driving ~ I have more than one photo like this one!  Thank you Philip.  And I just love his hat!

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The weather was amazing, the scenery was spectacular, the dancing was great, there were virtually no traffic problems, and everything worked out so well.  Thanks be to Almighty God!

And when I got home, Bishop Roger and his wife, Alice and sister-in-law Anne (who’d all been staying at my house over the New Year while visiting Anne and Alice’s lovely parents in the nearby Shuang-Lien Elderly Home) had just left for their respective homes in Mauritius and USA. But I know from their photos that the weather in Sanzhi over the New Year was also warm and sunny,  thanks be to God.  Big thanks to Bishop Roger and family for house-sitting!  This is us on the only day we overlapped, their arrival day on Friday February 9!

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Chinese New Year officially lasts until the 15th day of the first lunar month, so we still have another week to go until the official start of Lantern Festival ~ but as the Chinese New Year festival was so late this year, all work in Taiwan officially resumed on Wednesday, as did all schools, except universities ~ our new semester starts on Monday.  Ah yes, it’s all go to get ready!

So with the New Year well and truly here, wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Dog!

Street Art @ 淡水老街 Tamsui Old Street ~ love it!

Discovered some wonderful new (to me, that is) street art on the walls of Tamsui Old Street area 淡水老街 today ~ including this one of Dr. George Mackay, first Presbyterian missionary to northern Taiwan (1844-1901), who arrived in Tamsui in 1872 and stayed here more or less until he died.  Early photos show him going off on trips armed with dentist equipment for pulling out teeth, and Bibles to share the Gospel… wonder what he’s think of this painting done in his honour?

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Then up behind the famous Matzu Temple are some steps and walls painted with famous local scenes…..

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I like ’em!  Brightens up the place considerably ~ so do come ‘n visit Tamsui, it’s THE place to be!

鄭陳愛美姊妹追思感恩聖餐禮拜 R.I.P Mrs. Cheng Chen Ai-Mei

Our beloved church member, Mrs. Cheng Chen Ai-Mei 鄭陳愛美姊妹 (known to us as Cheng Mama 鄭媽媽) died on March 14, and this past Saturday was her Memorial Service in Advent Church.

Her cremation and burial of ashes took place a week after her death and this Memorial Service was for the church community and her wide circle of friends and colleagues to say goodbye.  It was also a Holy Communion Service, as is fitting for a family where all are Christians.  And what a service it was!  Advent Church was so full of people that we had to bring in extra chairs.  So many people had come to pay their last respects, to grieve, to bring comfort to the family, and to thank God for her wonderful life. And what a life it was. Cheng Mama was much-loved by everyone – and is much missed.

Cheng Mama came from a very big and very well-known Tamsui family. Her father Mr. Chen Ching-Chung 陳清忠校長 (1895-1960) was principal of TamKang High School, Tamsui and was responsible for introducing the sport of rugby into the school – and into the whole country.  The TamKang schools and colleges were founded by the first Presbyterian missionary to Taiwan, George L. Mackay.  Cheng Mama’s paternal grandfather, 陳火 Rev. Chen Huo (after he became a Christian he changed his name to Chen Rong-Hui 陳榮輝) was one of Mackay’s first students and converts, and became the first pastor of Xindian Presbyterian Church, Taipei.  Her great uncle, Chen Rong-Hui’s elder brother married Mackay’s elder daughter, Mary Ellen.

Cheng Mama spent most of her life worshiping in Tamsui Presbyterian Church, but her son, Paul and his family have been members of Advent Church for many many years, serving on the Vestry and in many leadership roles.  In recent years, his sister, Carol has joined us too.  We love them all so much!

Cheng Mama’s testimony is amazing.  She prayed faithfully for her husband for 49 years that he could become a Christian.  49 years!  Suddenly in 2009 at the grand old age of 86, through the ministry of our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, Mr. Cheng made THE decision – yes, he was going to be baptized!  The Cheng parents then both started to attend Advent Church every week as long as they were able.  Mr. Cheng died on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2013 and his funeral was held in Advent Church a few weeks later (see that blog post here). Cheng Mama continued to come to Advent Church along with her family, until she became sick a few months ago.

Cheng Mama is lovingly remembered for the way she showed such great care and concern for all those in her family, and her friends, colleagues, classmates, church members and so many more.  Even when she couldn’t go out and meet them all, she would call up and keep in touch by phone.  Always smiling and giving thanks to God for his many blessings, she was a gift to us all.  One of her great friends was Tan Mama – this is the best photo I took of them both in Advent 2015, Cheng Mama on the right, Tan Mama on the left.

