Tag Archives: Lantern Festival

人山人海 ‘People Mountain, People Sea’ and fun at the Taiwan Lantern Festival 台灣燈會 @ Pingtung 屏東 Dapeng Bay大鵬灣 !

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!

Happy Year of the Dog ~ Taiwan’s Lantern Festival 2018 @ Chiayi!

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!

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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.

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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!

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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….

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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.

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Turns out that they are Theater Tol, based in Antwerp, Belgium, performing ‘Garden of Angels‘:

“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.

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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.”

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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….

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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!

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So congratulations to Chiayi on an incredible lantern festival!

And a big welcome everyone to the Year of the Dog, woof woof!

Transformation by Colour @ Kaohsiung 高雄 Street Art ~ and more!

Every city needs some colour, especially if the city concerned is famous for being a city nobody wants to visit.  Or live in.  Or work in. Kaohsiung is exactly that city.  It may be the southern capital of Taiwan and a major metropolis.  But it is also THE city in Taiwan that everybody loves to hate.  Far too hot in summer, far too polluted in winter.  Full of industry, oil refineries, factories and vehicles pumping out fumes all day and all night.  An ugly, horrible, industrial, polluted, over-heated and under-cared-for metropolis, frequently listed in the Top Ten Most Polluted Cities of the World.  My impression has always been that it has almost nothing going for it other than half the country seems to come from Kaohsiung, been educated there or worked there at some time.  So they kinda feel loyal to their ‘home town’.  But then again, most couldn’t wait to leave, from what I had always heard.  Ah, poor old Kaohsiung!

But y’know, Kaohsiung is changing.  Being transformed no less.  By colour!  And not just any old colour.  Walls and buildings are being painted with huge and very attractive murals.  Not just painted with cartoon murals or indecipherable graffiti, though there are plenty of those.  But painted with REAL art.  Really beautiful, stunning, colourful and amazing high-quality works of art in fact.

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Walls are divisive, not just by their nature, but by their utter ugliness.  Plain walls are so boring, but coloured walls, if painted the wrong colour or covered in abusive graffiti may be worse.  But now the walls in Kaohsiung are turning heads, and turning the world upside down by their beauty.  This wall mural is the most recent, dated 2018!

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Much of this transformation is taking place in the area around Weiwuying MRT Metro Station 衛武營 on the MRT Orange Line (exit 5, turn right onto Jianjun 建軍 Road).  Opposite is the Kaohsiung Armed Forces General Hospital, and a bit further along is the Kaohsiung Mosque … 

Across from the hospital and mosque is a large housing estate / apartment complex, housing military dependents, and it is on these walls that the murals have been painted. 

And right next to the MRT Station is the wall of the bus station, and that mural is perhaps the most famous ~ painted to look like a huge bookcase…. 

The walls around the side of the bus station are also painted too…. 

The murals are mostly painted by the Wallriors (for more information see here and their facebook page here), and they are really talented.  Real artists.  Working from cranes and scaffolding.  Supported by the Kaohsiung City government and the local community.  Not only have the walls been painted in that area, but the local community have planted flowers all over, and it’s beautiful!  The old people sit out and chat to each other, and talk to visitors.  Such a friendly place.  You must must must go! 

And if it’s a sunny day, then so much the better.  We went there last Thursday afternoon, and the light was perfect.  It is by far the most amazing place to visit in Kaohsiung!

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But Weiwuying is not the only place with street art in Kaohsiung, there’s plenty more, scattered around, but information offered on the internet is virtually all in Chinese, so get some help if your Chinese language skills are not up to scratch!  And so it was that me and my good friends, Shiu-Chin and Ah-Guan headed off to the sports stadium nearby where there’s 3 wall murals, though the sun was in the wrong place for good photos…. 

And then we went to the Kaohsiung Cultural Center, and after a bit of walking around following Google Maps, so we found 2 more amazing murals, about 1 km apart, but well worth visiting, even though by then it was nearly dark.  Daylight is required to see murals of course. But hey, a sunset on the way was an added bonus!  The first one is by San Francisco-based artist, Mona Caron, part of her series on weeds, titled, ‘Outgrowing‘ (the link also shows videos of the making of the mural), and which government officials apparently claim is the biggest mural in Asia….

