Disha, Shadoe + I woke up in Hualien on Sunday to another rainy day. My shoulder was feeling OK–still tender + weakened, with limited mobility–but I decided to see how the day would go without the sling. After a quick breakfast, we were on our way to Ruifang.
Ruifang is a district in New Taipei City County, an hour northeast of Taipei City. Its biggest draws are the old gold mining towns of Jiufen (九份, which I will post about soon!) + Jinguashi (金瓜石), + the coal mining town of Houtong (猴硐). From Ruifang, we would catch another train to Pingxi (平溪, Píngxī).
We heard about some great hiking trails in Ruifang, but since it was raining we figured they would be quite slippery + dangerous. Instead, we got a quick bite to eat. (What else is new, right?) It seems like every town in Taiwan is known for some special delicacy or another + we did not want to miss out on what Ruifeng might have to offer! We tried these insanely good sausage casings stuffed with chewy rice + chicken (+ probably pork because The Swine is in EVERYTHING) + some taro ball soup. Then it was on to Pingxi!
Pingxi is best known for its yearly Lantern Festival, which always occurs around Chinese New Year. Traditionally, people buy large paper balloons that they write wishes on. The balloons fill with hot air from a burning candle, burning spirit money, +c., + are released into the air!
You can buy lanterns in many different colors, representing the type of wish you would like to make. Some are one solid color, while others have multi-colored panels to take care of many wishes with the same balloon. Lucky for us, in Pingxi, you don’t have to wait for the festival–you can send up a lantern any day of the year!
We chose a red lantern, representing “physical heath” (ahem, the shoulder) + “all wishes coming true.” We all wrote our Chinese names on it, along with some wishes!
The son of the woman who sold us our lantern attached the spirit money to the wire frame at the bottom of the lantern.
Then a man led us to a clearing near the train tracks and helped us send up our wishes!
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, my Chinese name is 方璐璐 Fang(1) Lu(4) Lu(4). 方is a Chinese surname + 璐 means beautiful jade! Here is a translation of our wishes:
- 幸福 xing(4)fu(2), happiness
- 心想事成 xin(1)xiang(3)shi(4)cheng(2), all wishes come true
- 社會祥和 she(4)hui(4)xiang(2)he(2), world peace
Ours really took flight!
As with any fire-related activity, there are risks: lanterns get stuck in trees or run into buildings + start fires. It is common for lantern-wishers to also pray that their wishes will take off without causing damage to peoples’ homes + shops. Unfortunately, someone down the way was not as lucky as we were…
After we sent up our lantern, Shadoe + I got more meat on sticks. This time it was boar’s meat sausage topped with garlic slices + a spicy/sweet wasabi sauce. YUM! (You can see the last bite on the stick in my left hand below…well, in the first picture at least. I was apparently too busy chewing in the second picture to bother focusing the camera.)
We passed by a store front burning ghost money while we killed time waiting for the bus back to Taipei. I have been too timid to take pictures of the ritual until now, so these are the first of what will probably be many images of ghost offerings.
A table of food + beverage is set out while spirit money is burned in a fire urn. All of these are offerings to the ghosts, which are thought of as tricksters. After the ritual is complete, the food + drink can be consumed by the people who carried it out. All of this is meant to bring good luck.
I have seen at least 50 such burnings since I arrived in Taiwan! The first time I saw it happening in Taipei, I thought the shop was burning its receipts…Boy, was I off! (I actually feel like an idiot about that because I had read all about ghost ceremonies before getting to Taiwan.)
After the bus back to Taipei, it was back to the learning grind … But not before I checked out a DPP protest!
I could hear the chanting in my apartment, eight blocks away from where the march turned from Xinsheng South Road onto Ren’ai Road. I am still gathering information about what this protest was about, so you can expect to find out in the fourth installation of this “my epic ‘kend” series!
Just in case you are wondering how my shoulder held up, I did just fine! I am still on the mend, but happy to report that no major damage was done. (My follow-up visit to the hospital on Tuesday confirmed this!)
I’ll end this one with what is probably my favorite Radiohead song. It does not come close to reflecting the way that I felt leaving Pingxi for Taipei (which was relaxed + content!), but it was the perfect way to start the bus ride through the grey, misty mountains. Sound quality not so great, but gotta love the jankiness of this recording + the fabulousness of Thom Yorke live.