. . . through every land . . . Taiwan

Revisiting a Pilgrimage Site and friends
I-to and Hui-chin Loh

Taiwan was the first stop on my first trip to Asia in 1996. I went for an intensive study of Asian hymnody with Dr. I-to Loh, then President of Tainan Theological College and Seminary (TTCS). Dr. Loh was very generous with his time, especially since he was preparing for his first graduation ceremony as president and hosting a reunion of missionaries who had taught at the seminary some decades before, having been expelled by the Chinese National Party (KMT) who were in charge. It was an exciting time as Taiwan was preparing for its first democratic election in the 20th century. [If you get really interested in this, you can read Gather Into One: Praying and Singing Globally, pp. 74-79, available at http://www.amazon.com/Gather-Into-One-Institute-Liturgical/dp/0802809839.] As I was arriving in Taiwan nearly 20 years later on January 22, 2016, Taiwan voters had just elected their first woman president, called by one publication, “the most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world”! The story is full of intrigue, but suffice it to say, this was a truly historic moment for the only true democracy in the Chinese-speaking world! [See http://time.com/4183442/china-taiwan-tsai-ing-wen-first-female-president/?xid=time_socialflow_facebook]

Tainan – a hymnological gathering place

I had met Dr. Loh’s wife Hui-chin in 1989 at Princeton Seminary at a set of lectures I was giving at the summer Princeton Pastor’s School. I-to and I met in person after correspondence in 1995 when he was honored as a Fellow of the Hymn Society (FHS) in the United States and Canada. This led to my 1996 pilgrimage the following summer. [I told you that pilgrimages are long in the making and seem to never end!]

On one previous occasion, my venture overlapped with longtime friend and fellow hymnologist, Dr. Carlton (Sam) Young, FHS. I recall that on another visit, I just missed him, but was staying in the same guesthouse where he had lived days earlier. It was a very hot summer and I was delighted to find a note from Sam saying, “Mike, the beer is in the frig.” There was a small keg of Kirin Beer waiting for me – a true thoughtful gift from one hymnologist to another. Then there was the extensive ministry at TTCS by Dr. Mary Oyer, FHS, who left a profound impact on the Master of Church Music students, one that continues to this day. Mary did not leave any beer for me, however.

This was my fifth (or sixth?) journey on my extended Taiwanese pilgrimage, having been privileged to teach courses and lead workshops at TTCS, developing relationships with several former students over the years, church musicians as well as renewing my friendship with I-to Loh and Hui-chin. Dr. Loh taught in Manila at the Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music (AILM) from 1982-1994, and returned to his alma mater in Tainan to establish the church music program and, as it turned out, to become president. Between his former students at AILM and at TTCS, I have had the pleasure of working with five of them in master’s program at Perkins School of Theology. You will be hearing about three of them in the following weeks.

Now in “retirement,” Dr. Loh continues to work on various projects including the Hymnal Companion to Sound the Bamboo (2011), a monumental accomplishment that amplified the unique hymnal Sound the Bamboo (2000). I was privileged to write the Foreword for the Companion, drawing heavily on the 2006 Drew University doctoral dissertation by Dr. Lim Swee Hong, M.S.M. ’96, the first of Dr. Loh’s graduates that I had as a student. Then I-to served as editor Sèng-si (2009), the hymnal of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, the last edition of which was published in 1964 with I-to’s father as the editor. Now, approaching the age of 80, he and Hui-chin are preparing a Companion for this new hymnal as well.

As you can tell, returning to Taiwan is very much like coming home for me. This time I-to had organized a five-day intensive seminar on the topic of theology and hymns. In addition to 30 hours of lecture, I also worked with students for preparation for a closing afternoon daily prayer service – bringing the total to about 35 plus hours in five days. When he was planning for the event, he wasn’t sure of the turnout as it was just a week before the Lunar New Year and TTCS would not be in session. Imagine my delight (mixed with a bit of anxiety) when I found 80 students attending the event! – seminary students, church musicians, pastors – including a group who came down from Taipei for the week and three from Hong Kong! I don’t know how I-to did it, but it was one of the richest teaching experiences of my career! (Sorry – too many exclamation points, but I can’t help it.)

