Sunday, July 1, 2018

June 24

Sunday! Even though Jilong is a pretty big city, there is only one ward here. They are part of one of the Taipei stakes and so the stake center is about a 30 minute train ride away. The ward here meets on the 5th and 6th floors of a larger building. I never served in this area, but from what I remember, 20 years ago the church was about the same size here. Even though they don’t have their own building and the ward is pretty small, they seemed pretty amazing. They were also so kind to us and gave us non-stop attention right from the moment we walked through the front door. The children had a translator for primary again and they loved going. Elders Quorum met right next to the primary and I could hear tons of laughing and singing from the children throughout the entire time. Ethan even got a present because they were celebrating everyone who had a birthday in May or June. The topic of Elders Quorum was a discussion on ministering. It is funny that in all three wards we have visited here we have had lessons and discussions on ministering during Elders Quorum. We spent the rest of the afternoon back in the apartment listening to church music, reading scriptures, writing in journals, and anything else we could think of to keep the kids at least semi-reverent (playing with their newly bought nun-chucks and ninjago lego sets).

Once you get off the elevators, the church is right there on the 5th and 6th floors.

Pointing to the sign for the church.

June 23

When we first planned out our trip to Taiwan, we planned Jilong to be our hub for day trips all along the north east coast of the island. Today, our day trip was to a city called Sandiaoling, a hike with three waterfalls by that city, and then to the neighboring town that has been converted into a cat village. We caught the train early in the morning. Jilong is at the end of one line, so whenever we go anywhere we have to catch one train for two stops and then switch trains to get to the places we would like to go. The train stop for Sandiaoling was just a tiny little station. You have to get off on one side and then the station manager walks everyone across the tracks once the train has left the station. 

The hike was beautiful. It started off with a stroll right next to the tracks by the village. It was a really small village with maybe just 20 houses or so. Then, after turning down one of the village streets, the trail started with a bunch of stairs. They were pretty cool jungle stairs with some falling down and some moss covered and the children said it reminded them of the temple run game that they got to play on the plane ride and the long train rides. About 1 mile in we came to the first waterfall. It was pretty, but we could only see it from a distance. 

Then another ½ a mile and we got to the second one. By this point the trail had become a little more crowded. Well, crowded for the things we have done in Taiwan – maybe about 15 or so other people at the falls. On the way to this second one we got to cross a few small rope brides and see a snake and lots of butterflies. The second one had a spot about halfway up where you could climb up and walk behind the waterfall. It involved a little bit of a climb and some steep drop-offs, so I took the kids in smaller groups to check it out. 

It was about another half a mile to the third waterfall. This was definitely the scariest part of the trail. I wanted to get a few pictures of it, but all of my hands were full making sure no small ones fell off the cliff. There was a steep set of metal stairs that were built so people could climb up and then a section where there were notches carved in the rock with a knotted rope to hold on to and pull yourself up. These rocks were a little wet and slippery and had a very steep drop on one side. I don’t think it would be too bad for an adult or even someone over 8, but trying to help Agnes and Elliott navigate it was pretty intense. We made it though and the third waterfall was worth the effort. It was similar to the second, but we got to go in the water a little closer to the base of it. We ate some snacks there and by the time we were ready to go we were all soaked with the spray from the falls. We probably would have stayed at this waterfall a little longer, but there was a group of about 30 foreign college students who showed up and it got kind of crowded. 

The hike back went pretty quick. By the time we got back to the train station Rebecca and I were surprised at how tired we both were. The hike was only about 2 miles long each way and we do hikes longer than that all the time back in Idaho. I think it must have just been the combination of the incline with the extra humidity that we experienced in the jungle. 

Our next stop was the cat village. So the real name for the cat village is actually Houtong (translated Monkey Cave). It used to be an old mining town and there was a cave nearby that was inhabited by lots of monkeys at that time. Early on, it was a pretty rich town, but as the mines started to close in the 90s, the town started to go into disrepair. Then, about 10 years ago, some of the remaining people in the town (only a couple hundred still live there) started to take in abandoned cats. Word got out and many people started bringing stray cats there. They took advantage of this and really built up the city around the cat theme. There were hundreds of cat statues all throughout the town. I think they have a couple hundred cats that live there now, and that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is probably more cats than people and they all just roam around town sleeping and eating wherever they would like. When we got there we first went to one of the old mines. We did a little train ride that went part way into a mine and we got to do different mining activities. It was a little artificial and expensive, but the children really loved doing this. Half way through this ride it started to pour down rain. Luckily we brought our rain coats with us. After that we probably spent an hour walking around the streets of this little town looking at and petting the cats. There were lots of other people there doing the same, but it was still fun. We were all wet and tired for the train ride back to our apartment.

On the train starting out the day - Julia particularly liked the idea of going to a cat village.

