My mom turned 73 on Sunday. The day before, we squeezed among 10,000 people to send sky lanterns into the starry night.
The Chinese New Year’s celebration (15 days) is always concluded by a lantern festival, because light and fire symbolize hope.
I had never heard of sky lanterns until I came to Taiwan. My mom said she remembered them from her own childhood. What you do is to write wishes for yourself and loved ones on the lanterns and send them into the sky. The wishes will come true.
There is this place called Pingxi which is a town 40 some minutes from Taipei. People go there to send sky lanterns.
News said the municipal dispatched 180 buses to get people there. The line for the bus was still very long.
Once we got off, crowd and this scene led us there. No directions were necessary.
We passed many who squeezed in impossibly tight spaces, writing wishes on their lanterns.
We stepped on heels of folks who carried lanterns above their heads and inched toward the destination unknown to us. I called out the boys' names in fear of losing them. "We have to get a lantern or else they'll be sold out!" My younger one panicked.
At that point, the crowd stopped moving. Some lost patience. They started opening up their lanterns.
They lit the fire and sent it up.
We were hungry and the destination lay far ahead in the darkness. We abandoned the mob and fought our way against the people flow. Pushed by the crowd we followed the smell of grilled sausages. Somehow we found ourselves among thousands of hungry people on a side street.
No family consensus could be reached for venturing into exotics: blood products, squids etc. We ate scallion pan cakes, curry cakes.
...plus 24 muffins fresh from the pan. The younger one insisted to end dinner with a corn dog.
The full stomach destroyed our will to re-join the crowd to that grand destination. So we bought our lantern, squeezed ourselves next to others in the dimness behind the store and brushed down our wishes.
There were four sides on the lantern one wrote wishes on. This was the first time the kids used a brush to write. They wrote wishes for relatives of all ages in our family.
We didn't forget our dear friends.
After all this, we brought the lantern back to the store front and called out: "This one is good for you zhi (oil paper)!" The guy fluffed a pile of paper with wishes imprinted in red and gold, dipped it in some kind of liquid fuel.
He pinned the soaked pile into the wire frame of the lantern.
Like everyone else, my husband carried our lantern over his head. We decided to copycat many others and send it up from the railroad track nearby.
We waited for the train to pass and swarmed with others onto the track.
We opened up our lantern and lit it with a cigarette lighter borrowed from a stranger.
Like know-it-alls, we held the lantern down with our feet to let heat build up inside. Then, we let go. Up it went, fast and steady. On it, the biggest letters read: "Abu, Happy Birthday!" That was for my mom. Cut and paste this link to watch a video recording for the lantern going up: http://youtu.be/z1LywUdMIIg.
Were were killed by the wait. It seemed that we waited for hours among 10,000 patient and civil people for our bus to return. Despite the exhaustion I still vowed that I'll get my lantern early next time, stick to the mob until I get to that place where I get to see this scene with my own eyes:
Picture taken by my friend Tania.