Maokong – A Place For An Afternoon Escape in Taipei

Taipei is such a spectacular city due to its variety of geographical features. Lush, green mountains surround every angle of the city, so escaping to nature is easily achieved by just hopping on the MRT.

One of my favorite places for an afternoon escape is Maokong, a mountain famous for growing local oolong and green tea. Maokong is located in the Wenshan district of Taipei, City and it is accessible by taking the brown line to Taipei Zoo station.

There is a gondola located adjacent to the MRT. The cable-car ride is about 20 minutes to the top, and it stops at the Taipei Zoo South Entrance, Zhinan Temple, and then finally Maokong.

During the gondola ride, one can achieve a panoramic view of the city skyline and mountainous city border. For those seeking a more thrilling adventure, every fifth or sixth car features a glass bottom for more exhilarating views. If you are not afraid of heights, opt to stand in the “crystal cabin” line to experience this invigorating ride!

Once you arrive to the terminal station, meander along the ridgeway to find a teahouse or local restaurant. There are many restaurants that incorporate tea to infuse flavor in their dishes.

There are also delicious pineapple cakes, traditional Taiwanese dishes, or other local snacks to enjoy. I tried the tempura mushrooms from one of the cafes, and I must say they were scrumptious!

If you decide to enjoy the local tea, I recommend purchasing the option that comes with a presentation of the tea ceremony. The waiter or waitress will demonstrate how to properly steep and pour the tea for the best flavor and experience.

They will show you how to warm the cups and pot, and they will tell you how long to steep each brew. Drinking the Maokong tea on the mountain ridge will surely help you to unwind and relax from the bustling Taipei city life.

Maokong is open from 8:30am-9:30pm on weekdays and 8:30-10pm on weekends. Though tea is wonderful at anytime of the day, I highly recommend going in the late afternoon and staying for the sunset. It is a stunning sight watching Taipei light up in the night sky. Furthermore, be aware of weather, especially in the summer, as the gondola may close during thunderstorms or stormy weather.

 

 

48 Hours of Luxury at the Grand Hyatt Taipei

By Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman, Special to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan

Joshua Samuel Brown - Lonely Planet Author

Image Source: Tobie Openshaw

For a long time I scoffed at luxury hotels, but this was largely because luxury hotels were way out of my reach. (“A Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing is your ticket to the finer things in life” said no undergraduate advisor ever.)

Then I began my illustrious career as a guidebook writer, and not only could I still not afford to stay in luxury hotels but I was obliged to visit them regularly to review them on the sly, conducting clandestine inspections of some of Asia’s best known five-stars by day bedding down in hostels by night.

This oft-used technique is employed by many an honest travel writer – for a full report on the potential pitfalls of this method, click over to My Parents are Little People.

But Taipei’s hostels are no place to bring a lady, especially a jet-lagged first time visitor who’s come to Taiwan sight unseen as part of a strangely-hatched literary mission / life transition.

So when Paul Ou, Marketing Communications Manager at the Grand Hyatt Taipei, offered Stephanie and I a soft landing place at the start of our Formosa Moon Research Trip, we accepted with great gratitude. The two-day stay would give us a place to relax in style and to plan out the next three months of travel and writing around Taiwan, a trip during which luxury would definitely not be the planned focus.

We had arrived in town on New Year’s Eve, and as even the humbler hotels were booked we’d spent the previous two nights couch-surfing. Still bedraggled and road-weary, we were whisked up to our apartment on the 20th floor to begin our 48 hour luxury package.

Yes, apartment. With two bathrooms (one more than our actual apartment in Portland, Oregon), a huge living room that doubled as our office (or would have if we’d gotten any actual work done), a bedroom fit for a king in more ways than just the king-sized mattress, the Grand Executive Suite deserved to be called no less.

At the risk of showing my age, let’s start with the bathrooms.

The main one boasted a rainforest shower, a tub big enough for a romantic evening with two full-grown mermaids and a heated toilet with a bewilderingly soothing number of water-spouting accoutrements.

The living room bathroom had the same cyber-toilet but lacking either the tub or shower seemed more geared towards executive business. The living room water closet also lacked wall-to-wall and nigh floor-to-ceiling windows, which is noteworthy only in that it was literally the only room in the entire suite in which one could not look out upon everything in Taipei city south, east (and in one spot close to the front door) west of Taipei 101.

In mathematical terms, our suite boasted 3/4 of a 360 degree view, which according to Siri means our suite offered a 270 degree view of Taipei (and the fact that I needed to bother Siri on such a stunningly simple calculation should tell you all you need to know about why I chose a career in writing).

Grand Hyatt Taipei and 101

Image Source: Tobie Openshaw

The view, showing Taipei in its busy glory by day and neon splendor by night, could be blocked out at the push of a bank of buttons that raised and lowered blinds, sent blackout curtains sliding from hidden compartments, turned lights on and off, operated the large flat screen TV and would call room service to order kippers for the mermaids in the bathtub.

We did not send for room service (though it was an 24/7 option), opting instead to try as many of the Grand Hyatt’s dozen-or-so eating spots as possible over our 48 hour stay. The Pearl Liang restaurant served up authentic Cantonese fare with just a hint of fusion, while the first floor café had a buffet rivaling the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza greenmarket in its international bona-fides.

