The Dutch Era in Taiwan

Today we had a lecture on 基督教傳布與荷蘭殖民統治 (“Christian and Dutch Colonial Rule”) by an Assistant Professor at National Taipei University, Hsin Samuel CHA 查忻. He teaches in their History Department and did his PhD at NTU. He is also a member of PCT General Assembly’s Historical Committee and is a deacon at Songshan Presbyterian Church, one of the main downtown congregations.

He offered an introduction to the Dutch East India Company. He also talked about how this topic touches on sensitive areas (treatment of Aborigines, relationship to the Catholic church). Today the records from that period are still used, treading on topics such as historical group identity.

I had to duck out early for our weekly faculty meeting, but enjoyed the start of the lecture. I met him during lunch and we talked history a bit. This is an era I don’t know well. I’ve often said that Taiwan Christian History is very hard to tell—Dutch and Spanish encounters, Catholic re-engagement, the English and Canadian missions, Japanese era, and a post-war period that has seen denominations and missions carried over from China as well as some indigenous churches and movements.

I’m glad that the Dutch period is getting some attention. There’s another alumnus of my school, LIN Chang-Hwa林昌華, who pastored after doing his doctorate in the Netherlands and now teaches at our sister seminary, Yushan Theological Seminary. He also wrote on the Dutch era. I’ll have to track down the two dissertations sometime.

Belated End of UK Trip Description

The end of our UK trip went very well. We spent three days in Edinburgh. I’m really grateful for the chance to have connected to different institutions and friends along the way. Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh all have strong world Christianity/mission centers. It wasn’t the purpose of this trip, but I am also trying to figure out whether it is worth pushing my school to develop its (basically fictional) “Mission and Pluralistic Learning Center,” or where there may be some possibilities for collaboration in the future.

I also really admired the PhD programs at the several schools. The Cambridge center has a professional doctorate (similar to a DMin) that they offer in conjunction with a local university. Tom’s center at Oxford is the largest mission PhD-granting institution in the world (he said they had recently passed Fuller). In Edinburgh, Alex has a number of students working on very interesting topics, from contextual theology to qi and Christian theology. It was wonderful to get time with him, and also to meet a set of Taiwan students and friends who hopefully will be back in a few years at places like Tainan Seminary, China Evangelical Seminary, or Fu-Jen.


I was able to see the site of the Edinburgh 1910/2010 gatherings, visit John Knox’s house, and attend two churches, one Church of Scotland (Palmerston Place Presbyterian) and one the Evangelical Chinese Church in Edinburgh (which I found out later had had one of our current teachers, Simon Wei, as their pastor for a while). Edinburgh has had an outsize influence on the development of my academic field, and for Presbyterians it also looms large in our memory. This was my first Scotland trip, so I was grateful for the chance to go. I had a haggis baked potato and we spent a lot of time just walking around. We even had “pretty good” weather: a rainy day, and two clear days.

The travel itself was fairly smooth. We took an overnight sleeper train, The Caledonian Sleeper. It was late, but in the end because of the late arrival they have a policy of fully refunding the fare, which was a nice surprise. On the way back we arrived at Cambridge late. We spent one last day in London and finally visited the London Museum. A surprise was that Sam’s favorite museum turned out to be a small University of London zoology museum. He just adored it and spent hours looking at skeletons and pickled snakes and all other manner of objects.

I don’t have pictures up here yet. I may end up adding an album to google images. One of my challenges has been that I think I’ve maxed out my images for this site. I used to always feel that I was fairly naturally tech savvy but lately I think I’m bumping up against my limits 🙂

UK Days

We’ve now been in UK for 5 or 6 days, depending on how you count. I’m here for two weeks—it’s a mix of vacation a chance to check out some mission/world Christianity sites.

We arrived Tuesday evening after an epically long set of flights (“Dad, are we there yet? Dad, are we there yet?”). I’d prebooked the Heathrow express and a cheap hotel near Paddington Station. On Wednesday we took the tube to Westminster and walked around (Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abby, a bridge over the Thames, Lambeth Place). We went to the Imperial War Museum, which was excellent. We caught a bus back to Trafalgar Square where we stopped in the National Gallery and then went to Aladdin (I’d found tickets in the upper balcony and Sam just loved it).

The next day we walked through Hyde Park on the way to the science museums. We were nearly freezing and arrived there a half hour early. The nearby Mormon Museum was open so we went in and talked to the Mormon missionaries, warmed up in the chapel, and consented to watch a short video about a Japanese music group (Bless4). We did the Science, National History, and Victoria & Alberts, and then in the afternoon we made our way to Cambridge.

