English Service host John Van Trieste is curious. There’s nothing about Taiwan’s many cultures that he doesn’t want to know more about. Join him every week as he gets to the bottom of yet another question. What will he be curious about this time?
In Taiwan, the sea goddess Mazu is a big deal. Given that Taiwan is surrounded by the ocean, this may not be too surprising. But Taiwan’s greatest act of devotion to the goddess takes place not on the waves but on land. It’s one of the world’s great religious events, a procession that lasts for more than a week and attracts a sea of worshippers along the whole route. With the countdown to this year’s event nearing its end, I’ve got in touch with the Zheng Mingkun head of the temple behind this event. He’s here to tells us where this procession comes from and why, despite the crowds, it’s an event that brings out the best in Taiwan.
It’s not often you get to sit down and talk with a real, living national treasure, especially in their living room. But that’s exactly what I had the opportunity to do a few weeks ago when I visited the home of Lin Yuezhang. Mr. Lin is a master of budaixi, a sophisticated form of puppet theater with deep roots in Taiwan. Mr. Lin’s family has now been performing budaixi for four generations. But he says his generation will be the last. And, he says, his isn’t the only performing family calling it quits. Today, Mr. Lin takes us on a tour through the world of budaixi and explains why he thinks it is a threatened art form.
Taitung, on Taiwan’s southeast coast, is a quiet place loved for its natural beauty. But once a year, when the Lantern Festival comes around, this corner of Taiwan erupts into a firestorm. This barrage has one purpose- to hit a living target. Welcome to the Zhahandan Festival, a fiery Lantern Festival tradition in which people volunteer to be hit with firecrackers. If you’re first thought on hearing about this event is “who would do that?”, you aren’t alone. To help us wrap our heads around the Zhahandan Festival this week is Li Wen-chung from Taitung’s city hall.
In the southern town of Yanshui, the Lantern Festival is an explosive affair. While much of Taiwan is enjoying a quiet bowl of sweet rice balls or admiring a nice lantern display, the people of Yanshui are busy shooting rockets at each other. Where did the idea for this tradition come from? And what is it that motivates people to step into the line of fire? Here to tell us is Yanshui District head Lu Huang-nan.
As the Lunar New Year approaches, thin booklets appear in many Taiwanese homes. These are traditional almanacs, an overview of how to make the year as lucky as possible. There are plenty of predictions inside, but they’re also compendia of traditional knowledge. These almanacs are fairly common, but how widely are they used? Do people rely on their guidance or just consult them casually? And with publishing’s decline in Taiwan, will they one day be a thing of the past?