Saturday, April 30, 2011

week 32_Welcoming Matsu

Well, at first it may have seemed like any ordinary Thursday - but if you haven't figured it out yet, there is almost always something of interest going on around here! My coworkers and I had just finished a pleasant lunch at a small street shop in an alley near the office. We were enjoying the recent spring weather and had chosen the location because of the outdoor tables. We had an errand to run after lunch - some research for a project - but even before we finished eating, we could hear the music and crowds of a nearby parade...

Parade ready to cross a major intersection,
Dragon zig-zagging it's way along on the right

As soon as we'd all had our fill, we headed towards the busy street to walk to our destination, and were face to face with a very long parade on the opposite side of the street. The paraders were headed the same direction as us, so we stopped and stared frequently at the colorful displays. Religious parades here are often held in the streets, smack dab in the middle of business as usual. They simply start walking in the road and expect traffic to clear from their path as they progress. From what I hear, the government is too superstitious to even consider stopping or interrupting these public religious displays - so they walk on... and most passersby just stop to watch!

Giants walking the street

I asked my coworker what the significance of this particular parade was, and he explained that it was a Taoist religious parade hosted by a local temple(s); to honor the goddess Matsu. Matsu - a goddess of the sea, originally regarded as a safe keeper of fishermen - has grown to a patron saint status in many parts of China and Taiwan. Taoist believers now pray to her for all matters from careers, to farming, to family. Once a year her birthday is celebrated based on the timing of the lunar calendar. She is also carried once per year on a tour to every temple in her honor, blessing her followers along the way and chasing off evil spirits. When we came to one particular intersection, there were two giants dancing in the street to chase away the evil spirits.

Chasing away evil spirits

As we continued to walk along the same path as the parade, the floats seemed never ending! This was quite a huge display with hundreds of participants and even more spectators. The traffic (as you can see in the photos) generally tried to stay out of the way, but was weaving in and out as well. It's a shame that the photos can't do it the same justice as stumbling upon this in person! The colors and details of the many costumes were impressive!

Passersby stopping to watch

In addition to the costumes, there is also plenty of music similar to the American parades I've seen. Unfortunately, I would have to say that this particular was not necessarily pleasing to the ear. Definitely not. Even the guys with me were not thrilled with the musical performances, but I have the feeling their true significance was deeper than the pleasure of their listeners. PLUS - there were many, many, firecrackers! These frequently drowned out every other sound. Firecrackers are ceremonial for many kinds of occasions in Taiwan, but sadly (at least to me) they are typically just firecrackers as opposed to fireworks; they are a lot of noise and not much to see!

Firecrackers on a string and papers in the street from those already set off!
Note the scooter driving through - that has to be some kind of a hazard...

The best and most amazing part of the parade was when Matsu's carriage arrived. Of course, the traffic was in the way and I couldn't get a clear picture for you all, but... her carriage was hand-carried and as it approached, the people would bow down - in the middle of the street -  with their heads to the ground, to create a pathway beneath her carriage. With their heads bowed, and their backs facing flat upwards, Matsu's carriage continued along above. It was powerful to see --- and would have been really great to have a photo of! But I guess I will just have to live with my own memories :)

I had to take this picture ~ I love the strong modern and traditional cultures of Taiwan, and seeing them coexist together! 

After the parade watching, and running our quick errand, we headed back to the office. Just another Thursday. =)

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