Cambridge has been very nice. The first evening we went with Yakhwee to Westminster College for a start-of-semester faculty party. I enjoyed meeting the people there are seeing the space. On Saturday we walked through a good number of the 31 Cambridge colleges, fed some birds, and took pictures. Yesterday was church at St. Columba’s, the United Reformed Church. It is the Week for Christian Unity, so I appreciated the sermon by the exchange pastor, a Methodist who talked about the challenges of Christian unity and what he called an “ecumenical winter” (this rings true for me). We were able to have lunch with John Whitehorne (I cowrote a paper with Shih Shuying that mentioned his work), his wife, and the wife of a former Westminster principal. St. Columba’s has a board of former missionaries, including many that are famous (Leslie Newbigin, George Hood, Elizabeth Brown). It was nice to see it in person.

Today I am taking Sam to several Cambridge Museums, first to the Sedgwick Museum, which has a lot of fossils and dinosaur bones, and then later to the Whipple, which is a science museum formed around a collection of instruments donated by Whipple in 1944.

Being around Yakhwee is fun also, since she knows all of our worlds and has known Sam since he was 15 months old. She’s tolerant of his travel quirkiness, shows us new things, and gives us the free insider tour where through chapels and other locations. I’m not the world’s best traveler, so I’m grateful to have such a good sanctuary. In the evening Yakhwee took us to evensong at St. John’s. The choir outnumbered the people who came to pray, but it was a very beautiful, traditional Anglican worship service.

Tomorrow is a meeting with the interim director for the World Christianity center here. The day after that is Oxford and then Friday we arrive in Edinburgh. Everyone’s cautioned us about Edinburgh weather, so we’re bundling up.


TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling)

In the last post I wrote a little about the TPRS Seminar I attended at National Taiwan Normal University. I found my notes and thought I would edit them here. This is a method I first learned about from Pamela Rose, who I met on social media via our French Canadian friend, Fred. The speaker was Terry Waltz.

The first part of the seminar used Hawaiian to show how students could begin learning a foreign language. For maybe 60 minutes Waltz took us through a pictographic text with some English words spaced in. In TPRS you can provide quick glossing, but you primarily rely on context, repetition, and frequent variation using a small core of vocab that grows over time. It’s a little hard to explain here but I feel like I accept the core approach, which gives students the same word many different ways. (For me, French was very hard until I had the French in Action program, and I’ve always learned Chinese best through conversation and discussion.) TPRS is more complicated than I’ve described here–it also often adds hand signals to reinforce words, and it uses a method called “circling” where you approach the same set of expressions over and over again using variations. The goal is to get the student as much “comprehensible input” as you can, repeating and varying stories over and over again. It is a great, somewhat less painful way to learn. I tried it a little on Eva this last week with sight words, and it really seemed to help here.


The seminar was a good experience for me personally, for several reasons:

  1. It’s easy to coast on language after you’ve gotten to a comfortable point
  2. It was cathartic to see Chinese teachers in class who didn’t want to be called on and struggled to come with answers
  3. With Sam we’re always looking for a different system.

This system seems to work. They had a class they tried where they did 22 hours of Chinese in 12 days and then asked students to express English sentences in Chinese, and they were able to communicate a number of grammatical concepts. Close to 90% could correctly use 兩, use 沒 to negate a word, use of 個 as a measure word, and so on. Language learning is hard, so being able to give learners an approach that is interesting, non-shame based, and cumulative is very valuable.

Traditional Methods

I learned Chinese using a traditional method, with a lot of variations. I began at the University of Michigan on a fellowship (since discontinued) called Program for Intercollaboration Area Studies (PICAS). We used the DeFrancis book. At Wooster I did a reader called Taiwan Today. Then in Beijing we used a mix of Foreign Language Institute and the main PRC readers from the period. Later I did some classical, but most of this involved writing characters over and overagain and a lot of practice filling in sentences with vocab words or making sentences. I always hated the “make a sentence” model and I like that TPRS does more yes/no, rephrase/mirror the answer type methods. In Taiwan I spent a while at Taipei Languages Institute, and while they didn’t have an exact method I felt like the teachers were basically sympathetic and patient. If I learn another language (or return to Taiwanese) I’d probably try more TPRS. For me, I’m fairly happy with my current Chinese level: I can type emails and read a range of materials I use professionally, I can communicate easily for street life, and can teach in my field. I can’t read a newspaper and there are whole categories of vocabulary I’ve never learned, but my problem with communicating isn’t a lack of memorized word or needing to write long letters by hand.