Our favorite spot turned out to be the 22nd floor Grand Club Lounge, both for its daily breakfast, all-day snack selection and evening cocktail parties. It was during one of these parties where we reconnected with an astrophysicist we’d met on the flight over, discussing over hors d’oeuvres both the smallness of the world and the vastness of the universe.

We were also taken to wander avec chaperon through some of the other rooms at the Grand Hyatt (one of the perks of travel writing) and were impressed by managements’ overall attention to detail. All hotels keep a few books in their rooms, but these are usually either decorative Reader’s Digest type collections, or religious tomes designed to dissuade the lonely traveler from doing something they might regret after having a few too many from the mini-bar.

But each of the rooms we visited (including our own) had books worth buying – graphic novels, guides to astronomy, short story collections. As writers ourselves, we were encouraged. Not enough to tear us away from the bathtub, 270 degree view of Taipei, flat-screen TV complete with first-run pay-per-view movies and other diversions to do any actual work. But…almost.

Cuisine, accommodations worthy of a Sultan (of Brunei or Swing, take your pick) and being allowed to spend time recuperating from a lengthy journey while preparing for an even lengthier one was but a part of our 48 hour luxury package.

The other part was a three-hour long treatment at the Grand Hyatt’s brand new Oasis Spa. But for that description, I’ll pass the keyboard to the other half of the Formosa Moon Team.

Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman

Image Source: Tobie Openshaw

Stephanie?

What did I do to deserve such luxury?

Before our session had begun, we’d been invited to soak in the gender-separated spa area. I hit the sauna first, hoping to sweat out the processed-food toxins from many days of travel, but the sauna proved too hot.

Bailing after just a few minutes, I moved to the steam room, settling into the overall vibe, listening to the mellow hiss of steam. Everything in the spa had clearly been designed with comfort and serenity in mind.

The spa’s centerpiece, the main hot pool, was designed to allow the water to rest at the stone pool’s upper edge. As I entered it spilled over the sides into the drain surrounding the pool. After I had settled into a comfortable spot the water stilled and again the water level rode right to the pool edge.

The scene was quiet and relaxing. A small cold pool sat nearby. I worked myself up to walk down the steps and submerge myself to my shoulders. After a few breaths I returned to the heated waters of the main pool.

I was repeating this process, alternating between hot and cold when my masseuse came in to get me, wrapping me in a thick white robe before bringing me upstairs to our couples massage room. Joshua was already seated, soaking his feet in a brine of scented water, sipping flower tea in (uncharacteristic) silence.

I joined him as our masseuses readied the tables while we drank a flower tea in silence. We were then beckoned to our heated massage tables, where we, after being slathered in black mud, were wrapped in a coating of thick plastic and covered in heavy blankets. My masseuse applied additional mud onto my face with a soft brush, which I found quite soothing. I’d done many spa sweats in New Mexico and had always enjoyed the experience.

It had been several years since I had done such a sweat, and I was floating on a pleasant cloud of heated mud and perspiration.

My reverie is interrupted suddenly.

I feel like a butterball turkey roasting in its own juices.”

Joshua, apparently, has reached his own heat tolerance, and begins unwrapping himself prematurely from his mud cocoon. He makes a beeline for the shower.
Not long after, my masseuse gestures for me to sit up. As I ease into a standing position, a mixture of mud and sweat pours down my body. The masseuse folds the plastic around my calves, allowing me to waddle to the shower without dripping on the floor. After washing in a beautifully warm shower, I join Joshua on the couch and await the next round.

We’re given a light snack during our break, mochi – a sweetened glutinous rice cake – and more tea. The sauna mud wrap having begun the process of melting away the soreness from days of awkward sleeping arrangements, I’m now ready for the massage to evaporate the rest. I am not disappointed – my masseuse knows her trade well, using enough pressure to work my muscles without pain.

After the massage, we’re invited to relax again on the couch with more flower tea before beginning the last part of the treatment – the facial. Lying still on the table, a seemingly endless array of gentle paintbrushes caress my skin with sweet smelling lotion. Again, I find myself drifting away.

The facial complete, we are offered more tea and advised to let the oils and other unguents from the various stages of the Calm treatment to to soak into our skin for the rest of the day before showering. Every inch of my skin velvety soft, Joshua and I head upstairs for a mid-day rest, Calm, relaxed and serene.

Foyer of the Grand Hyatt Taipei

Image Source: Stephanie Huffman

Joshua Samuel Brown has authored or co-authored 13 books, including Vignettes of Taiwan and a dozen or so guides for guidebook titan, Lonely Planet. He and his partner Stephanie Huffman are in Taiwan working on a collaborative project called Formosa Moon, to be published by Things Asian Press in 2018. To learn more about Formosa Moon, check out www.josambro.com or their Facebook page at Honey Trekkers

Grand Hyatt Taipei

2, SongShou Road, Taipei, Taiwan, 11051

Taiwan Lantern Festival – Sending Wishes to the Sky

The lighting of Kongming lanterns, also known as sky lanterns, has been a popular tradition for centuries throughout most of Asia. Like a hot air balloon, the lantern is propelled by a small flame that guides it up towards the sky during the Taiwan Lantern Festival each year.

