Monday, August 3, 2009

Domestic festivals, global attention (Taiwan Review)

Like all journalists, travel writers are skeptics. When picking up a leaflet from the Tourism Bureau of the Republic of China that gushes "Festival Island - Taiwan's calendar is filled with an endless stream of festivals... [that] can give you a deep and fascinating insight into the many faces of Taiwan," the reporter's instinct is to disregard or discount it.

Yet festivals are undoubtedly a big part of local life and a major driver of Taiwan's tourist industry. There is a historical reason for this: Before Taiwan became an affluent society, events like gods' birthdays and pilgrimages offered important diversions. For ordinary people, these festivals - along with family events like weddings - provided occasions when they could take time out from the daily struggle to relax and enjoy themselves.

Like most of those who attend the Lantern Festival, a colorful multi-day, multi-city event that occurs two weeks after the Lunar New Year, Taiwanese day-trippers account for the bulk of the visitors at the Songjiang Battle Array in Kaohsiung County, Hsinchu City's Glass Art Street Carnival or the Mid-Summer Ghost Festival in the northwest port city of Keelung. However, while international visitors remain a minority, their numbers are growing.

"Taiwan's festivals are without doubt a major draw for overseas Chinese," says Elisa Lim, a freelance reporter who has written about Taiwan for Chinese-language magazines and newspapers in Hong Kong and Malaysia as well as in her native Singapore. "Many are curious about the customs of an island that's often and rightly described as 'the most Chinese place on Earth...'"

The entire article is here.

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