[Storm Buster series] Brown Clouds over Taipei

Pius Chi-Shing Lee

The tranquil days and idyllic scenery of Norway were surreal. I indulged in that for over 6 years. Although Oslo, Norway was remote from Chinese theological educational opportunities, I was blessed by Bible teachers from the Chinese Overseas Christian Missions from London and Hong Kong Alliance Bible Seminary through Theological Education by Extension. I continued to learn theology and remained active in the Scandinavian Chinese Church (SCC) whenever I was free from my ocean engineering job. However, the most influential teachers during my Oslo days were the SCC advisors: Bible-woman Annie Skau Berntsen (司務道), Pastors Anders Tangerås (湯格柔), and Georg Rinvold (任芝清). They were former missionaries in China and continued to love Chinese until their last breaths in their earthly sojourns. I had sweet fellowships with these elderly missionaries and no remote learning can impact my life more than these many tangible occasions sharing meals and prayer times with these genuine Christians. Among many influential encounters with them, one of the occasions came vividly to my memory. During a visitation to Sister Annie’s Horten home, in southern Norway, she cooked us lunch and entertained us afterwards with the song “God’s way is the best way” playing the piano and singing along all by herself. It was a heavenly experience.

Christian fellowship is precious. I encourage you, readers, not to shy away from in-person church meetings since online and virtual meetings are blatant deserting of church attendance as forbidden by the Bible : “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”(Hebrews 10:25). Do not miss out the sweet fellowship and mutual edification in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus when genuine Christians congregate.

In the late 1980’s, a work-related conference brought me to Taipei. My experience there, figuratively speaking, hit me with a tornado’s extreme gust force that plucked me out from the comforts and routines in Oslo. The conference was held in Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) at the waist of Mountain Yuan (圓山) in ZhongShan District (中山區), Taipei. The hotel is situated at a higher elevation in the metropolitan area of Taipei. I stayed at a friend’s place in a low-lying part of the city and must take a bus daily to Mountain Yuan. In the late 80’s, Taipei still had many diesel buses resembling the US Greyhound buses. They spewed out blackish exhausts. The bus I depended on heading to Mountain Yuan did not have a stop near the hotel but instead it passed the foothill where the hotel was situated.

Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) Source: Wiki

Once on the bus, I asked one of the nearby passengers for directions. A kind lady in her early 30’s responded. She was friendly and politely said she worked in the hotel and there was a stairway winding up the hill reaching the hotel. She volunteered to guide me up that stairway. We could see the hotel on the mountain waist from far away. It was a major landmark. As the hotel loomed near, it was a large ancient-style Chinese Palace looking structure. The large hotel at the mountain waist was even more imposing-looking as we peeped upwards from the bus stop at the foothill of Mountain Yuan. Once disembarked from the bus, we could see the eaves of the palace styled Grand Hotel hundreds of feet above us. There were 3 flights of stairs, each maybe 150 steps long. I noticed that the kind lady walking a few feet in front of me began to pant and I looked behind me. I saw the ZhongShan District underneath us. It was capped in a misty smog of air pollution. The kind lady said to me: “Young man, go slow, everyday I walk this path I need to take rest at each of the stair bends”. She was panting. I was having some breathing problems too as the air was acidic and impregnated with air pollutants. Further higher up the stairs, I saw a larger extent of Taipei, sitting in a valley capped by a brownish doom of unhealthy air. This suffocating imagery still haunted me to this day 35 years later. This lady’s respiratory health might have been jeopardized by the city’s air pollution. Although that was my first trip to Taipei, that encounter with a commoner resident there was very powerful. I thought to myself, sanitary engineering might not be as urgent as air pollution abatement. This encounter corroborated with a few stories I heard from Oslo that Shanghai was experiencing similar outbreaks of respiratory health issues for children and the elderly due to air pollution — in the 70’s and 80’s most Chinese immigrants in Oslo were of Shanghainese descent, and they had a tight connection with their hometown.

1981 Grand Hotel Taipei balcony (1981年的飯店陽台) Source: Wiki

Coincidentally, there was a reorganization in the ocean engineering firm where I worked. I had a prolonged period of time to rethink work, church, and nature stewardship as a Christian. The encounter in Taipei became a catalyst motivating me to explore the possibility of a career change from being an ocean engineer that helped petroleum production aggravating air pollution to becoming an environmental scientist to help curbing air pollution. It was nothing short of miracles upon miracles that I could venture out of my comfort zone in Oslo to go to Aichi Prefecture, Japan to study air pollution. The reason for choosing Japan was because of the similarity factor in culture. A successful air pollution resolution must simultaneously (1) Raising public awareness, (2) Applying technological innovation, and (3) Legislating air pollution abatement policies. Japan had succeeded in this three-prong approach and should be emulated for Shanghai, Taipei and Hong Kong.

As Proverbs described the state of the heart of a man and his footsteps: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). It was roughly an eight-month lapse between my decision of going back to school and actually boarding a plane to realize the decision. Every step along that life-path-altering change, God was faithful and generous in His providence. One of most touching gifts to me days before my departing Oslo was a sizable monetary gift from Sister Alice Tang (湯靜琪), sister-in-law of Rev. Timothy Chao (趙世光牧師). This elderly sister encouraged me and assured me that the plan of our merciful God would converge despite the immediate uncertainties. She prayed for me and admonished me to set my ambition straight that: “God will use you.”

 On my inauguration as the Development Director of NYSTM on October 29 last year, I quoted a conversation between Rev. Peter Ng and I that “I uprighted myself” when I changed career from studying ocean to studying the atmosphere. Namely, the co-ordinate axis for ocean studies points downwards, whereas that for atmospheric studies points upwards. It demands enormous energy to upright a person from a bad habit such as binge drinking or serial smoking. It is much harder to upright the heart from wickedness to righteousness. For me, changing my career took the aforementioned indelible encounter in Taipei. The aforementioned anecdote: “uprighting myself by a tornado category strong gust” as described in the first paragraph was a configurative description, the immense consequence of that change was revolutionary for myself and for my future family. Since this chapter began in Japan, a subsequent sharing will elaborate on the many spiritual droughts and timely showers of sprinklings of divine provisions during our residence in this mystically beautiful yet spiritually-slumbering country of Japan.

Author: Pastor Dr. Pius Lee is the Director of the Development Division of NYSTM. In 2021, he retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, and was selected the winner of NOAA’s Administrator’s Award for the Air Pollution Forecasting Research Group in 2020. Pastor Lee and Mrs. Ancy Thuyen-Anh, Lee have three sons and one daughter. The couple relocated from the capital, Washington, to New York to take up the post.

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