Saturday, June 11, 2005

Dragon Boat Festival

After Lunar New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節 May 5, Lunar calendar) is the next big festival in Taiwan. Due to the transition into Summer, diseases and sicknesses are quite prone around this time, so traditionally the Festival has signified a day to rid the body and living environment of evil influences and impurities. Adults would drink a sort of yellow rice wine (雄 黃 酒 ), while children would have the character 'king' (王) drawn onto their foreheads. Both are supposed to prevent bad omens from contaminating the body. Further, children would wear red pouches stuffed with scented herbs (香 包), often in the shape of tigers and dragons (now increasingly in the shape of cartoon characters like Doraemon or Pikachu), to ward off bad spirits. Outside of houses, a bunch of bayan twigs and leaves as well as a mix of fresh herbs (榕 枝 與 艾 草 ) are hung outside of doors, also supposed to have the effect of warding off bad omens and diseases. Some even grind the leaves and herbs and boil them to take baths in. Many households (like I did) would set fruits and dishes on a table, pray to the deities and gods, and burn paper money to welcome new, healthy times.

Legend has it, during the Waring Dynasty, the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (屈 原) committed suicide by jumping into a river when the Chu Emperor dismissed Qu's better judgement government. Local people quickly wrapped rice balls in lotus leaves and dumped them into the river, so as to prevent the fish eating the corpse of the beloved poet. Till this day, wrapped-rice dumplings (粽 子) is still eatento celebrate the festival.

The event is also marked by dragon boat rowing competitions on major rivers, capture the joyous and lively mood of people to enter a new and energetic season. The boats are carved out of whole tree trunks, moulded and shaped into a dragon, colourfully hand-painted, with a detailed head and tail. The eyes of the dragon are deliberately left white. On May 1 of the Lunar calendar, the village chief would perform an elaborate 'eye-dotting ceremony' (「 開 光 」 儀 式literally 'Opening the light' ), during which he would breath life into the dragon by granting it eyes. Wishes and blessings are made to pray for prosperity and peace for the coming year. Fireworks are set off and gongs are sounded as the dragons are pushed into the water.
(See for more details in Mandarin.)

All the above are not musts, but part of the local culture and spirit. When in Taipei, do as the Taiwanese do...
burning paper 'sacrifices' Posted by Hello
paper with clothes, shoes, daily necessities printed on them to be 'sacrificed' to deities Posted by Hello
praying with incense and fruits to local deities  Posted by Hello
a bundle of grass and herbs to ward off bad spirits Posted by Hello
start line Posted by Hello
look at the guy reaching for the flag at the end Posted by Hello
preparing for the race Posted by Hello
White team in the lead! Drummer at the dragon's head, encouraging the rowers on Posted by Hello
Japanese (white), Filipino (naked), and Singaporean (red) teams competing (Japan won) Posted by Hello
this year's competition held on the Keelung River, by the Dazhi suspension bridge Posted by Hello
dragon boat racing Posted by Hello
Taipei International Dragon Boat Festival Posted by Hello

Through the forest

Further upstream is the Zhiben National Forest. It's reputed to house an abundant flora and fauna, and the paths through the bayan forests is supposed to cleanse the body of harmful toxins.

It was a hot and humid day, and the forest was empty. Mum and dad were already tired walking up the slope to the entrance, and had dozed off while we watched the short documentary film about the forest recreational area. So they stayed around the entrance, in the shade. I went by myself through the forest, following a pathway which went uphill to a high lookout point and then downhill again. Normally it would take around two hours to walk the whole distance, but for the lack of time I did it in less than one.

The long and winding road was a bit worrying at first. The entrance to the path was covered with trees. And on the rockface a sign warned passerbys to beware of poisonous snakes and insects. I felt a shudder when I saw it. When I looked around, trying to heed and take note of any slithering movement, a massive spider web tangled amongst the low hanging leaves. As I looked closer, a black-legged, colourful-bodied spider, the size of a fist clung onto its nest. Another shiver up my spine...

I bravely stumbled onwards, catching glimpses of my watch, so as not to be late. Many moments I felt like turning back. The narrow path, dark forest floor and lack of anybody along the way tempted me to surrender. But nature did not triumph over my will that day. I stumbled on. Sometimes I tripped and my sandals fell off, but I continued bravely on. Though there was nobody around, the symphony of insects, calls of birds, dances of the butterflies accompanied me on the journey, up and down hill.

At one point, a sign warned passerbys of the presence of the Formosan Macaques. These are infamously mischievous apes, which often pilt rocks and branches at mountain-hikers. I was thorougly excited and wanted to catch a glimpse of them. But I only saw the branches above me ruffle and shake, I only heard high-pitched calls. They left this lonely wanderer alone on his way.

Even so, many lizards, grasshopers, and butterflies passed my path. My footsteps stirred them from their usually quite habitat. The long winding stairs seemed endless...a stairway to heaven, and then down again, amid the bayan trees that looked like old men with white beards and long embracing arms. Their green shade and branches rubbed against my head, now and then, as if signs of encouragement, wooing me forward on this journey through the mysterious and deserted forest.

A cold creek welcomed my sore feet at the end. I stood in it, and allowed the cold, mountain water rush underneath me. Nature sure knows how to mould wonders.
stream Posted by Hello
Formosan Butterfly Orchid flower Posted by Hello
wild Formosan Lilies: unofficial national flower Posted by Hello
Formosan Black Butterfly Posted by Hello
green lizard Posted by Hello
black lizard Posted by Hello
some kind of fruit (maybe poisonous) Posted by Hello
Sleeping Lotus Posted by Hello
Old Bayan tres Posted by Hello
White Bayan trees Posted by Hello
deep forest Posted by Hello
Forest stairway Posted by Hello
Forest path Posted by Hello