Off the Shifen Old Street in Taiwan during CNY
If you are craving for a real sense of the local culture in such exotic locations all over the world, you should engage into their festivals. Festivals are truly the most memorable events scattering throughout the year in each community. Getting to see local customs and traditions can somewhat be interpreted as cracking shells of living creatures to take the hidden gems out.
I just arrived home last week after four nights surfing in Taiwan. Yes, I choose the word “surfing” but not “traveling” just because four days is like a flicker of flame with me jumping in for a few seconds then getting out real quick. However, I tried to scour Taiwan for its most enchanting places that I could hardly resist dropping by.
One of the most well-known destinations that I must highlight is Shifen Old Street located in Pingxi District. It is where Taiwan Lantern Festival, a must-see festival featured on National Geographic, is annually held on the evening of the first full moon of Lunar New Year (15th of Lunar January). In 2017, it takes place on 11th of February, which is yesterday and it was such a pity that I just missed it out. This festival is marked with two significant activities clearly explained in a common short quote: “Fireworks in the South, Sky Lanterns in the North.” Sky Lanterns in the North are basically floating lanterns illuminating a vast expanse of Pingxi night sky. This eye-catching sight reminds me of a romantic scene in which Eugene and Rapunzel from Tangled watched thousands of glowing lanterns lighting up the sky.
Did Pingxi really inspire Walt Disney to bring out that scene? Who knows? haha. If you are a big fan of Tangled, you should attend Taiwan Lantern Festival and sing along with all the tunes in “See the light” to be fully in the presence with your own “Eugene” or “Rapunzel”. 😹
Although I didn’t have a chance to catch this impressive night view that is rarely seen elsewhere in the world, I was still lucky enough to roam around Shifen Old Street and see the smattering of lanterns dotted over the horizon in the rainy morning of the 4th day of Chinese New Year.
Known as a great stop along the Pingxi Branch Railway, one of the three remaining branch lines in Taiwan, and only 20-minute-walk from Shifen Waterfall on babbling brooks, Shifen Old Street is a magnificent place attracting a large number of both local and foreign visitors every year. When I got there, I felt like being sent decades into the past, back to when the Taiwan coal-mining industry flourished during the Japanese era with Shifen Railway Station originally used for transporting coals.
I reached the ancient street with two feet set on the ground loaded with gravels and coals. I hopped on and off the tracks which are just a few meters from the road on either side. This recalls the main hit quirk I discovered in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is a railway line passing through the downtown, inches away from the doors of households on either side. They are of the remaining places in Asia that we can have real human experience in putting ourselves at risk by taking the tracks as ‘playgrounds’ but always on alert.
I was first impressed by a throng of Taiwanese people getting down the track lighting up their lanterns and watching them fly over the sky. Of all curiosity, I randomly picked a lantern store in the ocean of shops and restaurants set along both sides of the railway, and I stepped inside with the hope of exploring this interesting custom. I wish I could speak Chinese, even just a little bit but other than nihao and xie xie, good enough to communicate with the locals. With all my senses, I could feel the salesmen' warm welcomes. They were all absolutely eager to share me all the stories about CNY traditions in their region although I had no idea what those beautiful Chinese words uttered out were meant to be 😖 . I appreciated their friendliness and hospitality that they unconditionally gave me. I listened to them attentively and watched them help their customers out with the lanterns. The local family bought a huge lantern (150 TWD/one single color lantern; 200 TWD/four sided color lantern), wrote their wishes on the lantern and then went out to light them up. They posed for photos before releasing the lanterns into the air. The lanterns followed the breeze, carrying great prayers for blessings to the Gods and Ancestors.
This more-than-two-minute video below captured Taiwan’s Shifen Old Street during Chinese New Year. (Grab some popcorn and check it out! I hope it can help you picture out this cool street to some extent. I’m not a pro filmmaker though haha)
Happy New Year 2017! 😊
Happy New Year 2017! 😊