So we give thanks to Almighty God for Cheng Mama’s wonderful life and witness. We pray for her family and friends, and for us all, that the faith of those like Cheng Mama, who have gone before us, will continue to inspire and challenge us afresh.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory, Amen!

Penghu 澎湖 ~ a great place for Children’s Day 兒童節 ~ and birthday celebrations!

Greetings to you all from Zhuwan 竹灣 Village, Penghu!

And Happy Children’s Day 兒童節 for April 4 from us all in Xiyu Presbyterian Church 西嶼長老教會, Penghu too!

Yes, April 1-4 this year was a 4-day weekend for us in Taiwan, officially for Tomb-Sweeping Festival and Children’s Day, and Penghu was THE place to be!  Sitting way out there in the middle of the ocean between Taiwan and Mainland China, the Penghu Islands are just screaming out to be visited ~ from the air they look like beautiful pearls glimmering in the blue sea.  Must-go, must-see!  The islands are volcanic basalt, all low-lying, and now that bridges connect the main central islands, they form a kind of horseshoe shape.  If you can get tickets (quite an achievement – much in demand), it’s only a short flight from Taiwan, flying into Magong (Makung 馬公) – the main city and administrative centre. Magong is also famous for the beautiful Rainbow Bridge….

Xiyu is the westernmost island of Penghu, and until 40-50 or so years ago, it was not connected to the other islands, so it must have been kinda isolated out there.  And windy. It’s still windy. Even on our visit it was windy.  Penghu is very famous for its winter N.E. monsoon winds ~ the kind of wind where motorbikes get blown over and you have to hold on to your hat – and children – to stop them blowing away!  Penghu is also famous for its military bases, for saying ‘no’ twice to casinos in referendums, for its firework festival in the summer, and for its tourists – it’s THE place to go for a few days in spring or summer – sun, surf and sea all in abundance.

My good friends, Feng-Mei and her family have been at Xiyu Presbyterian Church 西嶼長老教會 for the last 6 years, and this was my third visit to see them.  My first visit was in late summer of 2013, coinciding with 2 typhoons (my blog post of that visit is here – also an account of the history of Xiyu Presbyterian Church), and the second one was in July 2014 with my friends Mike and Harriet (blog post here) when the weather was wonderful!

Here we are, Feng-Mei, her husband, Rev. Lai 賴志泓, 2 daughters, a church member and us – that’s my good friends, Miao-Shia and Chung-Peng, from St. James’ Preschool, Taichung.  Feng-Mei was also one of our beloved St. James’ teachers until she left to join her husband, first in Tainan, now in Penghu… yes, we love her so much!

Miao-Shia and Chung-Peng arranged our visit, and managed to get air tickets for last Friday evening, flying from Taichung to Magong, a 40-minute flight.  Except that I live 5-hours away from Taichung Airport ha ha – so it took a while to get there!  A cold front arrived that afternoon and we took off in torrential rain.  Fortunately by the time we arrived in Penghu, the rain had gone, and by Saturday lunchtime, the sun was out and it was blue skies for all the rest of the time – with wind, wind and more wind.  Fun!

There are 11 villages on Xiyu Island and Xiyu Church is located on the hill above Zhuwan 竹灣 Village, and that is where the main services and Sunday School are held, it’s also where the Lai family live.  Being on a hill, it’s very windy on the north side, but the village itself is tucked away down the hill, out of the wind.  From a distance, the church looks a bit like a large snail!

Zhuwan Village is famous for it’s temple and for growing peanuts, hence Mr. Peanut Man sitting at the main entrance to the village.  I went down there early on Sunday, and we all early went on Monday.  Feng-Mei’s daughter goes to the village school, she came too and gave us a little tour!

There is another church building not far away, where they hold the youth group.  This church is 小池角禮拜堂 and this is the village nearby…..

And so began a busy weekend! We were honoured to help Feng-Mei with their youth group on Saturday night – some who come are church members, but most are not. It’s a great outreach. We shared with the youth about mission, and about our trip to Tanzania – Feng-Mei and Miao-Shia came with me to Tanzania in 2005. Feng-Mei’s testimony about that trip is quite amazing – and so are the photos!  The youth group were great, and the worship leader had even prepared a prayer in English!  We finished with a group photo, that’s me trying to get them into a ‘mission pose’ – whatever that might be!

