Fire in the sky

Sunday night had the first full moon of the new lunar year, and the occasion is marked by the Lantern Festival. It’s celebrated differently all over Taiwan—a parade in Taipei, sky lanterns in Pingxi, beehive firecrackers in the south. Originally we were going to go down for the Beehive Festival and have firecrackers set off all around us, but when Friday rolled around and we hadn’t procured helmets or any other necessary protective clothing, we agreed to meet Andy and Pascal in Pingxi.

The weather this weekend was beautiful, and Pingxi is known for its hiking, so Colin and I left a few hours early to take advantage of it all. Even six hours before dark, the train to Pingxi was packed. Foreshadowing.

Our hike began at the forgotten station of Sandiaoling. It was really a pleasant walk to three charming waterfalls with a few surprises along the way. We got a bit lost (once we were back on paved road, no less), and I had an internal moment of panic (stuck overnight on a mountain with no food!—maybe that Thailand jungle experience left some deeper trauma than I thought), but we quickly figured it out.

The trail landed us right where the Pingxi festival was happening. We fought through thick crowds for overpriced noodles and terrible corn, and then the show began.

Colin Cam

The pictures that follow are my best attempt at capturing this awe-inspiring event. However, not everything about the Lantern Festival is beautiful: the yellow and red masses in the foreground are lanterns, and a few more can be seen across the river. Colin and I saw plenty of others during our hike. This festival isn't a one-day event; these lanterns are launched for an entire week and travel all over north-east Taiwan, likely falling into areas with vegetation too thick to penetrate to retrieve them. They are made out of paper, but it's not exactly the easily biodegradable kind.

People write wishes and prayers on their lanterns--this one belongs to a friend we ran into. Their wishes aren't so out of the ordinary--job promotions and romantic partners are things commonly asked for.

Not all of the lanterns make it, and some of the wish-laden infernos fall dangerously onto trees or even the crowd.

Some people attach fireworks to their lantern, I guess to get them up in the air more quickly. We were around when two misfired, scattering crowds of people, as well as having a few embers rain down on us after the lanterns were launched nearby. Colin Cam

Children's lanterns

By 8:30, we were lanterned out and got in line for the shuttles back to Taipei city. Two hours later, we got on a bus, and two and a half hours after that, the MRT pulled into our station.

Oh, and I turned 23 on Thursday.

Birthday dinner at the dinosaur restaurant! Megan, Pascal, Andy, Anders, Melissa, and Hilton joined Colin and I for a few kegs and some hot-fry food.


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