It’s the Year of the Monkey and monkeys lanterns are everywhere!
The 15th day of the first lunar month is the Lantern Festival, and this year the 2016 Lantern Festival is at Taoyuan, on a site covering 20 hectares right at the High-Speed Rail Station ~ just so convenient for us all! It lasts from February 22 – March 6. Yesterday was a national holiday in Taiwan and the weather was great, so what better day to go?! YES!
Taoyuan is 20 minutes by high-speed rail from Taipei, and costs NT$ 155 one way on a non-reserved ticket – a bargain! So near and so convenient to Taipei, but Taoyuan is significantly cheaper as a place to live, and it’s also home to the Taoyuan International Airport and on the HSR link, so it’s booming! Taoyuan County stretches from the coast right up to the high central mountains, and includes large numbers of Hakka people and indigenous people. All these different groups are well-represented at the lantern festival. In fact it seems like every school, community group, company, temple, town and district of Taoyuan County have their own lantern displays, plus the outlying islands of Matsu (the blue tears are there in a cave!), Kinmen, Hong Kong and Macau too. The ‘Lamigo Monkeys‘ are Taoyuan’s baseball team, hence the baseball lanterns everywhere. Each section has a different theme, and all are linked by miles of walkways lined with lanterns – there’s displays, shows, performances, food, craft activities and things to see and photograph going on all over the place. There’s 1000 or so lanterns, and some even move, all are stunning!
In fact, there’s so much to see and it stretches for so far that it’s worth going in the mid-afternoon to check it all out. Then as the sun sets and it gets dark, so the lights and lanterns come on and the main monkey lantern (holding his baseball and bat!) lights up, changes colour and does one complete turn every 30 minutes in the evening, to the accompaniment of specially-composed music. All very spectacular!
And then there’s a whole section devoted to ‘Religious Blessings’. Really quite amazing. Every temple in Taoyuan has their own display, and many have brought in their actual deities for worship and for offering blessings. One temple even had transformers. So there’s wishing ponds – you throw coins to hit a notice with the blessing of your choice, there’s lucky charms and gongs and bells to ring, and all sorts of actions to do to help you gain blessings. There’s huge temples full of incense and people lining up all over to ask for blessings of the different gods. And just across from from the noisiest and busiest temple, there’s a section for the Christians – the Roman Catholics have a large lantern of Jesus in a boat, and the Protestant churches have come together with a cross, and Jesus as the Good Shepherd with some sheep, they’re offering free Bibles in different languages, plus a DVD on a big screen.
Millions of people have visited the Lantern Festival so far. In fact almost 3.7 million on Sunday alone. That caused some major traffic jams and crowd control problems, and a lot of criticism in the press. But yesterday was fine. A credit to the organizers, who had everything covered. Really quite incredible. Anywhere else in the world, an evening event in the darkness, attracting huge crowds, would be a logistical nightmare ~ imagine the worries about personal safety, drugs and alcohol, anti-social behavior, crowd rage. Yet it was fantastic! No worries!
And in the middle of all those zillions of people, I came across a family of friends who I’ve known for years, and who I never expected to meet selling sausages in the Lantern Festival! After all, there must have been many hundreds of food stalls all grouped into about 6 main food areas, and yet there they were – the whole family, 4 gorgeous children and their parents. They’re members of the indigenous people of Taiwan, A-Mei and Bei-Nan tribes, living in Taoyuan County ~ how great to see them again, even if the youngest boy hid behind his mother the whole time! And their sausages were delicious!
Discovery Channel reckons that Taiwan’s Lantern Festival is one of the best festivals in the whole world, one of those things you just must see! There’s only a few days left until it closes this coming weekend, so if you have a chance, do go! It’s GREAT!