A major extravaganza is on down in Taiwan’s south central city of Chiayi. If you get a chance, GO! Every year, a different city or county is chosen to host Taiwan’s main lantern festival, and every year, thousands and thousands flock there from all over the country to attend. Including me. I love to go! This year it is the turn of Chiayi. And what an extravaganza it is!
Last year, the Year of the Rooster, the main lantern festival was held in Yunlin. The year before, the Year of the Monkey, it was held in Taoyuan. Both of those were held near to their respective High-Speed Rail Stations (HSR), partly so lots of people can then get there easily, plus the HSR Stations are built so far out of town that there’s huge amounts of unused land nearby and it’s ideal for a major event like a lantern festival.
This year, Chiayi has also made the most of its High-Speed Rail Station, and shuttle buses run to and fro every evening transporting people to the lantern festival site at Taibao, not far away. But this year what is special is that the lantern festival site includes the National Palace Museum Southern Branch, which was only opened in 2004. It is truly amazing!
We went on Saturday afternoon, the second day of the event, and stayed on until the night. We walked through the lantern festival area in T-shirts, it was so hot, under blue skies.
But blue skies are hardly any good for a lantern festival – which needs darkness! Anyway, we passed through the lantern area, and ended up at the National Palace Museum Southern Branch. Along with thousands and thousands of people. And guess what? The museum was open, and from 3:00-9:00 pm, entry was free as long as you ‘like’ the museum’s facebook page, then that ‘like’ could be exchanged for a free ticket. What a treat! This was my very first visit, and I was not expecting to get free entry into the museum. Inside it’s beautiful! It’s not too big, so you can get round it quite easily. Wow!
Then the sunset behind the museum….
And a light show!
We moved down to the museum main entrance where there was an incredible performance going on, already started so we missed the first part. Never seen anything quite like it. In the dark too. A crane had suspended in mid-air what looked from a distance like a sort of chandelier. It turned out that each of the so-called ‘lights’ of the chandelier contained a person, and they threw out all sorts of streamers, balloons, confetti, smoke, as they moved around to the music ~ and then from the central ‘light’ out came a small ladder and a woman, dressed in red, appeared – who danced and acrobat-ed herself in mid-air. The whole performance was done as the crane moved them all up and down and round and round. Quite terrifying to watch. And down below were a man and woman dressed like in the Victorian-age, all in white, and they were singing like opera-style music. Really powerful stuff.
“Lightness and joy are the most important themes of this show. Garden of Angels is about a wedding, in which the beloved couple eats each other, dances, flies. They are in love and surrounded by good company: musicians and creatures out of fairy tales.
The performance is inspired by history, where the bouquet of flowers originally consisted of a bunch of strong spices, to expel the evil ghosts and bad influences out of marriage. The big present for the newly-married couple in this performance are the angels: the protectors, the dreamers, the wise ones. The audience is the guest at the wedding. In that way the angels don’t only bring the good things for the beloved couple, they move the guests and let them be touched by their positive energy as well.
Theater Tol brings this spectacle of fire, heat and sensuality. The world of animals, fantasy and people merge. A fantasy world of lovers, dancing animals and angels descends from heaven.”
Quite amazing. We were seriously impressed!
And then to the main dog lantern which revolved around once every 30 minutes, and took 3 minutes to do so, accompanied by lights and noise and zillions of spectators….
After that, well, we had enough time to find the churches lantern area, and as always the RC Church could be relied on to produce interesting lanterns, this year we had the pope, Jesus, Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus, Mother Teresa and St. Valentine….
There was not much time left for us to see many of the smaller lanterns. But we saw enough. Lanterns everywhere, all shapes and sizes. Actually the theme, as well as being the Year of the Dog, was all about Chiayi being on the Tropic of Cancer, so the latitude number 23.5º was much in evidence, and other countries that are also on the Tropic of Cancer were also part of the show. Then we also had all the different areas of Chiayi represented in lanterns, including the High-Heeled Shoe Church that we had visited at Chinese New Year….
And Alishan, famous for its cherry blossoms. Plus there were international sections, religious sections, different people groups, lanterns made by schools of different ages, and industries and companies based in Chiayi. Something for everyone.
As always, the local government did an amazing job with the logistics and everything worked like clockwork. There was a constant stream of shuttle buses and even though we joined a line that must have been several hundred people long, we only had to wait about 10-15 minutes to get to the top of the queue. Incredible!
So congratulations to Chiayi on an incredible lantern festival!
And a big welcome everyone to the Year of the Dog, woof woof!