A festival of lanterns
From a dazzling showcase that started in the late afternoon featuring traditional dances from Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and Indonesia, we reached the event’s main spectacle – the unveiling of the main lantern.
At around 7:00 o’clock, a time selected based on what is considered an auspicious moment, all the lights went out. And for the next two minutes, a Chinese traditional band continued playing. When the beat of the giant drum was getting louder, and traditional whistles were being blown in succession, thousands of people that gathered around the area started to cheer louder, too.
For me, it sounded like a chant, a sound of a growing anticipation that climaxed in applauses. Suddenly, the entire area was bright again. With thousands of lanterns illuminating the whole ground, even the effulgent moon that served as light for a brief moment paled in comparison with the brightly lit and colorful installations.
Traditions meet technology was the obvious theme of the 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival hosted last month by Chiayi, a county in southwestern Taiwan.
The main exhibition area featured at least 5,000 lanterns, from small displays to gargantuan installations. The centerpiece was a massive 21-meter lantern that depicted an indigenous child smiling and waving his hand while a Taiwanese dog is standing next to him. It was unveiled to the public on March 2 by Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen.
Now on its 29th year, the Taiwan Lantern Festival is an annual event celebrated on the 15th day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar. This year, it ran from Feb. 16 to March 11.
This year’s festivity presented itself by bringing together tourism, technology, culture, and art. Dubbed as a “smart event,” it was mounted on a 50-hectare land that extended from the county government square on Taizi Boulevard to the Southern Branch of National Palace Museum. The area was divided into three zones: the water, the land, and the air areas.
The “water” lantern zone featured water and light shows highlighting sea of clouds, sunrise, forest railways, and cherry blossoms of Alishan, a mountainous township in the western highlands of Taiwan.
The “land” lantern zone, on the other hand, delved into Chiayi history, focusing on traditional craft art and the works by local artists.
Lastly, the “air” lantern zone showed high-tech lanterns made with new technology, materials, and techniques.
“We have at least 5,000 lanterns on display. I can’t give an exact figure because we have 18 lantern areas. But what I am definite about is the main lantern that has 20 thousand light bulbs powered by 2,000 circuits,” Dr. Chou Yung-Hui, director general of Taiwan Tourism Bureau, told Manila Standard during a presscon attended by some 150 members of foreign media.
Built using modern technology, the main lantern was named “Loyal Auspiciousness” and featured 4D visual effects with a special refraction that enabled spectators to enjoy a magical view of the lantern on various angles. The smiling indigenous-child element of the main lantern design had a moving hand that waved to visitors.
“It features a smiling indigenous child and a Taiwanese dog, which represents the hope for good fortune and happiness. We want our visitors to appreciate the design which also symbolizes home and family, which is the very core of this festival,” the official said.
Dr. Chou further stated that it took Chiayi County one year to prepare for the festival. They integrated technology using eco-friendly material. In fact, they were so concerned about the environment they suggested that visitors to make use of Taiwan High Speed Rail, Taiwan Railway trains, and other public transport to avoid traffic jams and reduce carbon emission.
“We created a strategic alliance with the hotel industry and encouraged festival visitors to use public transport. We want to make visiting the festival a great and easy experience for the tourists,” ended Dr. Chou.