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LIGHTS AT LAST IN PING TUNG

The Taiwan Lantern Festival is the second most important festival in the country after Chinese Lunar New Year. For a week and a half, on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, lanterns of all sizes and shapes are lit around the island to celebrate traditional folklore and the end of Chinese New Year; and 23 million Taiwanese gather to light hopes, wishes, and prayers.

Arriving in Taipei one cool February morning, we immediately headed to the the south of Taiwan. Here we checked into the beautiful East Cube B&B. It’s a boutique hotel with the kind of extensive pinewood finishing that makes you feel cozy and comfortable. Its unique industrial design exudes a modern flare yet it complements the host’s warm welcome and the down-to-earth hospitality of this farming county.

Credit : The National

But we were in this part of the country for a specific reason other than to critique hotels, as we’d flown all the way over to see the lantern festival of Ping Tung. This is a major event here with massive crowds always expected. To get a better view of the lanterns, we headed to the festival grounds as soon as we’d settled down, as it was the eve of its official opening, so we could inspect the lanterns in peace. 

FESTIVALS IN PING TUNG

The county holds nine festivals every year, each designed to reflect cultural and natural diversity, and Ping Tung is home to old and new immigrants, as well as to the Austronesian tribes and Aboriginal tribes. The origins of the Aborigine in Taiwan have been traced back as far as Madagascar; and many of these can be found around the southern region and Ping Tung. 

Meanwhile, the lanterns illuminate the festival and also educate visitors on the history and culture of Ping Tung, a city known for tuna and diverse agricultural produce.

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Credit: Pin Tung County Government

This time, instead of the traditional practice of creating a main lantern to represent the Chinese zodiac symbol for the year, Ping Tung decided to honor the tuna, their most prized commodity. However, the pig zodiac, which is a symbol for peace and good harvest, was a common theme throughout the festival’s displays. 

To minimize waste after the festival, the main lantern was turned into a permanent display symbolizing the wealth of the region. Other lanterns were claimed for theme parks, while a few were allotted for international exchanges with foreign cities. The small lanterns, typically discarded after the festival, were turned into piggy banks for the locals. 

LIGHTING THE WAY

The designs enthralled us immediately, especially as most of the lantern designers had incorporated their philosophies into their works. To raise awareness for marine environment, for example, one lantern featured elements from the sea. This changed color when touched. Another lantern featured a collection of 300,000 oyster shells to remind visitors about the need to recycle and to use non-toxic materials in daily life. 

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Credit : China News Agency

All the materials used were recyclable; and, unlike in previous years, these lanterns were made from sugarcane fiber. Solar power also illuminated the lanterns from within. To minimize the environmental impacts, the organizers also did away with the usual fireworks; instead an impressive drone light show captivated visitors, its beautiful illuminations reflecting Taiwan’s history and culture. 

Of course, food is a big part of any festival, and especially a Taiwanese one. For the duration of the lantern festival, 19 restaurants and outlets created unique menus to promote Ping Tung delicacies and popular dishes like stinky tofu and oyster omelette.

And with this trip, I ticked of another WanderList Adventure from my bucketlist. I can’t wait to see how the Taiwan Lantern Festival evolves further. Maybe I will have to revisit it again in a few years.  

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