Yesterday (22nd Feb 2016) was the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, the day of lighted lamps. The main place in Taiwan to celebrate this day is the Pingxi district in the mountains east of Taipei where they hold an annual Lantern Festival on the day. And it truly is a spectacular Lantern festival, given that thousands of lanterns float over the mountains of Pingxi that evening (I understand that in the days following the festival, teams of council run cleaners hike through the hillsides collecting the used lanterns from the area to dispose of them).
Since we were lucky enough to be in Taiwan during the festival (although my husband would insist it was his expert planning), we, along with thousands of others, went to Pingxi to experience it.
As expected, Pingxi was as busy as the Southern English town of Lewes during their famous Bonfire Night (i.e. it was rammed), but the transportation worked like a dream. There were hundreds of buses carrying people back and forth between the terminal metro stop and Pingxi (about 40min bus ride) for £2 /person for a return journey. Even tough there were thousands of people there, we didn’t really have to queue for the shuttle buses at either end. It still beats me how they did that! When it comes to efficiency, order and planning, maybe somewhat unexpectedly, based on our experience, Taiwan totally plays in the same league as Japan.
The festival consisted of three main parts:
1. Food stalls
Like any festival, at the Lantern festival you could fill you stomach with all sorts of food, like fried chicken, meat/seafood skewers, fruit, sweets and stinky tofu.
2. Your messages to the World/Universe/Higher being
During the afternoon, before the main lantern event started at 6pm, many people sent their own lanterns into the sky, including us.
You can buy a lantern (for £3-4), write a message on the four sides of it and send it up into the sky. The main location for the spectators’ lantern lighting and sending off seemed to be the train track (see photos) – an operating train track I might add!
We quickly learned what happens when there is a train coming: with about 20 seconds of warning, someone starts blowing a whistle, people start shouting and screaming, and in a state of panic people rush to the side of the track (see photos below to see how close the public is to the passing train!).
The colour of the lantern signifies different fortunes. Our children chose two lanterns: red and pink, whose colour represented health/longevity and happiness, respectively.
The messages and wishes that we wrote on them were things like:
-World peace (although, I got distracted and misspelt it, so it ended up saying: Worl peace)
-I wish that everyone had clean water
-Greetings from Finland, England and Japan
-Princesses and Super Heroes 4ever
-I want to be a dinosaur scientist (which came out looking like it just said I want to be a dinosaur).
3. Lantern Festival show
This is the part of the festival of which you might have seen photos. Because we didn’t want to push into the most crowded part of the festival, we were not at the actual area where they sent the lanterns off. Instead, we parked ourselves about 100 meters away on a bridge with a good view of the area. The lanterns were beautiful! (see video footage below)