Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Photos from the King of Qingshan Festival

The King of Qingshan Festival (青山王祭, Qingshan Wang Ji) is one of the biggest traditional Taiwanese temple festivals in northern Taiwan. The centerpiece of these festivals are parades that feature lion and dragon dances, traditional drum and suona troupes, folk dancers, martial arts, idols from neighboring temples and a lot of explosives. I visited the grand finale of the Qingshan Festival last week; below are some of the photos I took. Overall this was one of the better temple festivals I've been to, with some particularly good drumming performances, martial artists and huge pile of explosives.
I've also added some photos from the 2009 festival.

Small idols await the King of Qingshan's procession (taken in front of the King of Hell Temple).

In the zone.

And a couple photos from '09, taken in front of Longshan Temple:

The bajiajiang (八家將) and 七爺八爺 (the tall god-puppets) in these pictures are all entering Longshan Temple to pay respects to Guanyin, the primary deity there.

You can view more of my King of Qingshan Festival photos here.
Also, Laorencha has photos (and a video!) here and his backstory here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A run-in with Tsai Ing-wen

Went over to Qingshan Temple a couple days ago to see if their annual festival was on. When I got there I was told that Tsai Ing-wen was about to arrive, and minutes later she did, greeted by a blast of firecrackers, a phalanx of unobstrusive security guards, and dozens of excited supporters. She was so mobbed that I could barely tell where she was in the crowd, let alone see her. It was on an entirely different level than Hau Lung-bin's visit a couple of years ago, when a friend was able to push her way forward and shake his hand (and yell "Go Taiwan!" at him).
I followed the mass of people to Qingshan Temple, where Tsai prayed to the King of Qingshan and the temple's chairman gave her his endorsement. She followed this with a speech, mostly in Taiwanese but with the odd Mandarin phrase. My Taiwanese is far from the "political speech" level, but I was able to make out "We are all Taiwanese", and Mandarin sentences like "Anyone who identifies with Taiwan is Taiwanese" and "Taiwan is a multi-ethnic nation" made the theme pretty clear. I thought she came off a bit stilted, but that may just be her style- slow, purposeful and not overly emotional. The betel nut-chewing crowd drifted a little towards the middle, and I felt some of them seemed unsure about the "we are all Taiwanese" idea, though that just might be my prejudices about the very Tai-ke audience.
When Tsai finished she came down from the temple steps and gave a quick interview, and followed by some hand-shaking. I managed to shake her hand probably only by dint of very long arms, and being an extremely obvious foreigner.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tsai Ing-wen Promises to Build Stuff

No election campaign in any country is complete without ambitious promises to build stuff, and Tsai's is no exception.
A few weeks ago Tsai proposed several transportation-related projects for Xinbei. The most ambitious was extending the MRT's Muzha line east from Taipei Zoo and the TRA's Pingxi line west from Jingtong so the two will meet in Shenkeng. Tsai claims this will turn Shenkeng into a transportation node, and will make it easier for tourists to visit Shenkeng and from there visit other tourist spots in the northeast, such as Jiufen. Her advisers, she assures us, tell her that it's feasible.
The Pingxi-Shenkeng idea strikes me as really bad, even by pie-in-the-sky pork barrel standards. The point of rail is that it can move huge numbers of people while using less energy and much less space than other forms of transportation. If you're not going to get a huge number of people on a rail line, there's no point in spending the huge amounts of money it will cost to build. An extension of the Muzha Line could make sense since despite Shenkeng's low population, most people live in a single narrow valley that leads right to the current terminus of the Muzha Line. There's a good possibility many of those people would choose to take the MRT instead of drive.
An extension of the Pingxi Line however is unlikely to attract enough passengers to make up for its cost- and given how narrow and winding the Jingmei River Valley is between Shenkeng and Pingxi, that cost would be very high. Tsai suggests that such a line would make it easier for tourists to visit both Shenkeng and Pingxi, and even suggested it would help with traffic around Jiufen. But the number of tourists wishing to travel between Shenkeng and the Northeast Coast or Pingxi cannot be very large- presumably most people would choose one or the other even if transportation between the two was more convenient. If there was actually demand for this there would presumably be more than one bus an hour between Shenkeng and Jingtong, and these buses would presumably be crowded- but past Shenkeng, they're far from crowded. And even a Shenkeng-Pingxi rail line was crowded with tourists, without enough locals to use it, it would be empty on workdays. But there is nothing but a few hamlets between Shenkeng and Pingxi- almost certainly too few people to justify a rail line.