Fire, Water, and Lantern Festival
When talking about the Lantern Festival, there’s an old saying in Taiwan that goes “Sky Lantern of the North, Bee Rockets of the South.” In fact, these two are Taiwan’s two unique lantern festival celebrations.
For those living in northern Taiwan or around Taipei City, the sky lanterns of Pingshi is quite a site. With the help from the local government, the Pingshi Sky Lantern event has received much publicity, with major stage events taking place during the week of Chinese New Year. The “big” event takes place on the day of the Lantern Festival, with over hundreds of sky lanterns being launched in a single day. The “main” lantern usually consists of a behemoth that could be as tall as a two-story building.
Being an organized event, public transportation to the Ping-shi area is much easier than it used to be (the place used to be a mining town). There are shuttle buses right outside MRT Taipei Zoo Station running on the day of main events, and it costs only 50 NT to travel to the venue (though it takes about 1 hour or more, depending on traffic condition). Of course, for those that want to take a more easy-going way, taking the train is another option. From Taipei, take the train to Rui-fang town, and switch to the Ping-shi Line and head all the way to your destination. While it takes longer, you’ll have a chance to see more of the mountains and rivers along the way.
The other main Lantern Festival event takes place at a little town called Yanshui, just north of Tainan City. The concept of the event is rather simple: fire entire arsenals of rocket firecrackers into the crowd to ward off evil spirits. It goes unsaid that you’d better be armed to your teeth with “heavy armor” – even at that, people still suffer random bruises and burns.
Despite the risk, there’s still an overwhelming number of people that go to Yanshui during Lantern Festival to experience the “thrill.”
Even though not exactly the real stuff, Tainan City Government decided to organize a “try-it-out” session in Taipei. So there I was at the event, hiding all the way at the sideline (that’s for people who want to watch the event but not well-equipped and lacking defensive gears).
Well, two things I learned after the minute-long event: it takes about slightly bit over one minute to set off 30,000 rockets, and they can fly ANYWHERE… I had a trail of flame that scurried into the bush right next to me, even though I was standing in the designated “safe” zones.
I guess I probably can’t find the courage to visit the “real” thing anytime in the near future!
According to local folklore, the Sky Lantern Festival came about in the earlier periods of Taiwan’s history. Due to the overwhelming infighting taking place back in those days between ethnic groups, the villagers of Pingshi would send the young, the women, and the old into the mountains to hide. Due to the lack of communication means, the sky lanterns plays an important role to let the fugitives know it’s safe to come back home.
As for the bee rockets, it came about as a ritual during the Qing Dynasty when locals hold a parade spotlighting the patron Deity of the local Wu Temple Quan Gong. What began simply as lighting firecrackers after the procession became a major event that involves local shops pulling out entire walls of beehive fireworks to pounce pedestrians… now that’s a nice one.
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