TPSR for Kids

One of the challenges with language learning (I believe) is that native speakers learn differently from non-natives. Sam kind of sits between these two categories and he faces a different set of issues than I do. I would say that the issues are:

  1. Culturally he is often coded as a foreigner and either let out of work or ignored. He came out of kindergarten with only a loose grasp of 注音 alphabet, whereas most of his classmates could read using it. I remember near the end of kindergarten telling his teachers that he would continue studying in Chinese and they looked surprised. I think people here often assume that Chinese is just something he’s trying out. His teacher in first and second grade kept him close to grade level but his current teacher mostly ignores him.
  2. At the same time, as parents we’re also not as invested in the traditional learning system. Learning to write Chinese by hand takes a ridiculous amount of time. I would guess Sam’s classmates are doing several hours of homework a day after an 8 hour school day. We know a 4th grader who doesn’t end after school cram school until 8 pm. We’re not really willing to do that to him. His recognition is “pretty good” when I’ve looked at simple words with him and my guess is his comprehension could be close to classmates’ if we had the time/teachers to keep him on track.
  3. CSL in Sam’s school is kind of a Chinese lite curriculum, by which I mean that they use the exact same books as the regular class but go through them very slowly and don’t give quizzes or tests. CSL has been good for Sam socially in that it’s let him know other non-Taiwanese students and we really like the teacher (who has been a caretaker/advocate for him). At the same time, with limited funds it makes more sense to spend them on tutoring or something where he could work exactly at his skill level. If we “mainstream” him his main teacher would also have to engage him more.

An interesting take away from the TPRS seminar was how foreigners learn and use Chinese. Waltz said that she surveyed MRT riders in Taiwan on when they handwrite Chinese and they use it three ways: to write down phone message, to make shopping lists, and to send personal cards. Her takeaway was that in today’s world it is fine to focus on recognition of characters and being able to compose on computer. (The main exception here is testing: most Taiwanese testing still uses paper and pencil.) For Sam, I think I’m going to see if his school would let him take a tablet computer in and type during class, do flash cards, read, and do other exercises. I’ve started him on pinyin (the main foreigner romanization system) and he seems to get it. I’m not sure if he’s sufficiently self-motivated to so much learning on his own, but he has an amazing knack to work on something if he really wants to learn it (he’s now working on the names of Pokemon in Chinese–閃電鳥,噴火龍,等).

This isn’t a magic bullet, but our goal has always been to try to keep kids in Chinese for as long as possible. In some ways, language is a waiting game–how can you steep yourself in the language long enough to really learn and use? This seems like a promising approach.

Living in Interesting Times: Church and Politics in Taiwan

This is a turbulent period in Taiwanese political life. A few weeks ago I attended a prayer breakfast where Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen spoke. In the interim there have been large protests over multi-party proposals to allow for marriage equality in Taiwan. And then Trump took Tsai’s phone call. Suddenly many voices are trying to puzzle out the implications of this first open discussion between Taiwan’s president and the US president elect since the late 1970s.

On gay marriage, initially I was not clued into the debate, but I started seeing posts by students and alumni on facebook. I began reading about recent legislative discussions about marriage equality, which seems to have the votes to pass. A couple of weeks ago we had a teachers meeting where everyone looked depressed and there was a lot nervous chatter. My seminary is host to some of the loudest pro- and anti-GLBTQ voices in Taiwanese church life. This time around, our former dean Cheng Yang-en and a retired Tainan Seminary professor, Chen Nan-chou, have both signed on to pro-marriage equality work. A teacher of ours, Tseng Tsong-sheng, was rejected by a church in the south as a guest preacher because of pro-GLBTQ views. One of the most widely shared pro-GLBTQ posts was by a graduate of our seminary, Chen Si-hao. Joseph Chang, one of just two openly gay pastors I know of, is also a graduate of our seminary and pastors a GLBTQ-friendly charismatic church downtown. On the other hand, our principal is one of the main voices against the acceptance of GLBTQ rights in the church and large numbers of students were part of protests against the marriage equality legislation.I’m also on a committee with a Presbyterian elder who works in human rights law but in this case is against marriage equality, and has taken a lock of flack from other civil rights activists. PCT formally issued a letter against marriage equality in the recent past, but it’s still a debated topic and some in the leadership favor marriage equality and GLBTQ ordination. In general debate is civil, but one of the things that fascinates me (and this was true of the Sunflower Movement language) is how much language gets borrowed from abroad. This time I’ve seen posts about an Australian young adult with two moms who feels she should have known her father, and this is a story that’s been shared in Chinese, and there are also discussions comparing GLBTQ laws to pedophilia or attributing Taiwan’s AIDS population to GLBTQ issues. A lot of this reminds me of US discussions from the late 1990s.

