Sanzhi 三芝 Matzu Temple Centenary Celebrations, 1917-2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There’s lamps carved out of water melons….

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

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Goats (spot the lit cigarettes)….

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And geese…

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

And these of this afternoon…

And now this evening, as I passed by……

Really quite something eh?!

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Pop idols @ Taiwan-Style!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St. John’s University Coming of Age Ceremony (成年禮) 2017!

Every year in mid-November, St. John’s University holds a Coming of Age Ceremony (成年禮) for all of our first-year university students ~ plus SJU President Ay, faculty, alumni, tutors and staff.  The event is organized by the St. John’s University Chaplaincy, and takes weeks of preparation for our chaplaincy staff and the student fellowship team ~ but it’s all worth it, and every year we thank God for another successful event!  It’s also got high praise from the Ministry of Education too.

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And it all happened yesterday afternoon!

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The students (and tutors) this year all had special red SJU ties, emblazoned with SJU logos and words, and with matching white shirts (or black for some), everyone looked very smart.  Took quite some effort to get those ties on the right way, but everyone helped out their friends and in the end, they all looked great!  Many parents came too, and were warmly thanked and presented with gifts of potted plants, as were the class tutors.  We had speeches and music, a wine toast, formal bows, prayers and a blessing from Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang.  All this to mark the students’ arrival in the big wide world of adulthood, a world of maturity and responsibility.  Ah yes, a great occasion!

But, this year there were only 350 or so students at the Coming of Age Ceremony.  Looking back on these blog posts marking the same event over the years – they go back to 2012, when there were 1,500 students at the ceremony, and the hall was packed out.  In those 5 years, student enrollment has gone down by 200-300 each year – last year there were about 800 at the ceremony.  It is seriously worrying.  And it’s also a major problem affecting all of Taiwan.  A drastic fall in the birth rate (and hardly any immigration) is impacting all schools and colleges, from primary schools upwards. At university level, there are way too many universities and nowhere near enough students to go round, so the only way to keep the numbers up is to reduce standards – and for small private universities like ours, the problem is particularly bad.  Yes, these days we have lots of foreign students and lots of new and innovative programme to attract students (and keep them), but still, they are not enough to keep up with the falling numbers of Taiwan students.  Next year is a ‘dragon year’ of students coming through (there’s a high birth rate every dragon year!) plus we have the junior college students who, next year, for the first time, will be eligible to join in the Coming of Age Ceremony.  So we look forward to an upward rise in 2018!

So please keep us in your prayers and thoughts as St. John’s University works hard to resolve this problem ~ and face the challenges ahead!

PS The university’s own article (in Chinese) about yesterday’s event is here

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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!

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Baptism Day @ Advent Church!

Baby Jacob, Chinese name: 牧霖 Mu-Lin, was baptized today at Advent Church, on his first outing to the church since his birth 2 months ago ~ and he slept the whole time he was with us!

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His father and mother are so delightful ~ praying for this lovely family and the grandparents who were there too ~ they speak Chinese, Taiwanese, English and Tagalog between them, so hopefully baby Jacob will grow up to be multi-lingual!

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Sanzhi 三芝 Matzu Temple Centenary Celebrations ~ Coming Up Soon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing, eh?!

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Welcoming old friends from afar…. from St. Paul’s RC Church, Daya Rd, Taichung!

Welcoming Rev. Toon Maes 馬世光神父 CICM and church members from St. Paul’s RC Church, Daya Rd, Taichung 台中市大雅路聖保祿天主堂 to visit Advent Church today!

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CICM, the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scheut Mission) was started in Belgium just over 150 years ago, and has quite a group of priests in Taiwan from Belgium, Congo, Cameroon, Philippines and other countries.  Fr. Toon Maes is with CICM from Belgium…. and he is AMAZING – he just has so much energy!

Fr. Maes was born in 1932, came to Taiwan with CICM in 1959 and has been here ever since!   He used to be based at Jinshan Church and responsible for our local Sanzhi RC Church, plus Laomei Village, but a few years ago he took on a new challenge and returned to Taichung, where he’d been some years before.  It is through his vision and encouragement that until now, we are still doing outreach in Laomei.  And today he brought all his church members to visit us in Advent Church.  We had such a great time together.  Wonderful!

Long may our ecumenical links bring forth blessings to all!

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