Only in Taiwan…

Last night, I was having dinner with my girlfriend’s family in the older section of Jhubei.

As I mentioned before, many of these Taiwanese cities tend to have “older” and “newer” sections – for a quick comparison, you’ll find most temples and “older” markets on their side of town… the type of market, that is, where your chicken is still alive when you arrive and definitely not when you leave.  The newer section of Jhubei on the other hand boasts some very nice restaurants, grocery stores, and mostly everything else to keep you from having to go across the river to Hsinchu too much.

Many young people and to be honest, foreigners (like me) live in the new sections of these cities.  We have our conveniences which, while not absent from the other side of town, are a bit easier to adjust to when moving from a foreign country.  There still might be some aspects of culture over here which are impossible to ignore – for example, the firecrackers I’ve heard going off as one of the many new buildings was opening near my apartment complex – but it is much different than just a few kilometers away (yes, I’m trying to convert myself to the metric system at least while I’m here…)

The old section on the other hand, has character.  I’ll get to that later… back to the dinner.

So there we were, eating the whole chicken her mom just got, along with the other piles of delicious food in which we were indulging.  I find my communication with the family has improved, in spite of not speaking much Chinese – though the first thing I had to etch into my brain was “Hao bao! Hao bao!” – which translates to saying that I am too full to eat any more… along with “Hao shih” – meaning that the food is very delicious.  Don’t want to offend.

Partway through my third bowl of food – this time, noodles with some soybean curd – we hear the sound of suonas coming from down the street.  If you haven’t heard these instruments before, I’ll ask you to go ahead and give this Youtube video a try:

Partway through, she uses a reed in her teeth to make the sound sans instrument – I don’t think this happened – but at least his clip gives you an idea of the unmistakable sound they make.  Check this Wikipedia article for more background information…

So I hear these instruments coming from down the street, and all playing traditional temple music.  Along with them, comes this brightly-lit… thing… seen through the blinding on the house’s large sliding doors.  I could only hear the increasing volume of the music and see this large bright thing move slowly through the street.

Yuling’s mom says that this could be a funeral procession – keep the doors closed!  Evil spirits might come through.

Of course, her curious nature just kind of did away with that – she opens the door five haunting minutes later and we see that it’s not a funeral, but something put on by the local temple… the suonas and drums and gongs and cymbals are deafening by this point, so I have to say I was sort of feeling uneasy until she actually opened the door and gave the “all clear.”

The procession stopped nearby because there is a small local altar – which is dwarfed by any other Chinese temple.  It’s set up to provide security for the neighborhood and the locals take care of it just as it’s an extension of their own property.  This procession, which included mobile altars and even some walking effigies of gods being marched through the streets, was greeting the local god on the way to the final destination.

The festival itself ended up at the local main temple.  Yuling and I hopped on a scooter as she went through some back alleys to beat the procession (and the traffic it caused as no streets were closed – it just kind of meandered through multitudes of scooters and cars…) to the temple itself where we were able to see a fireworks/firecracker/dancing spectacle.  Fascinating stuff, indeed.

This probably relates in some way to ghost month – which comes up next week.  Last night, the gods were allowed to wander through the streets that night and they were asked to return “home” to the local main temple.  During ghost month, it is believed that the spirits will be wandering the streets as they are let out of heaven and hell – so it is imperative for people to be careful as not to join them upon their return…

There are bad times to forget your camera.

This would be one of them – something that a Westerner probably wouldn’t experience even IF he/she was living in Taiwan.  The good news is that I did have the camera… I took about 450 photos, of which I used about 50 of them due to softness and low light issues… still not bad at all.  See below for some, and be sure to click on the Flickr site to see the rest of the set.

The above photo is a Chinese god who I currently forget the name of – he was on a mobile altar of sorts.  Right underneath him and blocking out the people carrying the altar is a moving car.  Interestingly, this parade went through some pretty busy streets that were never closed off.  They just kind of meandered through traffic.

Yuling was awesome enough to get me to the temple far in advance of the traveling festival so I could get more shots.  While waiting, I noticed some photographers with DSLRs going in and joined them in getting some shots of the complex.

Divination stones – blocks of wood meant to give the worshiper a way to ask the gods questions and get a response.  If the stones are thrown in a certain way and end up facing in one direction, it could mean that the prayer has been answered.  These were already lined up to take this shot – so convenient!

This is the “big multicolored thing” that I had seen moving by the house.  It was quite impending and lit up much of the room I was in as the music zoned out everything else.  This is a special altar for some sort of special god with which I am not familiar…

A man prepares firecrackers at the temple.  I had first seen firecrackers like this on public display at a Houston, TX Chinese New Year festival.  The fire warden was there.  No fire warden – or safety officers – or yellow things to tell you to stay away here… needless to say, I was extra careful.

This fire was probably being kept up by some sort of Taoist prayer sheets – and played an important role in the ceremony at the temple gate.  The gods would walk over it as part of the ceremony… and I kept a serious eye on it with all of the fireworks nearby… to make matters worse, the night grew windier as the procession came to the temple.

At first I thought this truck was out-of-place, sitting in front of the temple… it was carrying musicians, I soon realized.

These gods are actually around to represent evil, interestingly enough.  They are to be respected and reverred – but not necessarily worshiped…

…and the suonas!  They were definitely heard…

I was told that this dancer represented a man who was being attacked by an evil spirit – as he swayed to and fro, you could see this in his steps.  Apparently, the person being attacked was still protected by the gods… it would be interesting to learn more about what this represents.

Aftermath: the firecracker litter and ash created a really… colorful… area.  I was careful when taking this as to make sure the firecrackers had all been expended first… thankfully they had.


Filed under culture, photos, religion, taiwan2010, temples

6 responses to “Only in Taiwan…

  1. Lulu

    So colorful indeed! the Chinese tradition is always colorful
    Thanks for the online trip!

  2. Tes

    It’s chilled and thrilled to read about Ghost festival! These pictures are so amazing, I could see lives living in them.

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