Taiwan Lantern Festival 

In Taiwan, lighting Kongming lanterns is especially popular during the Lunar New Year holiday. The locals believe that these lanterns carry their prayers to the sky to bring them a fruitful and fortunate new year.

In Pingxi, there is an annual festival where thousands of lanterns are floated into the sky together. It is said that the floating lights resemble a constellation of stars as the lanterns flicker and float away into the night sky.

Though watching thousands of lanterns fly into the sky together is a majestic site, fighting the crowds and getting to Pingxi can be a bit of a hassle. It takes some advance planning.

Personally, I would advise getting a hotel in Pingxi if you decide to go, otherwise it can be challenging getting back to Taipei after the festivities end.

If you are like me and prefer a more relaxing way of doing things, then I suggest visiting Shifen, just three train stop before Pingxi to send your lantern of hopes and dreams skyward.

Lighting lanterns is available at all times of the year, so you don’t have to wait until the new year festivities to have this special, memorable experience.

As soon as you exit the train at Shifen station, you will be in the heart of the charming old street. Shops selling souvenirs, Taiwanese sausages and other delicacies, and artisan crafts stalls fill the market along the tracks.

If you walk beyond the train tracks, you can visit the stunning and magnificent Shifen Waterfall, which is just a 15-minute walk from the town’s center.

Signs mark the waterfall trail, so it is easy to find upon arrival.

There are many shops selling the Konming lanterns in the market area. The train passes by every 30 minutes, so during this time gap, people go onto the tracks to send their lanterns into the sky. Before sending the lanterns up and away, you can decorate your lantern using a traditional Chinese paint brush and black ink.

The shops provide an easel-like stand to paint the lantern on the side of the train track. You are free to express yourself in anyway that you wish.  Some people paint pictures, others write a message, and some traditionally write their prayers or wishes.

When I visited Shifen, I traveled with my brother, so we set up the stand in a way where we could not see what the other was paining until we were finished. It was amusing how differently we interpreted what to do with the lantern. Sending the lantern into the sky was a joyful moment, and it will be a memory I cherish for a long time.

In order to go to either Shifen or Pingxi, take the northbound train from Taipei Main station to Ruifang station.  Make sure not to take the Keelung northbound train.

Once you arrive at Ruifang station, you will transfer to the Pingxi Line. Shifen is only three stops down, while Pingxi is a total of six stops. Overall the trip takes about an hour and half, maybe two hours if you have to wait for the trains.

Feathered Fortunes

One of the greatest aspects of living and traveling in Taiwan is the opportunity to delve into the anomalous daily practices of local life. Experiencing the unfamiliar helps us to broaden our horizons while also gaining a deeper appreciation of local culture. In Taiwan many ancient Chinese practices and traditions have been preserved, so travelers and expats can easily seek out treasures from a bygone era.

One tradition that is still upheld and practiced regularly is fortune telling. Booths can be found throughout the city, usually around temples or night markets. In Taiwanese society, fortune telling is a revered and essential component of social and business culture.

The role of the soothsayer is essential when businessmen are making important investments or management decisions. They also help people socially by resolving personal issues and inner conflicts.

If you are traveling to Taiwan, the fortune telling booths may be particularly busy around holidays, and they are especially occupied in the days and weeks before the Chinese New Year. Many of these soothsayers use Chinese astrological charts to determine one’s fate. They also typically use techniques such as palm reading and investigating a client’s facial lines and features.

However, my favorite are the ones that use birds to chose the cards for the client.

Personally, I have always been enchanted by the idea of fortune telling. Though I am unsure how much truth may lie in the reading, I am still fascinated by the process and experience. One day, I suddenly had the urge to finally give Taiwanese fortune telling a try. My brother was visiting me, so I wanted to give him an experience that was truly unique to Taiwan. I was most enthralled at the opportunity to try out the bird fortune telling.

My brother and I went to the underground shopping market that is connected to the Longshan Temple MRT station. I chose this location, because I had previously been informed that there were English speaking translators and fortunetellers. Bird fortunetellers can be found by other temples and night markets; however many of these locations can only offer readings in Chinese.Fortune Tellers in Taiwan

As I sat down at the booth I was greeted with warm smiles and curiosity. The translator explained to me that I needed to deeply ponder the question that I sought to have answered.

Once I knew my question, I was then told to speak it to the birds. It was a bit difficult to ask the birds my question with a straight face, however I did my best to act as serious and composed as I could.

I stared at the birds and uttered, “Will I go to graduate school at NCCU this fall?” Suddenly, the birds became very spirited. As the fortuneteller opened their cage, the birds began vigorously pecking at the bright orange envelopes. These feathered creatures were quite eager to determine my fate!

The fortuneteller then laid out my cards in a past, present, future layout. She told me I was very lucky and hardworking, and that I would soon benefit from my determination and hard work. Honestly, I found her interpretation to be quite vague, and it seemed she was just trying to please me. I wondered if she was reluctant to say negative things due to me being a foreigner.

I decided to dig a little further and ask her what I need to watch out for, or should I have any concerns or worries. She then took my hand and asked to look at my tongue. She told me that my father should take care of his heart, and I should eat more mushrooms. It was quite interesting, indeed!

