天灯节!

Hello everyone! Today concludes the Chinese New Year celebration. Most people returned to work last week, but today marks the two week point after Chinese New Year, which makes it the Lantern Festival thus ending the celebration. The Lantern Festival was one of the main reasons Dannysha and I decided to come to Taiwan for the winter break. We did some research and reliable sources (wikipedia) said that the town of Pingxi is supposed to be one of the best places to go for the lantern festival, which was where the 天灯节 or “sky lantern festival” originated.

Pingxi isn’t too far outside of Taiwan, but it’s not accessible via metro. To get there, we had to go to the Taipei Main Station and buy train tickets to Ruifang, and from there transfer to the Pingxi line and take another train to our final destination. Buying the ticket was easy, but getting on the train was a little tricky. China’s train system is very well organized and there are many workers on the platform to help you if you have any questions. Unfortunately, Taiwan was severely lacking in the helpful department, and the arrival/departure board was utterly confusing. Despite the confusion, we boarded the correct train and arrived at Ruifang within a short amount of time. We bought our tickets to Pingxi again (which was a mistake because we’d already paid for the full ride at the previous station) and rushed to the platform. The train was waiting for us when we got there, and was packed with people. I was dismayed at first, but realized the cars further down the platform were fairly deserted. Dannysha and I nearly sprinted to get a seat and were practically kowtowing to the gods for it by the time the train started rolling. Anyone who is claustrophobic or doesn’t like being in close proximity to strangers would not handle this trip well at all.

Being in a seat, we were unable to read the sign when we reached a station and the train began emptying. We followed the crowd and wound up at the wrong town and station, but it was no big deal. We ended up in Shifen, which had a very large Sky Lantern Festival itself. The tiny little town was completely packed. I’ve been to large, crowded theme parks and various other big cities but I’ve never been so jostled in my life. I’ve also never seen so many foreigners in any one place in Asia–I’d say that the crowd was maybe 30% foreigners. There were so many shops selling lantern trinkets and snacks that the streets were clogged and getting down to the area where people were sending up lanterns in groups was incredibly difficult and maybe even a bit arduous.

Finally, we came to a large area where people were selling lanterns and providing markers with which to write your hopes for the new year. People say that by sending the lanterns into the sky the gods are more likely to see your wishes and prayers. So we purchased a red one from an option of about 9 different colors, my favorite of which (purple) was sold out. After writing our wishes on our lantern, a girl came by and helped us send it to the gods. The way these things work is that it’s like a mini hot-air balloon–they light a fire under it and then it just floats up. This can, of course, go terribly wrong. One of the lanterns became entangled on a telephone wire while ascending and caught fire, another hit a building and sort of exploded, and several simply hit a strong pocket of wind causing them to tumble over and immolate mere feet above the heads of the crowd. I’m assuming that all of these scenarios do not forebode good fortune. Fortunately for us, Dannysha and I’s lantern flew away safely, and thank heavens for that because I did not want to see my message of 给我钱 or “GIVE ME MONEY!” go up in flames.

The ride back to Taipei was, well, crazy. There were thousands of tourists in this tiny town, and only a few trains were coming to take them back. This was the first time I’d ever seen the train workers shoving people into the train to make them fit. However, Dannysha and I made some new friends while being crammed into the train. It seemed better to be friendly to the fellow foreigners whose faces were only several awkward inches away from your pelvic region than to ride on in an uncomfortable silence. It was very interesting to hear their opinions on Taipei and the Chinese spoken there since they were all exchange students and also studying Chinese. I wish I’d met them at the beginning of my stay in Taipei, but at least some nice conversation made the uncomfortable train ride a bit more tolerable.

I’ve uploaded some fairly bad photos for your disappointment. I should have taken my camera’s instructions with me or read them before I came to Taiwan. I did not, however, so many of the photos are a little blurry. Some of them are not the camera’s (or my) fault–there were so many people that I was constantly being jostled and it was difficult keeping the camera still. Still, here they are!

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3 responses

  1. Ben! So cool! We have got to try this at home (ideally near water, I suppose). You are the designated sky-lantern maker. Great story, too.

  2. Hi Ben-following your adventures-thanks for sending photos- looking forward to more! Loved the lantern festival stories and highlights. Take care. Good luck w next semester classes. Lv u!

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