Saturday, February 25, 2017
Xuan-Xiao Jie is the lantern festival in Taiwan marking the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Lanterns are lit and sent off in various villages around the island. This year we were invited to visit a god parade in a small town just outside of Taipei. Our small group were the only white faces present. The parade followed a circular road on the edge of the mountains. The beating of drums, whine of the traditional horns and banging cymbals helped us find our way off the mountain trail and into the village. The celebration was just beginning.
We've stumbled across god parades in the city before. Sometimes it's a group of 4 people carrying their god around with some loud music playing and other times the parade is large and long, full of music, people dressed as gods, firecrackers and drums. This parade was the most intense gathering I've yet seen. Single file, the vehicles snaked along the road while spectators walked alongside.
The mix of elements in this parade was wide. There are four large plastic headed gods that often make appearances at god parades, they walked between the cars. At the beginning of the parade, jeeps with speakers were blasting very, very loud music. The dragon in important in Chinese symbolism for strength and power. The dragon is typically a colorful ornamentation made of ceramic tiles on temples. A group of boys wove the long fabric dragon back and forth. It's fun to watch the boys holding the poles to the snaking body because they move in unison, yet each have their own movement to make the dragon flow. Tables in front of homes were laden with fruit and other gifts as sacrifice to the god that would be coming. People walked up to the offering tables, lit a handful of incense then passed it out to the crowd.
We were quite surprised when two jeeps came around the bend with a pole and dancer on top. I'm not kidding. It was shocking and baffling. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this, so I've done a lot of asking to try to understand. The secretary in Chad's office was rather embarrassed. She said the practice began in southern Taiwan. She got quiet then sort of whispered in my ear that men like this sort of thing, therefore they have the girls in the parade. Pole dancers are not uncommon in funeral processions here. In January a politician died and the news reported 50 pole dancers as part of the funeral procession. When I asked a co-worker of mine, she said men find pleasure in the dancers and want to share what pleases them with their god so the god can find pleasure too. Apparently the jeeps stop at the homes of large financial donors to the local temple and the dancers go in and give the donor a private show.
Taoism is an eastern religion with many gods. Each temple has their own god. This is what I've seen paraded around the city at various times. Little parades to celebrate the god's birthday. The god sits on this portable alter with 4 poles for transport. The carriers rock the alter back and forth while they walk causing the flags on the back to flutter. Each time the parade stopped, the god and alter were set in a central spot. Firecrackers were lit (in this photo you see the paper from the firecrackers), people brought innocence and offerings to the god, dipping their head several times while praying.
Fireworks and firecrackers are a main part of the celebration. I've never seen a fireworks display as large and crazy as this. At home we arrive for the 4th of July fireworks an hour early, stake out our spot, put out a blanket and lay on our backs gazing at the stars while we wait for fireworks to begin. After 10 minutes, 15 if we're lucky, the 5 minute grand finale begins. We ohh and ahh, pleased with how beautiful and grand the display was this year, then fight traffic to get home.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Dragon Dance performances are popular in Taiwan on Chinese New Year's Day to celebrate the new year and symbolize good luck to the people.
Elena and I went to the Grand Hyatt to see their show. We were not disappointed.
It began with streamers of firecracker being lit off, then the drummers began.
A team of children danced with spools, tossing and catching them on string.
The dragon chases a spherical object that represents a pearl or wisdom.
The Dragon Dance is very acrobatic. A team of boys hold the long dragon on poles. What you see the boys doing under the dragon is just as interesting as the artistic flow of the dragon himself. At times they stand on one another simply to create interest in their structure. Every movement is beautiful to watch.
The Lion Dance is another traditional Chinese dance often performed during Chinese New Year. Two dancers form each lion. The first Lion Dance had two lions dancing with each other. The dancers stand on their partner's shoulders to extend the lion. I several of these performances outside businesses and malls over the holiday.
The second Lion Dance was unique. The lion, manned by two people, danced atop small wooden platforms. It jumped back and forth and spun around. This lion ate the traditional greens, offered in a bowl, to represent wealth and fortune. He was also fed a "hong bao" or red envelope which holds a gift of money which is a payment for the blessing of the lion. At the end the lion threw candy into the audience for the kids.
A sprig of bamboo on this drum to bring good luck.