TAIPEI (The China Post) — 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.
The scene was the conclusion of an event organized by MyTaiwanTour called, “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.
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