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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lantern Festival: Buoyant Wishes and Luminous Dreams

One night’s east wind adorns thousands of trees with flowers
And blows down stars in showers.
Fine steeds and carved cabs spread fragrance en route,
Music vibrates from the flute,
The moon sheds its full light
And fish and dragon shaped lanterns dance all night.
In gold thread dress, with moth and willow shaped ornaments,
Giggling, she melts into the throng with trails of scents.
In the crowd again and again
I look for her in vain.
When all at once I turn my head,
I find her there where lantern light is dimly shed.

(This is Xin Qiji's or Hsin Ch'i-chi most famous 詞 ci or lyric poem. From the book "Gems of Classical Chinese Poetry"-1988)


I figured I ought to write about Lantern festival before Tomb Sweeping Festival creeps up. The climax of the Chinese New Year or Spring festival is the Lantern festival元宵節. Celebrating  this with my old friends was just the excuse I needed to head north to Taipei and reconnect. I decided not to head north the first week of the celebrations because I could do without the crowds. I had heard horror stories of crammed shuttle buses and even being stranded. (Click here for all photos).

Decoratinga lantern at home in Tainan


On Friday we took the high speed train to Taipei Main Station. We stayed with my dear friend Alisse in Zhuwei. On early Saturday morning Sherry and her brother Michael picked us up and we headed to Pingxi. Pingxi is one of 3 of Taiwan’s old rail lines, 12 km of track, a 45 minute ride scenic ride. We skipped this actually, for some reason I imagined it was an old steam train, and the car drive was just as scenic. The whole area was once entirely built on the coal mining industry during Japanese occupation. Pingxi is also fameous for its sky lanterns, 天燈 a large paper lantern of different colors (each color has a meaning), marked with people’ personal wishes and prayers for the new year, with a combustible waxed paper attached to the bottom that is lit and flies into the heavens.  We walked around Pingxi old town, ate lunch there and drove to Shifen to admire the waterfalls.  The falls were impressive and we could get a close up experience without the crowds. We drove around a bit and then headed back to Pingxi to release our own lantern.

Shifen waterfalls

We had the nicest auntie help us out, her massive sky lantern cost a mere 200NT and me, Z and Sherry painted our prayers with black calligraphy ink—looks better in Mandarin.

Michael dropped us off at Sun Yatsen Memorial to see the Lantern exhibits, mostly al ot of dragons and fish, dinosaurs and transformers made by various junior high and high school students. There were a lot of lanterns depicting Tao gods/generals, Guanyin being very beautiful. Personally, Z and I enjoyed the enchanted forest exhibit under the domineering Taipei 101 in the background, lots of deer, Pegasus, a unicorn, witch, mermaids, panda bears, gigantic bees, butterflies and winged fairies everywhere. We headed to the massive rotating dragon that started every 30 minutes with a laser light and water show.


The highlight of our night out was dinner. Monica organized it and our old Kid Castle gang from 11 years ago, met under the same roof at the same table, with their kids and spouses. It was at an Italian restaurant in a ritzy part of the city, all homemade pasta and breads, very authentic and delicious. It was surreal to see my old friends who still looked the same, with their happy families.  Jojo(Sophie) and her two kids, her husband who was her boyfriend when we worked together, Teresa still single and working too hard raising her niece like her own daughter, Sherry our former manager (best boss EVER), Michael (coolest older bro EVER), me and Z, Monica and Roger (he was also her boyfriend when we worked together). They are all so grounded and happy. It was a fun time, Monica didn’t want it to end, Teresa had work at home to finish (always so hardworking), Sophie had drove from Chungli, so they left.

Sophie, Me, Sherry

Me, Monica, Teresa, her niece

 It was a long Saturday, but so special, like the linking my Taipei past with my present, updating everything, making new memories. Alisse was waiting for us at home, with her cousin, they have been going to some Zen meditation class every Saturday and she is just raving about her teacher who has a branch in Tainan.

The next morning, Monica and Roger picked me and Z up at Zhishan MRT and we drove to Yangmingshan, the massive mountain of memories past. It was the beginning of the cherry blossoms and people came in droves. They closed the direct road from Tianmu and we had to go around. The crowds could have been worse, and they seemed to come later, so we had this incredibly sunny, clear view of Taipei below and the cherry blossoms and other flowers, little brooks and paths. It was almost too warm, we had to de-layer. After lunch we headed to some hot springs, women only, outdoors but blocked by screens.

I was late to meet Alisse at Shuanglian MRT, and she treated us to dinner. Then she helped us maneuver the new bus station, where we said our goodbyes. The bus station is huge, multi-leveled, like an airport. We said our goodbyes and waited for our bus back to Tainan which was super late. We made a new friend who is a nursing teacher at one of the hospitals in Tainan, which past the time. I was exhausted when we got back home, but ahh the memories.

Alisse, Me

Hsin Ch'i-chi's Lantern festival poem

Yuánxī Qīngyù'àn
(Xīn Qìjí 1140-1207)

Dōngfēng Yè Fànghuā Qiānshù

Gèng chuī luò

Xīng rú yǔ.

Bǎo mǎdiāochē xiāng mǎn lù

Fèngxiāo shēng dòng.

Yùhú guāng zhuǎn

Yī yè yúlóng wǔ.

Éér xuěliǔ huángjīn lǚ

Xiàoyǔyíngyíng ànxiāng qù.

Zhòng lǐ xún tā qiānbǎidù


Nà rén què zài!

Dēnghuǒ lánshān chù.

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