These days, Zuoying is a Kaohsiung suburb best known for Lotus Pond and the colorful temples that surround this pretty body of water. But back in the 17th century, just after Koxinga expelled the Dutch East India Company from Taiwan, it was the military and administrative headquarters of Wannian County and thus a place of considerable importance. Today the toponym lives on in the annual Kaohsiung Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival.
There are times when people
on this island put their smartphones down and their 21st-century
concerns and ambitions aside, and a much older Taiwan bursts into the
foreground. The final day of the Kaohsiung Zuoying Wannian
Folklore Festival was one such occasion.
My friends and I were positioned in front of Zuoying's Cheng Huang Temple,
enjoying a form of entertainment that's hardly changed in hundreds of
years. Lion dancers, accompanied by drum-beating and gong-thumping
musicians, teased children, snapped their jaws shut inches from
spectators' faces, and threw candies into the crowd. But
the professional and amateur zhentou troupes who perform these and other stunts aren't slavish in their
adherence to tradition. Modern twists on old forms include Techno San
Taizi or Techno Prince performances. Another example followed the lion dancers. Five young men dressed to
resemble the key characters of Journey
To The West danced disco-style to pop music. Even if you've never heard of
this classic Chinese novel, you may well know the story (based on the
adventures of a seventh-century Chinese monk who traveled to India to
study Buddhist scriptures) because it inspired a Japanese TV series
shown throughout the English-speaking world under the title Monkey.
few minutes later we turned our attention to the real star of the
show – the Great Wannian Fire Lion.
This effigy, cute yet dignified, is far larger than a real lion. But
for a yellow underbelly, it was covered with red tinsel “fur.”
Red, of course, is an auspicious color in Chinese culture.
The lion is set ablaze at
the very end of the festival so as to carry the wishes of the
faithful up to heaven. Therefore it's designed to burn well. There's
a very real risk of premature destruction, however, because thousands
of firecrackers are detonated beneath and around it as it parades
through Zuoying's streets prior to its sacrifice. I wasn't surprised
to see a man following with a small tank of water and a hand-held
sprayer, ready to put out any fires...
The complete article appears in the November-December issue of Travel in Taiwan, a magazine sponsored by Taiwan's Tourism Bureau.
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