Whether one believes in the credibility of these soothsayers, participating in Taiwanese fortunetelling is a memorable and alluring experience. I highly recommend paying a visit to these feathered fate readers to see what the future has in store!

YouBike- Taiwan’s Bike Sharing System

Taipei is a city that has many outdoor attractions. Whether it is parks, temples, gardens, or the night markets, much of daily life is spent in the midst of the bustling city streets. Taipei’s bike sharing system, YouBike, is a great way to get out and see some of the incredible sites Taipei has to offer.

In 2009, the Taipei City government teamed up with Giant, a world-renowned bicycle manufacturing company. YouBike started with only 11 kiosks in the Xinyi District of Taipei. Now there are 190 rental stations with over 6,000 bikes in circulation! YouBike has also stationed kiosks in Taichung, New Taipei, Changhua County, and Taoyuan.

How to Register for YouBike

In order to check out a YouBike, you will first need to buy an EasyCard. This card is an essential purchase in Taiwan because it is used to access the Taipei Metro, buses, and taxis.

You can even use the card for purchases at convenience stores. Cards can be purchased at 7-11, Family Mart, or any other major convenience store. For further information about the EasyCard, you can visit their page here.

Caroline Hosey - YouBike2

The process of registering the EasyCard for YouBike is quick and easy.

Do note that the only way to register your EasyCard is to have a Taiwanese cell phone number.

  1. If you are just visiting Taiwan, you can purchase temporary SIM cards from major Taiwanese carriers at the International Airports.
  2. The next step is to register the EasyCard at any of the YouBike computerized kiosks. To find a YouBike station, you can download the YouBike app and check the map to see the station locations. You can also typically find YouBike stations outside of most MRT stops.
  3. To register the EasyCard, just follow the instructions on the screen. Directions are available in both Chinese and English.
  4. First you will select “Join YouBike.”
  5. Then you will need to agree to the terms and conditions.
  6. Finally a confirmation code will be sent via text message to your phone.
  7. Submit the given code, and then place your EasyCard on the sensor. In a matter of seconds you are ready to ride!
Caroline Hosey - YouBike3

Simply click “JOIN YOUBIKE” and you will be on your way!

If a visitor does not have a local Taiwanese cell phone number, they cannot use the EasyCard for YouBike transportation.

However, there is an option to use a credit card registration instead. To do this, select the “Single Rental” option from the screen. Then agree to the terms and conditions and follow the instructions for inputting your credit card information. YouBike puts a temporary hold of NT$2,000 on the credit card until the bike has been returned. Once the bike has been returned, the proper amount will be credited and the hold will be removed.

The cost of renting a YouBike is based on the duration of use. The first 30 minutes costs a mere NT$5. After the first 30 minutes, the rider is charged NT$10/ per half hour for the next 3.5 hours. After four hours of use, the rate increases to NT$20/per half hour for the next 4 hours. The final rate increases to NT $40/per half hour if the bike is used longer than 8 hours.

How to Check Out a You Bike

Caroline Hosey - YouBike4

Error codes in English.

Checking out a YouBike is extremely simple!

  1. First select a bike from one of the kiosks. I suggest checking the seat and tire pressure to make sure the bike’s condition is suitable. The YouBike maintenance crew is quite efficient in picking up faulty bikes, but occasionally a bike might have a loose seat or a flat tire.
  2. After choosing which bike to ride, swipe the EasyCard on the “Sensor Zone”. When you hear the beeping sound, you can remove the bike. A screen will also display your balance, so you check how much money is on your EasyCard. More money can be added to the EasyCard at convenience stores or inside any of the MRT stations.
  3. Occasionally an error message might appear. In that case a number will pop up to let you know what the issue is.  Each number corresponds to a different error message, so just check the number to see what the issue might be. There is a chart adjacent to the sensor that has the numbers and their corresponding problems. If the sticker only displays the problems in Chinese check the adjacent bike slot for English instructions.

Best Places to Cycle in Taipei

Once you get the bike, its time to enjoy all of the sites Taiwan has to offer!

In many neighborhoods there are bike paths. If the bike paths are not marked on the sidewalk, just stay to the side that is closest to the street. In some cases the sidewalks may be too narrow or crowded, in that case it is acceptable to ride in the street. Just make sure to follow traffic rules and stay to the far right.

Conveniently marked bike lanes are throughout the city!

Conveniently marked bike lanes are throughout the city!

Though it is quite easy to ride anywhere in the city, I highly recommend taking the YouBike to the riverside.

The best places to access the river are at Songshan, Gongguan, Tamsui, and Yuanshan MRT. The river path is rarely crowded, and it will give you the freedom to ride as quickly or as leisurely as you prefer.

Stunning riverside views near Tamsui

Stunning riverside views near Tamsui

Returning the YouBike

Returning the YouBike is just as simple as checking it out.

You do not need to return it to the same station.

Instead, just find a kiosk anywhere in the city.  If you are having problems finding a station, there are three solutions to solve this problem:

  1. First you can check the YouBike app. On the app, a map shows the locations of all of the stations. The app also tells you if the kiosks are empty or full.
  2. Option two is to visit YouBike’s website. The website has a map feature to assist you in finding the bike stations.
  3. The final option is to use Google Maps to find the closest MRT. If you can find an MRT station, then you should be able to locate a YouBike parking zone close by.