At the small train station.

Starting off the path - first along the railroad tracks for a little bit.

Now up the jungle stairs.

The first waterfall.

The second waterfall.

Behind it. I wish I knew how to do the lighting right for this kind of picture.

The third waterfall.

At the train station for the cat village.

Our first cat encounter.

You can see it is a pretty small town. Just 20 or so house on the hillside.

Getting ready to go into the mine.

Christian trying out a jack hammer.

Friday, June 29, 2018

June 22

We were all really excited for our first day in Jilong. Out our window we can see some huge statues up on one of the hillsides, and our plan was to go check them out. First though we made our way around a few morning markets with lots of fruit, vegetables, and fish. We had a fun time looking at the different foods that they were selling, and all of the vendors had a fun time looking at us as we walked through. 

We also stopped by a pretty cool temple that is right in the center of the Jilong night market. This temple had some pretty cool paintings on the walls and we took turns making up stories about each one. The friendly people there gave us some savory crackers to munch on as we walked around. 

Next was a Buddhist temple. This one had several huge statues of Buddha and other gods in it. It seemed like this one was perhaps the headquarters for a certain sect of Buddhism and there were several workers who wanted to help us while we were there. They ended up giving us a large box of these small crackers with different flavors of frosting on the inside and two packages of plum vinegar drink. The crackers were a huge hit, but the plum drink was pretty awful. I found that it was mainly the aftertaste, so I chugged it all down as quick as possible and then had one bad taste in my mouth at the end rather than a bad taste after every sip. We ended up giving the second package to a homeless guy on the street. 

After the Buddhist temple we started our trek to Zhongzheng Park. I remembered this park from when my parents came. What I remembered were the huge statues, visiting it at night, and lots of stairs. Well the stairs were just as huge this time visiting. We did have to carry our stroller with us going up them though. The first things we saw were three huge pagadoas called Zhupu altar. I am not sure if these pagodas have any religious purpose or if they are more of a cultural thing. In the middle one at the bottom they had a museum that talked all about the ghost festival, which is the major celebration in Jilong. We learned that the Jilong ghost festival is the largest in Taiwan and the festival started as a way to bring the people from the city together. In the 1600s when people started coming to Jilong from China, there were fractions in the people based on what city they were immigrating from. There ended up being a larger violent clash between them with many deaths. So the city officials decided that to fix this all of the people who died in the clash would be buried together instead of with their own separate clans. Also, the people would be grouped by surnames for different governmental activities rather than by the location where they came from. The surname groups would then compete with each other through different folklore performances during the ghost festival. That way individuals from the different clans would now be working together in order to win these friendly competitions. 

Right as we finished exploring the pagodas it started to rain. It was just a sprinkle at first, but then it started to downpour. We found a small Chinese gazebo to rest under to see if we could wait it out. It kept going for a while though, so we made our way to the rest of the statues in the park. One of the biggest was a goddess that we could go inside. We walked up five flights of stairs in her and there were small windows we could look out at each level. When we got back outside we saw that the windows only went about 2/3 of the way up, which means the statue was about 8 stories tall. It had a couple giant lion statues standing guard by it. We didn’t stay too long though because the rain was coming down pretty heavily. 

So, we made our way in the rain to a museum that had focused on the history of Jilong. It was a pretty small museum with very little English. So although it was nice to get out of the rain, there wasn’t much in it to occupy us for long. 

The rest of the day we spent walking through the shopping area of town a bit and then drying out at our apartment. After about an hour at our apartment the rain had stopped, and so we went out to the Jilong night market. The Jilong night market is supposed to be one of the best in Taiwan, with a focus on fresh fish. It was fun to walk around and it had many interesting vendors. We did see some live giant frogs in one dish. They were so huge and there were 10 or so packed into one small tank, so we thought that they were fake. But after staring at them more we saw that they were real. I want to try frog again on this trip, so I asked for a menu, but the frog dish seemed pretty expensive. Maybe another day at another shop though. Rebecca ended up getting a crab soup and I got more tian bu la and shaved ice. The kids ate some of our dishes as well as some onion pancakes and then potstickers back at the apartment.

This morning market was held under the freeway. This market has a lot of fruits and vegetable stands, but also a ton of fresh fish and meat.

The first temple that we visited today. The night market is surrounding the temple, so we went back to it again at the end of the day.

These paintings on the temple walls were amazing.

I really love the roofs of these temples.

It is hard to see, but the mountain side has huge letters spelling out Keelung on it, kind of like the Hollywood sign.

Eating some yummy nectarines at the start of the day.

Some of the giant statues at the Buddhist temple.

The stairs!

At the pagodas.

A small section of the city right up next to the harbor.

Trying to wait out the rain.

At the zhongzheng park.

Inside the large statue.

Inside the museum.

At the night market.