Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How can you make your hopes and dreams come true?

So I know I promised I would post the whole story on Lantern Festival yesterday but I was still recovering from the longest day of my life.

I have to say that despite the nightmare it was to travel there, it was totally a worthwhile experience, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So earlier in the week Joslyn asked if I wanted to go to Pingxi for the Lantern Festival. Lantern festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year coming on the 15th day of the new lunar year.

Now, lanterns aren't all the same and there are two different major festivals in Taiwan (not to mention all the others that go on in each town.

In Chiayi, they have an incredible number of huge lanterns shaped like everything you can imagine (here in Taoyuan there was one shaped like a panda bear).

Pingxi, though, is a little unique in that they are known for their Sky Lantern Festival. Pingxi is a small town in a mostly rural area in the mountains. This, unfortunately, left them vulnerable to raids by robbers and other bad people years and years ago. During that time, the people of the township used would release sky lanterns so that people in nearby towns would know that they are alright.

Of course, people have also added some element of mythology to the sky lanterns. It is said that if you write your wishes on a sky lantern and release it, the gods will be able to read your wishes high in the sky and then they'll come true.

Now, for our adventure.

We decided to meet at the Taoyuan Train Station at about 1 p.m. We ended up leaving Taoyuan about 1:45 p.m. taking a train to Taipei. Then we hopped on another (very crowded) train to Rueifeng (heading north near Keelung). Then we proceeded to wait in a very long line and then on an extremely crowded platform for more than an hour before getting on (yet another!) train to Shifen a little town on the Pingxi Rail Line where the festival is actually held every year.

They crammed us in like cattle. 
(Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn.)

Unfortunately, the Taiwanese government (or at leas the Pingxi government) didn't take into account that this rail line does not usually see 20,000 people at once. So it was a little ridiculous. Getting there are back I thought people were going to get trampled.

Toward the end of the five hours (yes, I said five hours) of traveling that it took us to get there we were all complaining about being hungry and I was actually imagining and describing all the amazing street food I was planning to buy when we got there.

Of course our hunger immediately went to the wayside when we stepped off the train and saw the lanterns everywhere.

We found out the for 100NT we could buy our own and then stand in the middle of the train tracks to set them off. (What? Everybody was doin' it!)

I, of course, represented Texas and I wrote an extremely long and heartfelt essay on Taiwan and what it means to me. 
 (Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn.)

I wrote what I felt were unselfish wishes: Good health for myself and my family; Safe travels; and the Opportunity to continue having experiences that will help me learn about myself and the world.

That's not asking too much right?

It wouldn't be Asia without fireworks to which I became completely desensitized by the end of the night. 
 (Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn.)

So after we set off all of our lanterns, we decided to walk through the town to the end of the path where they were having a concert and setting off 200 lanterns at a time every 15-20 minutes.

But wait! On our way there we were basically eating and running, but some people holding a gigantic lantern caught our eye.

When they lit it, two or three guys were actually standing inside the lantern to keep it from falling in on itself when the hot air sucked it together.

It was pretty incredible to watch them get this thing going. I thought for sure they were going to set the town on fire or at least the guys inside.
(Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn Kahan.) 

But now for the good part. So we've all already set off our own lanterns and Joslyn, David, Sharon and I finally get to the concert just in time to watch hundreds people set off yet another 200 lanterns simultaneously.

I didn't think there could possibly be anything more magical than that. It was just so beautiful to watch them float up in the air.

200 Lanterns taking flight all at the same time is just so awesome.
(Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn Kahan.)

But it did get more magical.

For the next set, a guy who was working the festival asked if we wanted to come in the cordoned off area and release one!

I dragged Joslyn and Sharon with me and we started writing frantically all over this huge white lantern surrounded by a ton of people. I thought watching the lanterns go up from the sidelines was cool but being underneath 200 lanterns as they take flight was even more incredible.

And then we got to do it again!

Except this time we did two different lanterns. David and Sharon released one and Joslyn and I released one.

Isn't the lighting just so pretty?
(Photo by me courtesy of David and Joslyn's camera.) 

So after we set off all the lanterns, we headed back to the Shifen Train Station where we found the rest of our friends and a huge line. There was some confusion about which platform we should be on — or if it even mattered — and at one point there was a serious mad rush of people running across the train tracks from one platform to the other. Then people proceeded to shove each other into the carts or out of the way.

It was already 10:30 by then and I was sure we were on our way to an all out riot when they told us the next train would come at 11:30 p.m. and it would go directly to Taipei (which is unusual because you would normally have to take a connecting train).

We somehow managed to get on this train (standing room only) with a bajillion (and I mean that) other people who were cranky and tired and ready to just be home. Of course at this point we also knew there would be no catching a train for Taipei to Taoyuan since the TRA lines stop running at 11 p.m. so we were already going to be forced to cab it back to Taoyuan.

Then the train sat there with sed-bajillion people on it for another 40 minutes before it started moving.

Obviously this was just a tad bit infuriating.

So we got in line for the train in Shifen at about 10 p.m. and I made it home at about 3:30 a.m.

Despite all that, I've decided that, of the holidays I've been in Taiwan for so far, Lantern Festival is probably my favorite. To me it's not attached to a whole lot of obscure meanings. It's simple and it's all about your hopes and dreams and wishes. I just love that there is a tradition out there that tells you that you can still have hopes and dreams and they may come true one day.

I love this picture for all the hopes, dreams and wishes it represents.
(Photo by me courtesy of David and Joslyn's camera.) 


  1. Looks awesome! I'd like to go to this next year. Sounds like quite the adventure with all those people!

  2. So awesome that the lantern pics turned out so well!

  3. Pretty....wish I could experience half of your experiences.