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This second one is by Kaohsiung-based artist Bamboo Yang (楊惟竹) of the Wallriors…

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And then there is the newly-famous and very wonderful area called Pier 2 駁二藝術特區.  This is a huge area of old and abandoned warehouses around the Kaohsiung Port area, now all being restored and converted into art spaces, museums, shops and restaurants, with plenty to see and do.  There’s lots of wall murals here too, though mostly of cartoons or weird and wacky designs.  The coastguard ships are here, and there’s a good view of the Kaohsiung Skyline across the water.   There’s also the light rail / tram-line too.  We were there on Wednesday last week, which was a national holiday in Taiwan (228), so the place was packed.  And the light rail was free, the last day.  From March 1 onwards, you have to pay.  But it’s not expensive.  And the whole area has a great atmosphere ~ well worth visiting!

The other famous place in Kaohsiung that has undergone major transformation in the last few years is the Love River 愛河.   The river flows through the heart of the city, and for years was famous as a badly-polluted (and therefore very misnamed) stinky canal. But it too has been transformed.  The water has been cleaned up, parks run along the river banks with performances going on, restaurants, coffee shops, bars etc, and it is a pleasant place to spend an evening.  We were there on Wednesday night last week.  And Thursday night.  And Friday night too!  All for the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival, which finished this past weekend, but which saw thousands and thousands of people coming along to see the lanterns and the light show and the performances.  It’s the Year of the Dog and the old name of Kaohsiung was ‘Takau’ in the Taiwanese language (Chinese: 打狗). The meaning of the associated Chinese characters is “beat the dog”, so there were even more dog lanterns than ever.  And lanterns mean colour, colour and more colour!

And what else to see in Kaohsiung? A must-go place is the Formosa Boulevard MRT Station 美麗島站 (Meilidao) famous for its “Dome of Light”, the largest glass work in the world – designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.   I love it! 

And if you still have time and energy, check out some churches.  Right next to the Love River is the R.C. Holy Rosary Cathedral, apparently the oldest RC Church in Taiwan (though Wanchin Basilica RC Church in Pingtung may also be the oldest, depending on whether you date the church from when it was established, constructed, or rebuilt!) Anyway, the cathedral was first established in 1860 and rebuilt to its present dimensions in 1928.  I saw it very early in the morning, and very late at night, both times in the murky darkness,so this is the best view I got ~ actually it is completely overshadowed by nearby high-rise buildings, so really unless you know it’s there, you won’t even notice it! 

And the Taiwan Episcopal Church has 2 churches in Kaohsiung – the very beautiful St. Paul’s Church in the Sanmin area of the city…..

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And St. Timothy’s Church, not far from Formosa Boulevard MRT Station, 30 minutes walking distance apart.  Lovely clergy and very welcoming people in both churches. Well worth visiting too! 

So Kaohsiung is now my new favourite city.  It’s true it’s too hot in summer, but at this time of year and after a winter of terrible endless rain and cold up here in the north, well, y’know, Kaohsiung seems extra-attractive. Just look at all this colour! 

And the people are so friendly.  On an early morning walk around the city, everyone greets you.  Nobody does that in Taipei.  Or even Taichung.  Only in the countryside does that happen in northern and central Taiwan.

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But Kaohsiung, major city that it is, is oh so friendly!  I just love it!

PS: Updated May 28, 2018 – see Part 2, revisiting Street Art locations in Kaohsiung, discovering there’s even more street art than before!

Happy Year of the Rooster ~ Taiwan’s Lantern Festival 2017 @ Yunlin!

A few photos from Taiwan’s Lantern Festival, held over the last 8 days or so in Yunlin ~ me and my good friend Ah-Guan went on Saturday night!

What a masterpiece of organization by the local government ~ with a steady stream of free coaches transporting thousands of us from Douliu Train Station to the main site at Huwei, with a special designated lane on the main road so the hundreds of coaches had a clear run.  Police, workers and volunteers by the thousand to keep us all on the straight and narrow.  And free food and all sorts of free souvenirs!

Zillions of lanterns of every shape and size, and lots of roosters and chickens and eggs of course, plus zillions of people too, also of every shape and size – and age, from small babies to great grandmothers!

The religious section had lanterns of Jesus and the pope, and a united outreach by Yunlin Churches had set up a chapel where there were all sorts of activities going on.  Far too many lanterns to photograph all, but hey, there was definitely something for everyone!

The main rooster lantern was massive, and put on it’s display every 30 minutes – this is the first minute of the 7:00 pm show…

A great evening – and now sadly, all over for another year!

So, Happy Year of the Rooster everyone!

Taiwan Lantern Festival 2016 @ Taoyuan!

It’s the Year of the Monkey and monkeys lanterns are everywhere!

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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!

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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!

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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!