The Pedagogy of Teaching Cross Culturally

Teaching in a variety of cultural contexts over the last thirty years has made me acutely aware of the many pedagogical issues. I must confess, however, that teaching Asian students is a delight. There is something about the Asian respect for professors that, when combined with greying hair, seems to really afford one considerable respect. The older I get, the more fun the teaching is. I’m not complaining about my Dallas students at all, but one seems to have a lot more authority out of the box in Asian settings.

Translators are important partners. I was blessed with three wonderful translators throughout the week and a number of most helpful impromptu “assistants” who jumped in with Chinese words for technical terms that I used. I had a village of translators – really partners in my lectures. Things have changed from 20 years ago, however. I noticed that about 40% of the people were laughing at my jokes in English before the translator had a chance to even provide the Taiwanese. This was important for at least two reasons: 1) I depend upon having people in my classes who respond to my humor! (I have to admit that many in Tainan picked up on the jokes quicker than in Texas.) 2) I realized that the level of English language comprehension was considerably higher than in my earlier pilgrimages. This gave me permission to be a bit more natural and use a few more idioms than I might. (A parenthetical note: I have enjoyed having Hui-chin Loh translate for me on several occasions over the years. On this trip she would laugh at my jokes several times before translating, causing her to forget the initial idea. But that was OK. Making her laugh was one of my delights.)

Another thing I learned (again) from this experience was that cultural context of the students and the setting matters. I was using a lot of material that I have either written about or discussed in a number of forums, especially in the USA – stuff I know well. I was surprised by the new insights I gained from thinking about these familiar topics from the standpoint of church musicians and pastors in Taiwan. Fresh perspectives literally popped out of the text that I hadn’t see before. Having I-to on the front row, taking copious notes, as a resource on the fine points of Chinese translation really made a big difference. Translations are an art.

The other thing about teaching in Taiwan is that very few, if any, students will volunteer a question or comment if a general plea is made. I knew this from past experience. Historically, the teacher-centered, lecture method is dominant. Students almost feel that it is rude to interrupt at teacher with a question. A former student in an intensive six-week course I taught in 2004 said, “Professor, what if we asked you a question and you didn’t know the answer? You would lose face.” With 80 persons, I was not going to get around this problem. However, I was able to work with about 30 people in worship over the week in small groups and it was great to demonstrate a more “democratic” approach to worship leadership this way. [For a one-minute video summary of the week, 1 minute video of Tainan Workshop 2016.]

Incredible Hospitality

The final point is the incredible hospitality. Collyn and I had dinner each evening with different groups of those attending which provided us the opportunity to hear their stories. In addition, word had filtered to Tainan via a Master of Church Music alumna from TTCS and current student at Perkins, Huang Ching-yu (Wawa) that I have a fondness for cappuccinos. Logistics coordinator Nicole Yen provided me with a cappuccino for each morning and each afternoon break. I intend to encourage this behavior back at Perkins when I return!

I am going to conclude this part of the venture and prepare a later installment that covers the record cold temperatures (with no indoor heating), the 6.4 magnitude earthquake, and my first Lunar New Year Celebration. The following video is of the workshops attendees singing the familiar Argentine song, “Santo, Santo, Santo,” in beautiful Spanish, English, Taiwanese! (Shame on our churches in the USA that are totally English-centric.)

Pax,  Michael

Picture: The final worship planning team for evening prayer, January 29, consisting of former TTCS students with whom I have worked and Edgar Macapili, MSM ’02 (to my left). Dr. I-to Loh (right front), Hui-chin Loh (left front).

3 thoughts on “. . . through every land . . . Taiwan

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