Monday, January 25, 2010

The sound and the fury (Travel in Taiwan)

It had been exhilarating, unlike anything I'd ever experienced. First, the sounds. The eerie creaking of the sedan chair as temple volunteers – like me covered head to toe in protective gear – swung and rocked the icon over a pile of burning spirit money. That was followed by the stewards' whistles as they tried to push the crowd back.

Then the strange silence. When the sedan chair was in position, a few meters in front of a paper-covered frame as big as a truck, the thousands-strong crowd fell silent. Once the technicians had torn off the squares of red paper we could see what lay inside: Row upon row of bottle rockets pointing not at the sky, but at the sedan chair and us in the crowd.

When the fuses were lit, people didn't have to be told to move back. Some tried to take cover behind streetlights; the short cowered behind the tall. The opening shots, however, were into the sky. There were, as you'd expect at a fireworks display, lots of pretty explosions high above the rooftops.

Then rockets came blasting out horizontally. At first they fizzed like tracer bullets over the heads of the audience, but within a second or two the angle of fire was much lower.

Instinctively I turned away from the frame and felt multiple impacts on my back. The physical feeling, I thought at the time, was somewhat like being chased by a stone-throwing mob...

If you go here, you can see the complete article and accompanying photos as they appear in the January-February issue of Travel in Taiwan. The pictures posted above are courtesy of Richard Matheson.

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