When you arrive at the YouBike station, just slide the bike into the lock and scan your EasyCard. The card should beep and show your remaining balance.

Caroline Hosey - YouBike8

Also, if you want to park the bike, have no fear! There is a lock feature, so you can leave the bike anywhere you would like. On the front wheel of the bike, there is a removable key and a cable attachment. Simply, just secure the bike wherever you wish using the attached cable. Just be careful not to lose the key!

By choosing to ride a YouBike, you can get great exercise while also decreasing your carbon footprint! You can explore more area than would be seen on foot, and you can easily access any point of the city. I highly recommend to anyone, young or old, to get out and enjoy a ride!

Honouring Our Ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day

Every year on April 5, Taiwan honours its dead with a special festival. The festival is called Qingming, but it is often referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day. In Mandarin, Qingming is roughly translated to “Pure Brightness Festival,” and the day is intended for people to go outside and enjoy the spring weather while paying respects to their ancestors.

On Tomb Sweeping Day, the people of Taiwan traditionally go on family outings to visit the graves of their departed relatives. The families will usually pray at each grave site before sweeping and cleaning the grave as a sign of respect. Some families will even sing and dance at the gravesites and offer food and wine to the deceased.

Willow branches are a very common sight on Tomb Sweeping Day. It is believed that willow branches will fend off the evil spirits that roam around on Qingming. As such, people will carry willow branches with them, and some will even hang the branches from their front doors.

Another Qingming tradition you’re sure to come by is a bite-sized snack called caozaiguo. Caozaiguo consists of sweet dough made with rice flour, sugar and East Asian herbs that give the snack a green colour. The dough is then usually filled with ground meat or bean paste.

Tomb Sweeping Holiday-1988

Since 1975, Tomb Sweeping Day has always been observed in Taiwan on April 5, in order to honour the death of Chiang Kai-Shek, a Chinese political leader who ruled Taiwan for 30 years. Chiang’s legacy is the subject of much debate in Taiwan, but Tomb Sweeping Day is still recognized every year on the anniversary of his death.

For Canadians in Taiwan that are looking to take part in the festival, the Danshui Foreign Cemetery in Taipei is the perfect place to go.

Many Canadians are buried in the cemetery, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has been maintaining the grounds every Tomb Sweeping Day since 1984. Don’t miss your chance to take part in this unique and meaningful festival!

The Legacy of George Leslie Mackay

One of Taiwan’s best known and most loved expats was a Canadian man from Zorra Township in Oxford County, Canada, which is now known as the Province of Ontario.

His name was George Leslie Mackay and he was the first Presbyterian missionary to visit Formosa (Qing-era Taiwan). He arrived in Southern Taiwan on December 31, 1871 and began his life in Tamshui (Danshui) in northern Formosa in early 1872. He remained in Tamshui for 30 years until his death in 1901.

Mackay had the honor of being the first missionary to be dispatched by the Presbyterian Church of Canada. His mission was to bring the gospel to those who had not heard of Christ.

My commission is clear; I hold it from the King and Head of the church: …To get the gospel of the grace of God into the minds and hearts of the heathen, and when converted to build them up in their faith – that was my purpose in going to Formosa.” (Mackay p. 135)

Right from the very beginning, Mackay was known to avoid the small European community in the Tamshui area. The local European and Christian communities did not take well to his arrival. Moreover, the environment during that era was somewhat hostile for foreigners. Mackay was often labelled as a ‘foreign devil’ and a ‘black-bearded barbarian’, and the locals were reluctant to become involved with him.

Shortly after arriving he wrote:

“I am shut out from fellowship with Christian brethren, yet I am not lonely nor alone. I feel my weakness, my sinfulness, my unfaithfulness. I feel sad when I look around and see nothing but idolatry … I can as yet tell little about Jesus, and with stammering tongue. What can I do? Nothing; But, blessed thought, the Lord Jesus can do all things. .. Jehovah is my refuge and strength.” (Mackay p 18-19)

Since Mackay had no means to speak with his parish, he decided it was of the utmost importance that he learn the language. When he was not able to find a tutor, Mackay spend his time with local herds boys, and they agreed to teach him Taiwanese. He learned vernacular Taiwanese, the language that is spoken by the common people of Taiwan, and it was in this way that he was able to preach his basic gospel message.

Upon mastering Taiwanese, he helped to adapt the Taiwanese language to a written form by adapting the Latin alphabet to represent it phonetically. From then onwards, this style of writing was used by the Presbyterian missionaries and by the indigenous Presbyterian Church of Taiwan.

In addition to learning the local language, Mackay employed a number of different methods to find converts. He preached predominantly with aboriginals in mind, and his earliest converts were illiterate natives. He wasn’t a doctor of medicine, but he had sufficient skills in medicine to be able to provide aid to those who suffered from tropical diseases such as malaria. His most notable method at the time was an itinerant dentistry practice that he used to extract teeth, all while singing and preaching his message. He was eventually granted a honorary doctorate by Queen’s College in Kingston, Canada for his many achievements in Taiwan.

Danshui Foreigners' Cemetery

By 1888, he had 16 chapels and 500 converts among the native Taiwanese.

