Last night, we took the High Speed Rail from Hsinchu to Taoyuan to visit the lantern festival. While this is my third lantern festival in Taiwan, I am not going to pretend to be an expert on it. Frankly, I have no idea what it all means.
But I do know that it is beautiful and crazy and really fun to experience.
However, so as not to leave you all wondering, I did try to glean some information about the purpose/origin of these lantern festivals from my Lonely Planet guidebook and the good old Internet. I have to admit that even after my (albeit brief) research, I cannot tell you much more than this: the festival marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations and this particular manifestation of the tradition began in 1990.
For the first decade, the festival was always held in Taipei, however, now it is a roaming festival. Each year, it is held in a different city. This is all made possible by Taiwan's amazing High Speed Rail, a bullet train that links the north of the island with the south of the island in three hours.
In our first year living here, it was held at Hsinchu's HSR station. Talk about convenient. Last year? Taichung HSR station. This year? Taoyuan's HSR station. We hopped on the train, rode for 10 minutes, hopped off the train and walked out the station's entrance into this.
This fantastical world full of color and imagination and shimmering lights.
What follows is picture vomit. I took so many more pictures; it is miraculous my SD card had enough room and my batteries didn't completely die. I even have a ton of pictures of people taking pictures. Seriously. This is just one of the many.
In order to create some kind of logic to the presentation of the pictures, I divided them up into two categories: my favorite "float-like" lanterns-- meaning more what I imagine to be American-style parade floats-- and my favorite red paper lanterns, which to me are synonymous with Taiwan.
These lanterns are so varied. They are the main point of the festival. Some are made from plastic and others from cloth. There are quite a variety to these lanterns. For example, there was a large monkey, which makes sense because it is the year of the monkey, but then there was also a 40 foot tall Jesus on an ark and a 50 foot tall Genghis Khan atop a horse on a rotating platform. There was Snoopy, an Angry Bird and a minion. There were adorable animals, like pandas and penguins and turtles. Frankly, it makes no sense to me in regards to a theme, but who cares? I don't need a theme. I loved them all.
LANTERNSThese red lanterns. They do a number on me. They are everywhere in Taiwan, but I just find them so beautiful and magical. For other people, Taiwan evokes images of dragon covered temples or steaming piles of dumplings, but for me Taiwan is a red paper lantern. I have always loved photographing them. The paper lanterns at the festival were stressed and meant to look like fruit, weirdly enough. Most of them had bright green leaves attached to their tops. The display at the festival was enough to give any seizures. The lights flashed on and off, up and down the long line of lanterns.
What I actually enjoyed the most was the reflection of the lanterns in the puddles; it had rained, and it was so cool to "walk" on the lanterns as I tiptoed through puddles.
We got a little wet. We definitely got stuck in quite a few crowds. We had to endure the smell of stinky tofu. But for 2 hours, we got to walk around with flashing mini mouse bows on our heads and witness something so fun and bizarre and spectacular. Every year I say to myself: been there, done that. But then I feel the pull to go again, and I am never disappointed when I do!
To learn more about Taiwan's lantern festival, click here.
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