It’s an interesting time in which to live. As the resident American I keep a pretty low profile and don’t presume I’ll convince anyone of my views. At the same time, I do think there’s a strong cultural component, and it always amazes me how Christians get so tracked on this one issue but mostly ignore other major changes in the family (delayed marriage, higher rates of nonmarriage, use of birth control, gender imbalance in births, low birth rate, rising divorce rate, etc.). When I first came to Taiwan in 2005 I knew an elder in his late 70s whose father had had multiple wives in Taiwan and China and he had dozens of half-siblings. If I had lived through eighty years in Taiwan I would probably have some form of social whiplash. Still, Christians here are really tracked on GLBTQ issues (even abortion is not really an issue here, although it’s likely much more common than in the US).

More recently, President Tsai called Trump and he took the call. It’s still unclear if this is about his business interests, because of activism by Heritage foundation, represents a serious policy change, or just shows lack of awareness. For Taiwanese, it’s probably good, unless it leads to major conflict down the road or a big fight with China (which can still exert a lot of control over Taiwanese business and travel).

I’m not an expert on any of this, but as I round out 2016 it’s been just a fascinating year to be in Taiwan.

Cub Scouts

In first grade I looked into cub scouts for Sam and we found they met out of the American School in Tianmu. The initial group was just four kids, but by last year it had grown to about 15 and this year we have 20 in the “bears.” I’m going to be a den leader this year–the first time I’ve felt like I had the slack in my schedule to pull it off. I am enjoying it.

Two weekends ago we went to the local scout camp on Yangmingshan, a mountain outside Taipei (the site was only about fifteen minutes north of my seminary). I brought the two boys, which was a mixed experience. Sam did fairly well, but Eli tends to be jealous of his big brother’s friends and was also mad he couldn’t do things like use a knife, play with a hammer, etc. Sam also apparently ate a large quantity of junk food and threw up at midnight, which involved taking both kids to the bathroom in the dark to clean up (good news: we got to see this type of snake, which I’d never seen before). We bused down the mountain the next day.

I like scouts for a lot of reasons: (1) it fills in the civics/government gap that Sam might get in US school (2) you can do it anywhere (Sam did it in Ohio), and (3) it will be a whole family event soon (Eva’s already joined Daisies, Eli can join cub scouts next year).


The picture gives no indication of how exhausting the trip was

Su Ching

This week most of the family has been incapacitated with a stomach flu. I’m recovering from it but am still not 100%. I did get the chance Wednesday to talk to a scholar, Su Ching, whose work I’ve admired for a while. At Princeton, the EAS library director, Martin Heijdra, told me about Su Ching’s dissertation and I was able to check it out there. (Heidjra is a superlibrarian, and saved me hundreds of hours by identifying some microfilm collections I could use on site.)

Su had written on the LMS missionary printing press while at London University, and then since then he’s gone on to write work on Morrison, missionary printing presses, and related subjects. He kindly treated me to lunch, which I barely ate because the flu was beginning. Still, it was a really wonderful time. It’s a fairly small world that writes on early 19th century China missions, and it was helpful to talk with someone writing from almost all Chinese sources.

He’d just come back from CUHK where he’d lectured on records related to Morrison and the East India Company (despite a lot of work in this field, I did not know that such works existed or were available for research). He also pointed out more microfilm collections available at the National Central Library here (which could again save me a lot of time in writing in this field).

I hope I get the chance to meet him again. I was sweating profusely and probably looked vaguely ill–hopefully I didn’t pass on whatever I had.