His marriage to a Taiwanese slave-woman named Tiu Chhang-miâ is also another example of Mackay’s success in going native to find converts. His marriage caused a considerable amount of controversy in Canada and in the foreign community in Formosa. However, his wife, known by the name of Minnie in the West, proved to be a formidable force in the mission. She helped to raise money in Oxford County for the construction of Oxford College in Tamshui, and she also acted as matron of the girls’ school. Their marriage was a happy one, and they had three children together.

In 1895, Dr. Mackay authored a missionary ethnography and memoir of his missionary experience in Taiwan in 1895. His book was called From Far Formosa: the island, its people and missions. It is is best known because of its defense of gender and racial equality, but it is also of importance to many historians and scholars because it lends an important anthropological understanding of Taiwan’s peoples and cultures during the nineteenth century in Taiwan.

Dr. Mackay is responsible for many incredible achievements in Taiwan, including the establishment of churches, schools, the first western medical hospital of its kind in Taiwan, and a dentistry practice for aboriginals. The churches that he founded eventually became part of the present Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.

Although Dr. Mackay achieved many incredible milestones during his lifetime in Taiwan, perhaps his most significant achievement was the building of the MacKay Memorial Hospital, which was established on December 26, 1912. It is one of the largest medical centers in Taiwan, and it is deeply rooted in the Presbyterian tradition.

The original Mackay Hospital was initially called Mackay Clinic, and it was built in Tamshui in 1880. The hospital was closed in 1901 at the time of Dr. Mackay’s death, but it reopened in 1905 and it was eventually relocated from Tamshui to Taipei in 1912. The hospital was renamed as the Mackay Memorial Hospital.

Mackay showed great love and pride for Taiwan and because of his achievements, he was eventually loved by Taiwanese and expats alike. Some families in Taiwan today, especially of lowland aboriginals of the Kavalan ancestry, can trace their surname to ‘偕’ (‘Kai’ or ‘Kay’), which not only demonstrates their love and respect for Dr. Mackay, but it also shows their family’s conversion to Christianity by Mackay.Mackay and wife grave

Dr. Mackay was one of those rare individuals who allowed himself to be transformed by the people he served, and his life is truly something to be celebrated. Taiwan would not be what it is today without George Leslie Mackay’s significant contributions.

He dedicated his life to bringing medical, dental, and spiritual guidance to the people of Taiwan, and was directly responsible for establishing more than 60 local churches, Oxford College (Aletheia University), the first girls’ school (Tamsui Girls’ School on the east side of Oxford College in 1884), and Tamsui Middle School, which is now known as Tamkang Senior High School.

Mackay might be unknown to most Western scholars of religion, but in Taiwan he is revered as Taiwan’s most famous ‘native son’. His story and memoir provide valuable insight into his life, background, and legacy, as well as the Taiwanese cultural background in which he worked. His lifetime achievements are a true demonstration to his love for Taiwan and its people.

How dear is Formosa to my heart! On that island the best of my years have been spent.
How dear is Formosa to my heart! A lifetime of joy is centered here.
I love to look up to its lofty peaks, down into its yawning chasms, and away out on its surging seas.
How willing I am to gaze upon these forever!
My heart’s ties to Taiwan cannot be severed! To that island I devote my life.
My heart’s ties to Taiwan cannot be severed! There I find my joy.
I should like to find a final resting place within sound of its surf and under the shade of its waving bamboo.
-“My Final Resting Place” by George Mackay

Help Us Maintain the Danshui Foreign Cemetery

We are looking for friends to join us in our monthly maintenance event at Danshui Foreign Cemetery in Taipei.

The Cemetery is located near TamKang High School in Danshui. 

Please consider volunteering some of your time to help the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taipei keep up with regular maintenance of the cemetery. Help us to preserve this beautiful historic site in Taipei.

Please join us for our next cemetery maintenance event. We host family-friendly events throughout the year. Visit our Events Page  on the CCCT website or subscribe to our events on Facebook for up-t0-date information.

The Danshui Foreign Cemetery was established in 1870, and it is a symbol of Canadian heritage in Taiwan.

The cemetery has been cared for by the Canadian Society (now the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taipei) since 1984. There are more than 70 graves in the cemetery, many of which belong to Canadians.

Members and friends of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce join together at the cemetery to clean up the tombstones and clear away the grass and debris that collects there throughout the year.

This is a great way to take in some of Taiwan’s traditional culture while becoming familiar with the history of Canadians in Taiwan.

There are plenty of historical sites in the area that can be visited if you plan on spending the day with us, such as the Customs Building, the “White House”, the first high school in Taiwan, the Red Fort, Danshui Old Street, and the Fisherman’s wharf, to name a few.

The TamKang High School grounds are open for parking. You just have to find your way up the hill in the narrow streets!

The History of Danshui Foreign CemeteryGeorge Lesley Mackay

The cemetery grounds were consecrated in the early 1870s after a foreign event passed away in the Danshui area. She was buried on the top of the hill behind the Harbor. Soon after her, a second child passed away and was buried in the cemetery.

After the arrival of Dr. MacKay, the first Presbyterian missionary to northern Formosa, all foreigners were buried in the same area under the management of the British consulate, which was located in the Red Fort.