And so to Sunday at the main church in Zhuwan Village. The children who come with their families for Sunday worship go upstairs for a Sunday School session after the Praise and Worship down in the church – so we sang a few songs with the children, while downstairs there was a communion service…

Every Sunday afternoon, there is a really great Sunday School outreach program in the church – with games, praise songs, prayers and activities – we shared about Children’s Day, making little people cut-outs, like I had done at Laomei Elementary School last week – and Feng-Mei shared about how God loves all the children of the world.  Our teacher, Chung-Peng is the St. James’ Preschool Most Amazing Dancer, she is just so natural, so she led the children in praise dance.  Ah, it was such fun!

Also on Xiyu Island is Erkan Village 二崁 where the houses are beautifully preserved and much visited during the summer by tourists. Many of the local people open their homes to the visitors and make the most of the business opportunities available!  This was the scene on Sunday late afternoon…. Feng-Mei’s daughter was delighted to show me the small statue with his bare tummy and bare bottom on show!

And in-between, we had a lot of meals, coffee, paddles, chat and fun, and a delicious meal on Sunday night, kindly hosted by Rev. Wu!  The family rabbit was happy too!

And on Monday, it was my birthday and they had planned all sorts of exciting things – starting with a breakfast of long-life noodles (don’t break ’em and you can live for at least 2 centuries) and a visit to the Whale Cave on Xiaomen Islet 小門嶼. The nice lady gave me a free birthday egg with my noodles too.  Oh yes, and we had yummy red cactus fruit ice-cream at the end…

And so to the big birthday event – lunch at the White Bay Restaurant 白灣景觀餐廳澎 in 湖縣湖西鄉林投村 Huxi, Penghu, where the staff were wonderful and the food was great, and all followed by cake and grand present opening.  Feng-Mei supplied the outfit…..

I didn’t realise that Feng-Mei’s husband was filming me singing and distributing sweets to everyone in the restaurant, and then searching for a mirror to see what I looked like. This is a 53-second edited version of the whole 8 minutes!

Thanks to Feng-Mei for the 3 photos above.  And so to the beach – and a little shopping!

And Tuesday morning, yesterday, we were up bright and early for breakfast at Waian, the largest and southernmost of the 11 villages on Xiyu, and a visit to the lighthouse and a few scenic spots, finishing with coffee at Erkan…

By lunchtime, we were back at Magong Airport and on our way home to Taiwan – having had such a great time!

Of course it was the in-between times that were some of the funniest.  And one of the funniest was always Feng-Mei’s youngest daughter, who just loves to dress up and pose for photos.  The 2 children are so lovely!

A big big thank you to Feng-Mei and her family for their wonderful welcome, gracious hospitality, time and energy, and to Chung-Peng and Miao-Shia for their fun company on such a great visit.  Penghu is indeed a beautiful place, and such lovely people.  Please do pray for Penghu, for the churches, pastors, church members, outreach and especially for Xiyu Presbyterian Church and all the ministry there. There’s lots happening!

And thanks be to Almighty God for His many blessings – and a fun birthday!

Such a great visit to 大禮大同部落 Dali Datong Village, Taroko Gorge, Hualien ~ Home of 頭目達道 Truku Chief Dadao!

What an amazing place, amazing weekend, and what amazing people!

Chief Dadao (頭目達道) of the Truku (Taroko) Tribe lives high up on a beautiful plateau, at over 1,100 m in altitude, way up above the steep slopes of the spectacular marble gorge, Taroko Gorge in Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast.  We went there to visit over this past weekend, and here’s us sitting with him on the bench outside his house, with THE view behind us!

The mountains of the east coast go straight down to the sea with spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean. Liwu Mountain 立霧山 (1,274 m) is the first of the range, and has the same name as the River Liwu that runs through the gorge.  The mountains also provide some protection from the fierce Pacific weather, allowing flowers, fruit trees and vegetables to flourish in the Truku (Taroko) villages of Dali and Datong 大禮大同部落 up on the plateau just behind and below the Liwu Ridge. It’s a real oasis!  This photo shows Liwu Mountain and the mountains along the east coast as seen on Saturday early morning from where we were staying in Xincheng Town on Friday night.  It’s these mountains that were our destination!

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This was our second mountain expedition of the year, the first one was back in June, when we went to Hehuanshan North and West Peaks 合歡西北峰, in Taiwan’s central mountain range. Both trips were organised by our wonderful friend, Jasmine, who kindly invited me to join her extended family on a 2-night trip to Hualien, this time to Taroko Gorge. The group included Jasmine’s husband, their 2 children aged 18 and 16, her lovely mother – now aged 76, plus 3 of her mother’s younger sisters and 2 husbands, one son, a friend, and of course our guide and leader, Lai San, who always sets the pace, leads the way, carries the heavy stuff and makes most of the arrangements.  It was a fun group, 14 of us in total. Lai San somehow managed also to carry a carton of plum wine, 2 wine glasses and ice cubes up the mountain ~ and the glasses and ice cubes were still intact when we came to drink the plum wine, sharing the 2 glasses around!

