Yet Another Elaborate Temple Celebration in Taiwan

By Chienni McCullough

One thing I’ve learned since moving to Taiwan is to never leave home without a camera. You never know what you are going to see. This truly hit home yesterday when my husband and I decided to take our daughter for a leisurely walk along the riverfront in our neighborhood in Danshui, Taipei. What we ran into instead was the biggest, noisiest, and most colorful Buddhist parade we’d ever seen.

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We knew something was up right away when the waterfront was way more crowded than it usually was on a Sunday afternoon. Half of the pedestrian boardwalk was taken up by small blue trucks elaborately decorated with fresh flowers and giant gold tablets with the names of different temples. Men young and old in color-coordinated t-shirts indicating names of the temple associations they belonged to, stood around chewing betel nuts, smoking, drinking Taiwan Beer, and shouting into their cell phones. Something big was about to happen. You could feel it in their harried preparations.

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I asked one of the men in broken Taiwanese what all this was for. He answered something about this being a yearly celebration for the local temples. I was too distracted by the giant wad of half-chewed betel nut in his mouth and the earthy red tint on his lips to really concentrate on his answer. I thanked him and moved on. There were about 50 blue trucks decorated with fresh flowers, with kids clanging cymbals and banging drums, with men singing Buddhist songs karaoke style. There were men carrying statues of Gods in a sedan chair doing an elaborate dance. Men with painted faces dressed in beautifully embroidered outfits that seemed too hot for this weather. Men pushed floats carrying ornate carved statues of Gods along with boom boxes blasting lively cacophonous music. On the very top of the floats were flashing white strobe lights beating to their own rhythm. Another ornate sedan chair carrying a different God was decorated with a mini disco ball, exactly the kind you find on your average pub dance floor. Following these ornate floats are younger boys pushing generators to support the sound and lighting systems. I wondered if there was a hierarchy of jobs during these parades, that perhaps next year these young boys will move up the ladder and be allowed to bang drums or toss candy into the audience instead. I also marveled at the fusion of ornate Buddhist traditions and disco tech. These are very hip Gods indeed.

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The parade stopped in front of a historical temple and the men with painted faces performed a ritual dance before moving on to the next temple. Along the parade route, shopkeepers laid out tables full of offerings of fruits and cakes as well as incense and Hell money along the sidewalks. Off in the distance, colorful fireworks were being set off. I felt very cramped as people tried to push in front of me to get closer to the performance. The already crowded street was full of onlookers as well as people passing by in their scooters. A great many of the scooter drivers were carrying little yappy dogs, a very common image here in Taiwan.

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I asked a gentle-looking woman next to me what the parade was about. In quintessential Taiwanese fashion, she answered, “Re Nao.” There is no real translation for this word in English but directly translated, it means “hot and noisy” While in the States, I tend to run away from “hot and noisy” places, like shopping malls the day after Thanksgiving. In this place, however, “Re Nao” is what I’ve come to love about Taiwan. The word sums up nicely one of the most memorable things we’ve seen here.

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About the Author

Chieni was born in Taiwan and moved to the States permanently when she was 12. This means she grew up both in Taiwan and in the US. Now she looks at Taiwan both as an insider and an outsider. She is an insider because she speaks the language and knows some of the customs. She is an outsider because she doesn’t always understand the customs. She has a beautiful little girl now to show off to her family and the locals.

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