Dr. Mackay served with the Canadian Presbyterian Mission, and he is one of the best known Westerners to have lived in Taiwan. His grave lies in the eastern corner of the Tamkang Middle School campus.

His son is buried next to him.

The Japanese authorities in the early 1900s classified the lot as a cemetery, and it was given for perpetuity to the Consulate for the burial of foreigners.

The British Consulate was managing and maintaining the cemetery until the recognition of the PRC government in 1971, when the management was transferred to the Americans.

Following the closure of the American Embassy in the late 70s, the cemetery files were transferred to AIT, and the cemetery was abandoned.

Eventually, the wall was taken down, stones were stolen, and the graves became covered in tall grass.

In the early 80s, two Presbyterians missionaries, Jack Geddes and Georgine Caldwell, tried to do something about the miserable state of the cemetery, where many Canadian expats are buried.

They began by cutting the grass and cleaning the graves, and it eventually passed it into the hands of the Canadian Society in Taiwan for safe keeping in 1984.

And so began our tradition of paying our respects to those who are buried there by keeping their final resting place clean and beautiful.

Among the dead who rest here are Canadians, British, Americans, Germans, French, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Chinese. Some were missionaries, others were sailors, harbor masters, merchants, engineers and many infants.


Each year, on Tomb Sweeping Day, we visit the cemetery to clean up the grounds and to pay our respects.

In 2014, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan decided to visit the cemetery more regularly as many of the tombstones and walls were deteriorating quickly.

Some of the tasks involved with our clean-up are: cutting the grass, fixing and repainting the stones, and removing garbage and other debris that accumulates there. In 2016, the CCCT, thanks to its generous benefactors, was able to rebuild the entrance gate to the cemetery. We have also started contribution drives among the foreign community to rebuild the surrounding walls.

To stop the city government from destroying the cemetery to widen roads, the CCCT lobbied to declare the Danshui Foreign Cemetery a historical site in Taipei.

This happened officially in 1998, and the cemetery has been in our safekeeping ever since. Since then, money and raffle sales from our small business events has been allocated to the cemetery to help with its annual upkeep.

As the cemetery is adjacent to Dr. George Mackay and his family graves inside the TamKang High School, the school has also shown interest in helping with maintenance.

The wall between the two cemeteries was lowered to its original height, merging the two sites, giving them the view you have today.


Directions to Danshui Foreign Cemetery

1. On Foot, Taxi

  • Get off at the MRT Danshui Station 淡水站
  • Take Zhongsan Road 中山路 and turn right on Xinsheng Street 新生街
  • Walk up Xinsheng Street 新生街 and turn left on Xinmin Street 新民街
  • Walk up Xinmin Street 新民街 and turn left on Zhenli Street Lane 3 真理街3巷
  • You’ll see the entrance of the cemetery on the right. Note: Total distance 1.5km, about 30 minutes’ walk. Taxi is about $120.

2. By Bus

  • There’s a bus stop across from MRT Danshui Station 淡水站
  • Take Red-26 and get off at Aletheia University 真理大學.(it’s the 4th stop)
  • Walk up the hill, pass Aletheia University真理大學 and you’ll see Tamkang High School 私立淡江高中.
  • The cemetery is inside the high school on the north east corner of the campus.

3. Drive

  • Take Zhongsan Road 中山路 to Wenhua Road 文化路.
  • Take Wenhua Road 文化路 to Zhenli Street 真理街 and turn right on Zhenli Street, Lane 3 真理街3巷 to Danshui TamKang High School 私立淡江高中.
  • Please park inside the high School. The cemetery is inside the high school on the north east corner of the campus. Note: About 15 minutes’ walk.

Featured Image Source: Guide Gecko

 

Mid-Autumn Festival in Taiwan

Right now, people all over the island of Taiwan are gearing up for a long weekend because of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is also known as the Moon Cake Festival. It is an extremely important holiday in Taiwan and in other parts of Asia. It began around 3,000 years ago in Mainland China and it takes place during the autumn season of the Chinese lunar calendar. Depending on the lunar calendar, the date changes to different days every year.

This year, the Moon Festival will be held on Sunday, September 27th, but people throughout Taiwan will enjoy a long weekend that runs from Saturday, September 26th to Monday, September 28th.

In 2016, the Mid-Autumn Festival will take place on September 15th.

During these days, the moon becomes big and bright and it shines on us with its utmost brilliance. Traditionally, this is a time for moon watching, worshiping ancestors, and spending time with loved ones.

Friends and families offer moon cakes to each other while praying and celebrating this day. This time of year is always considered to be the best time for barbecues, and you will see many families out on the streets barbecuing and looking at the moon.

Moon cakes are a very special part of Moon Festival celebrations. These cakes are made with egg yolks, and you can sometimes see the resemblance to the moon in the center of each moon cake. There are all sorts of moon cakes, from fried to steamed, and of every flavor imaginable! Red bean, lotus seed, green tea and cream cheese are just a few of the flavors that these delicious cakes are available in.

Right now, shops all over Taiwan are offering moon cakes. Even Haagen Daz offers mooncakes, although you would need to get them home fast since they are made out of ice cream!

