On a large, flat lot of gravel in New Taipei’s Pingxi District, participants of all ages and nationalities have gathered in pre-assigned groups – A1, A2 and so on – we each huddle around our own massive lanterns designed with eco-friendly and recycled material. With oil brushes in hand, we jot down and draw a plethora of wishes, aspirations and nostalgic feelings onto the rough, thin paper surface which will soon soar high into the night sky.
點亮夜空的天燈燭火為MyTaiwanTour的活動「WISH2019- Sustainable Sky Lantern Festival」劃下完美句點。下午，參與的遊客從喧鬧的台北市乘著車，來到了新北市鄉村地區。下了車，眼前一處由竹子圍起的入口，只見一條小型鐵軌往前延伸及附近的山丘。大家沿著鐵軌，來到了一大片綠油油的草地。中間架設舞台播放著輕鬆的音樂，為這場戶外野餐活動增添不少氛圍。草皮右側攤販擺放著各式食物、飲品和商品，另一側則是鐵軌延伸進入山坡旁幽暗的隧道，更襯托出中間舞臺的相容並蓄。
The scene was the conclusion of an event organized by MyTaiwanTourcalled, “WISH 2019 – Sustainable Sky Lantern Festival”. The attendees, transported one afternoon from Taipei’s boisterous city center to New Taipei’s rustic countryside, reach an entrance framed with bamboo and intersected by a set of small train tracks leading off towards the nearby hillside. Following the tracks onwards, one arrives at a large grassy field with a stage in the center playing ambience music, fitting for this outdoor picnic-like event. Flanked on the right by several kiosks serving food, drinks and merchandise, and on the left by the train tracks now heading into a dark cavern on the hillside, the stage itself formed the centerpiece of this eclectic atmosphere.
I say “eclectic” because this grassy area where visitors now taste all manner of local eats and set down towels facing the stage, is actually the entrance into the former coal mines of Pingxi. Along the tracks, a museum exhibits the history of the dedicated lives and the tools they used to extract large amounts of coal – the prized material that helped kickstart Taiwan’s industrialization under Japanese colonial rule in the early 20thcentury. Relics large and small include air ventilation tanks, miners’ lanterns, helmets and drills, and of course, the original electric locomotives used to travel deep into the mountain rock; even train rides into the coal mines are offered from time to time.
來這不妨逛逛草地旁的美食餐車市集，各個攤位販賣著各式地方自製美食和環保產品。這裡不僅有提供多種貝果口味和糕點的「餐桌上的烘焙」、多汁又紮實的台式漢堡（有素食選項）的Plan B、「台灣艾爾啤酒」的透心涼酒品、還有搭配本次煤炭主題的「高女婿」提供黑炭口味的鳳梨酥。除此之外，還有更多值得一提的精選品牌攤販，像是「印花樂」、「OKEY COFFEE」、「River&Truck」、「禾乃川國產豆製所」、「那咖馬行動餐車」、「背背客食Backpackers車輪餅」。
A walk through the food trucks and kiosks offered a surprisingly vast variety of locally made foods and eco-friendly products. Assorted bagels and pastries of all kinds from Baking on the Table(餐桌上的烘焙), thick and juicy Taiwanese burgers (with vegetarian options) from Plan.B, cold tap beer from Taiwan Ale(台灣艾爾啤酒) and, keeping with this outdoor event’s coal theme, Kaonuxu(高女婿) served pineapple cakes with a black charcoal-flavored variety, as well. These local entrepreneurs weren’t alone, others equally worth mentioning are inBloom(印花樂), OKEY COFFEE, River & Truck, Hidekawa(禾乃川國產豆製所), Nakama Food Truck(Nakama那咖馬行動餐車) and Backpackers Wheel Cake(背背客食Backpackers車輪餅).
Within an hour, after everyone has gotten their hands full of Taiwanese treats, the stage springs to life with the beats of Gina’s Can(吉那罐子), which fuses Western pop with music from the Hakka people (an ethnic minority in Taiwan). The funky dance beats performed by this award-winning group were followed by the smooth jazz and bossa nova melodies performed by Lady & Knight(女爵‧騎士).
Rapping up the evening, full stomachs and all, everyone is taken to the final event at an empty lot just 10 minutes away. Here is where we gathered, tourists and locals alike, to decorate our sky lanterns with all manner of designs and phrases, while both teasing and praising each other’s creativity. The charismatic hostess leads the coutdown – “3…2…1!” – and in an instant, everyone softly lifts the lanterns with their teammates, and then watch as the incandescence of the embers rises and rises. As the writing on each lantern gets smaller, some laugh and others watch in awe, but all have their eyes looking upward into the night sky. For a moment, those embers have taken the spotlight – our very own wishing stars.
By Gregory Thorpe