So many many people, all there to enjoy the Lantern Festival, and, ah yes, it was great!
The end of Chinese New Year celebrations is marked by the Lantern Festival, and in Taiwan, each local government organizes an event that lasts for about 2 weeks or so; but the main Taiwan Lantern Festival is hosted in turn by one of the county or city governments, and each year it gets bigger and more spectacular. Last year, Chiayi hosted the event around the Southern branch of the National Palace Museum, which itself is an amazing building set by a lake, so the natural setting added to the spectacle. This year it’s been the turn of Pingtung, and fears that its remoteness at the southern end of Taiwan would put people off turned out to be completely unfounded. People came in their millions, over 11 million in total!
We’ve just had a 4-day weekend in Taiwan in connection with 228 Memorial Day, and it also coincided with the last 4 days of the Taiwan Lantern Festival in Pingtung. So, not being one to miss any opportunity, and with my good friends, Ah-Guan and Xiu-Chin inviting me to go with them, off we went to Pingtung to see it all for ourselves: YES!
The event was held at Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area 大鵬灣, a beautiful lagoon right on Taiwan’s SW coast, near to Donggang Town東港鎮. Donggang is famous for its tuna, so this year, the county government decided that rather than taking this year’s Year of the Pig as the main lantern, instead they would choose a tuna. Quite a canny move really, seeing as they’ll then be able to use that same lantern again every year! Actually fish have a big symbolic role in Chinese culture and New Year celebrations, so it’s not completely bizarre. And the main tuna lantern was positioned right in the water, so it looked amazing, and every half an hour the music played and the lantern revolved one whole circle, changing colour as it did so.
The main Taiwan Lantern Festival has a huge budget and is always really well-organized with large numbers of lanterns of all shapes, sizes and designs on display, and this year was no exception. The beauty of Dapeng Bay, with the setting sun over the water, added to the attraction. Highlights were the nightly shows by Ilotopie, a French theater company who perform on water, plus the main tuna lantern, and the drone performance by Intel, which was amazing.
On Thursday, I left home in the cold and wet soon after 5:00 am to catch the first bus out of here, then onto Taipei to try to get a seat on the high-speed rail to Kaohsiung. It being the start of a 4-day holiday, tickets had sold out weeks ago, but there’s always a chance of a seat in the non-reserved carriages if you go all the way to Nangang Station, where the trains start from. It’s worth it, honest! And so we arrived at Dapeng Bay at 1:00 pm, to find it was 29°C and hot, hot, hot! The displays look good in the daytime, but of course it is at night that the place really comes alive. In fact, the site was so huge that we never got round it all, and never saw any of the indigenous or Hakka lanterns which were at the far end. But we did go up the viewing platform and saw a bit from the air. Loved it all!
And we did manage to meet up with Rev. Richard Lee and his family and friends who had come for the day from St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung. So good to see them!
By evening, the people were pouring in, and it was so packed out that you could hardly move! Numbers were calculated by the local telecom operators through operating mobile phones and news reports say that 1.67 million attended on Thursday night – and it felt like we met most of them! The good thing is that Taiwan people are generally cool, calm and collected, and so the massive numbers of people moving around in the dark in restricted areas, like crossing a bridge, and with minimum security or police control, all proceeded slowly but surely. This kind of event anywhere else in the world would be a nightmare for everyone, but it all just went along smoothly. Ah, I just love Taiwan!
But we did have to wait ages and ages for a bus back to Kaohsiung, 3 very long hours in fact, all standing in line. l heard that there were 900 shuttle buses working non-stop, mostly ferrying people to local train stations, but for those going of us further afield, the distance to the motorway meant there were long traffic jams. And so it was that we arrived back at Kaohsiung, where we were staying, at 1:30 am, after quite a long, hot day. But hey, it was worth it – it was quite spectacular, and if everyone is going along, well, I always like to be there too!
And for the rest of the weekend in Kaohsiung? Well, we checked out my favourite place of Weiwuying, where all the wall murals are – to see any new ones…
And we walked to Siwei Elementary School to see their beautiful mural too, this one titled ‘3rd eye dog’ by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel…
Also down to Kaohsiung Port area, Pier 2, where everyone was enjoying themselves. All the old warehouses have been converted to art spaces, shops and restaurants, and it’s an up-an-coming place to be, especially at sunset!
And so is the nearby Love River…
We also visited ShouShan Zoo in Kaohsiung, which is up a hill so it’s a bit cooler. Very cheap at only 40NT$ entrance fee and a nice place to wander around escaping the heat of the city below. Most famous at the zoo are not the actual zoo animals themselves but the wild monkeys who now hang out around there and steal everyone’s sandwiches. Easier to photograph were the animals lying fast asleep. The most charming was the pygmy hippo swimming up to the glass where all the children to see him close up.
And finally we went to Tainan, where our good friend, Rev. Philip Ho, vicar of Grace Church, Tainan is recovering really well after surgery on his head, after he fell over during a basketball game a few weeks ago. He was so happy to see us! We stayed on to go to Grace Church on Sunday morning, then I came home last night. Even got a seat on the HSR train from Taichung onwards, so I was happy.
Really big thanks to my good friends for their invitation, organization, photo-ops and all the fun…
And that’s the end of the Lantern Festival for another year – next year it’ll be the turn of Taichung, and I just can’t wait!