Taipei Moon Festival

The Moon Cake Festival comes from an ancient story about the mythical Moon Goddess of Immorality. There are many stories, but most of them concerning the Mid-Autumn Festival are centered around a mythological archer named Houyi, who fell in love with a beautiful woman named Chang’e.

Legend has it that there was once a time when there were ten suns were in the sky. This phenomenon caused the Earth to burn, so the Chinese emperor ordered Houyi to shoot down nine of the ten suns.

He completed the mission flawlessly and was rewarded with the elixir of eternal life which, when drank, would immediately send him to the skies where he could reign as a god forever.

Through a sad twist of fate, Chang’e ended up consuming the elixir and it immediately drew her up into the skies where she became Goddess of the Moon.

Brave Houyi, of course, had no way to reach his wife and instead was resigned to watching her appear once a year on the surface of the moon. He began offering his prayers and sacrifices of food at his local temple in the hopes that she would rejoin him on Earth, and soon after, the local people began doing the same.

Another version of the Moon Cake Festival comes from the uprising of the Chinese against the Mongol rulers during the 14th century. Zhu Yuan Zhang, the Chinese rebel leader, was planning a rebellion. Zhu Yuan Zhang and his warriors knew that the Mongols didn’t eat moon cakes, and they concocted a scheme to send messages to one another that were hidden in the center of the mooncakes.

Inside each moon cake was a piece of paper with the message, “Uprise on the 15th day of the autumn season”. On that day, with the precise coordination in hand, the Chinese succeeded in overthrowing their oppressors.

Under Zhu Yuan Zhang, the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) was established. After that, the Moon Cake Festival was forevermore celebrated to commemorate this historical event. This is also why some people call the moon cake the symbol of Chinese reunion”.

Whatever your beliefs about how the Mid-Autumn Festival came about, one thing is certain – people around the world will be gazing at the moon and cherishing this special time of the year with their loved ones.

Moon Festival Taipei

About the Author

Bilguun NamsraiBilguun Namsrai is a Mongolian student who has been studying in Taipei, Taiwan since 2012. She completed her final year of undergraduate in capital city of Mongolia where she studied International Law.

Currently, she is a senior graduate journalism student at Chinese Culture University.

While studying, Bilguun has always had an interest in law and journalism field. Upon graduation, Bilguun is looking to start her career as a news reporter, anchor in broadcasting channels, or as a contract lawyer. She is a member of the Foreign Students Club in Taiwan.

REFERENCE LIST:

Wikipedia.org
www.yoursingapore.com
www.traditions.cultural-china.com
www.chinatownology.com

Celebrating Ghost Month in Taiwan

Throughout the month of August, residents of Taiwan are burning paper money and worshipping at their local temples and on the streets to feed the hungry ghosts of Taiwan.

This festival is called Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节), which is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. It traditionally falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated for a month, and it is usually held during the month of August.
The Ghost Festival: lion dance

During this celebration, Taiwanese people believe that the gates of hell are open and hungry ghosts go out from netherworld to look for food.

The original customs of this festival came from Mainland China, but it also celebrated by other Buddhist Asian countries. The customs and beliefs that are celebrated in Taiwan, however, differ from other countries slightly. For one, it is very common for people to burn joss papers, which is a type of currency for the dead. They believe that by offering joss paper, the dead will be able to purchase whatever they need in the afterlife, thus ensuring that they do not come back to the land of the living for their valuables.

During August, but also on other special dates throughout the year, it’s very common to see families and places of business and worship offering fresh fruits vegetables, snacks and drinks on tables in front of their homes and businesses. Elaborate meals are prepared with empty seats at the table for each deceased relative within family. These foods are meant to appease the ghosts and it is believed that food will sustain them during their long journey back to the underworld.

Along with food offerings, traditional concerts and shows are often held for the ghosts’ viewing pleasure. Traditionally, during these concerts, the first row of chairs is always left empty for the spirits. It is believed that if you sit in one of these seats, you are inviting a spirit to come and possess you. So please be aware of where you are sitting during these ceremonies!

On the 14th day, in Taiwan, candles and lotus flowers are placed in lanterns that float on water. The Taiwanese believe that ghosts can find way back to hell through these floating lanterns.

Taiwanese cities such as Keelung in the north, Toucheng on the East Coast, and Hengchun in the southern part of Taiwan, are all well known throughout Taiwan for their elaborate Ghost Festival celebrations.

The customs and rituals that are celebrated during Ghost Month are meant to keep the ghosts happy, but that is not the only reason why this festival is celebrated in Taiwan. Celebrating Ghost Month in Taiwan and ensuring that the ghosts of Taiwan are treated with respect ensures that you and your family will have great luck in the year to come.

About the Author

Bilguun NamsraiBilguun Namsrai is a Mongolian student who has been studying in Taipei, Taiwan since 2012. She completed her final year of undergraduate in capital city of Mongolia where she studied International Law. Currently, she is a senior graduate journalism student at Chinese Culture University.

While studying, Bilguun has always had an interest in law and journalism field. Upon graduation, Bilguun is looking to start her career as a news reporter, anchor in broadcasting channels, or as a contract lawyer. She is a member of the Foreign Students Club in Taiwan.

Resource list

www.oncekids.blogspot.com
www.taiwanese-secrets.com
http://city543.com/