Resettling (back in Taipei)

From this blog it isn’t always clear where we are or what we’re doing. We’ve just come off of six months of “home assignment” or “interpretation assignment” in Cincinnati (February-August 2016). It was a fairly intense period. Initially we were waiting to find out if we’d be renewed by PCUSA; in May I journeyed back to Taipei to swap apartments and pay taxes and check in with schools; we stayed with family, including a longer period all together in the same house than we’d anticipated. It all came off well and we’re back now on a three year contract, but it’s also a bit more than I expected. The challenge of the cross-cultural life, at least for me, is this:

(1) A large amount of planning and contingency planning is necessary to exist between worlds, (2) but it also helps to be very flexible and able to go with the flow.

Planning. Flexibility. These two don’t always go together. Living our life requires a mix of Type A and Type B behavior. We went home not sure which of three school districts Sam would be in, what the twins would do for child care, or how many churches we’d be able to visit. In the end it all worked out. February was slower as we adjusted, so I visited several presbyteries in Ohio. June and July were kind of a rush. Sam did fine in US schools, which was reassuring to us.

Often we will have one area squared away (say Taiwan work), and then find another area that needs more time (US work). Sometimes it’s my seminary that needs more attention; other times we might have several weeks of training/retreating/coaching for PCUSA.

These six months were good. The kids really grew up a lot (literally: Sam grew two inches). We visited ~20 churches plus several presbyteries. We had some vacation, usually paired with either unpacking or packing. Emily did a conference paper and I started some small writing projects. I finished a small biographical project, and started a chapter for a volume on Liang Fa and some biographical entries for an encyclopedia of the global south. We did some training in Louisville, visited harder to reach congregations in the midwest and south, and in general kept things going.

Now that we’re back we’re finding a new schedule. The twins are back at their school. Eli has the most saintly teacher impossible, a woman who is emotionally attuned to him and patient. Because of the Sunday afternoon classes in Cincinnati and the Mandarin videos we showed them they all have at least comprehension in Mandarin and seem to be starting to speak more and more. My guess is they’ll be fluent again by the end of the year. We bought cable for the first time, so as I write this Sam and Eva are up watching National Geographic in Chinese. Sam’s been doing some ping-pong this week. The local park has a rink where the kids are trying roller blades and a scooter. Emily bought a washer, microwave, and coffee maker yesterday. All the pieces are coming back together. Planning. Flexibility. It is all coming along.


In Taiwan, one of the things that surprised me is how important alumni networks are. There are words in Chinese for “older classmate” (includes any alumni who attended earlier than you) and “younger classmate” and this is a pretty major way of relating. At my Seminary, the theological faculty are overwhelmingly alumni of my seminary (the exceptions: three non-Presbyterians who’d gone to the school in the US for MDiv and one who did his masters at the southern seminary), including all the tenured theological faculty members.

This week, after having asked in both May and June if my school would need anything for accreditation materials they offered that, hey, it would be nice if they could have a copy of the signatures sheet on my dissertation (does not exactly exist) and a copy of the diploma. So, I called PTS and the PhD Studies Office tracked down the signed sheet from my defense and was just all around friendly and helpful. They also included me on a recent website page celebrating the 75th anniversary of the degree program. Thanks PTS!

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Two of everything…

When we saw the first ultrasound in Mackay Hospital, there was some initial confusion over what we were seeing. “Two eyes…” said the nurse, and I thought “haha, that’s good, I have two eyes, you have two eyes.” But what she meant was that there were two sets of eyes–we were having twins.

As something of a planning fanatic, my thoughts immediately turned to twin beds and twin strollers, twin car seats, a wider vehicle, double tuition… That was the idea. Emily and I made our way to the Japanese fast food near the hospital and just kind of stared at each other as we struggled to adjust to the changes headed in our direction.

The think I love/hate about living abroad is that we really do get two of everything. Double sets of friends, of churches, of libraries and parks and play grounds. We get literacy camp and farm animals in Ohio and Taiwanese camp and music camp in Taiwan.

I’m back for two weeks doing logistics now, and it’s all pretty formidable. Monday I went to a committee meeting, Tuesday I worked on some things for Emily, Wednesday was meeting with the president and dean of my seminary, Thursday was taxes and figuring out visa matters, and today we signed on the apartment that looked at over the weekend. It’s a lot of logistics in a short amount of time. Monday is moving. I fly home Friday. Things are still pretty much in chaos here–there’s so much happening in such a short period. Double of everything. When I get home it’s congregational visits, camps planning for the kids, family weddings, and on and on. Everything doubled.

There is a lot of bliss along the way. Double the preschool teachers (who I saw today). Double the hobbies, the communities, the opportunities. Double the Everything. Double the excitement ahead…