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Noticeboards along our route explained a little of the background of the Truku people ~ in essence as follows: The Taroko (Truku) people settled in the watersheds of the Liwu and Mugwa Rivers 200-300 years ago, after crossing over the central mountain range from their original home in Wushe, Nantou County.  During the Japanese era, the majority of the Taroko people were forced to relocate to lower altitudes. Only the villages of Hehesi (Dali 大禮), Shakadang (Datong 大同) and Sila-an were permitted to remain, as they were important planting areas.  After the Japanese left in 1945, the elementary school at Datong was merged with the one at Dali and served both villages.  In 1979, all the villagers decided to relocate down to the village of Fushi in Sioulin Township, but many of the people love to return to their old homes and continue to farm the land, and have restored and opened their old homes as guest houses.  This is one of them, Rainbow Guest House, beautiful eh?!

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Life up on the plateau there is precarious, remote and isolated – with no internet or telephone signal, no mains electricity or water, and only accessible by a very steep climb up from Taroko Gorge. More recently a pulley system has been built for hauling up heavy things like gas canisters, construction materials and machinery, but the people still have to go up and down on foot.

Chief Dadao is one of these remarkable people who goes up and down regularly on foot, and we were both delighted and honored to be able to stay in his guest house on Saturday night.  He is now 86, as fit as a fiddle and loves to sing!  He only speaks a little Chinese, and mostly communicates in Taroko language and Japanese. Most importantly he is a very committed Christian, and was an elder in the Dali Presbyterian Church, which is now closed as a place of worship, but open to book for very basic accommodation.

He and the 2 lady relatives who were helping him to manage the many visitors tried to teach me some Taroko language, ah it was such fun!  They were delighted to share with me about their faith, and Chief Dadao delighted to share with visitors how he has never smoked, drunk alcohol or chewed betel nut. Instead he is always thankful and praising God for His many blessings.  He’s a real witness for Christ!

We started out on our expedition from Taroko National Park Visitor Center on Saturday morning – and from 9:30 am to about 1:00 pm, we were mostly going up, up and more up. There is a slightly less steep path that twists and turns, winding its way up the mountain, but is apparently mostly steps, so we chose the shortcut, which is steeper and a more interesting climb, but of course hard work ~ ah, but it was well worth it!

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At 1:00 pm we reached the plateau, where there’s a kind of level track that runs along for miles connecting Dali and Datong and the top of the tracks leading down to the gorge, but otherwise unconnected to anywhere else.  The local people drive along on vehicles carrying themselves and all their things between the 2 villages, but we walked, and it was mostly flat, shady and of course, beautiful.

First we visited Dali Village, at 915 m altitude, where the mists rolled in, and gave it all an other-world atmosphere.  There’s the old police post, and the other old homesteads now all boarded up, but outside one of them near the church was a chair with a cross on it. This is Chief Dadao’s home village, where he was elder of the church, and where he was educated in the elementary school in the days when all education was in Japanese.

And so onto Chief Dadao’s home by 4:00 pm – high up in altitude above 1,100 m  – his home sits completely alone, but with the best view in the whole world!  Except that on Saturday afternoon, as is common at this time of the year, it was starting to drizzle.  We were so glad to get there in time before the real rain came.  Dadao himself was out clearing his land when we arrived, but the 2 ladies, 2 sisters related by marriage to Dadao, were busy cooking and getting ready for the guests.  In total there were 24 of us that night, and the ladies cooked the most delicious meal for us all, followed by Dadao singing and, when the rain stopped, us looking at the beautiful starlit night. We also had warm showers – and all slept in a long line on the wooden raised floors in quilts.  It was warm, in fact warmer than my house here in Sanzhi!

Next day, early Sunday morning ~ and by 5:30 am we were up and out, in the dark, with our headlights on, heading up about 20-30 minutes to the Liwu Ridge in time to see the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.  Except that the sun only poked out a bit of pale orange light to have a look, and then went back in again, behind the rain clouds, only to emerge much later in the morning. Ah, but it was beautiful all the same!

And so back to Dadao’s home for breakfast, another amazing feast – and look at the views!