Thousands of sky lanterns light up the sky over the remote hillside town of Pingxi for their annual festival which marks the end of Chinese New Year. Traditionally, the lanterns were used by farmers who worked in the mountains to send a signal to their families that they were safe. In modern times the lanterns have become symbols of good fortune and wishes for the future.
Pingxi itself was hectic on the night. We’d taken the overground train north from LuoDong, a route with majestic ocean, mountain and forest views, changed at Ruifang, and piled on a small rickety train with colourful painted sides. Once we reached Pingxi we were pulled across the train tracks by a tide of people and after escaping from the torrent walked along the main street (built up along the sides of the railway track no less). Food stalls were in abundance as ever, but we only snacked on sweet potatos, fresh orange juice, and Luke later ventured into the strange world of deep-fried ice cream.
Upon reaching the end, there is an arena of sorts where thousands of people release lanterns at the same moment. However, you can buy a paper lantern from any street vendor and set it off all through the town. Anyone can paint their own wishes on the sides of the lantern, and most of them are covered in elegant Chinese calligraphy. We ran across our friend Richard, who was in the same teacher training group as us back in November, and painted our lantern with him.
Of course, we painted ours with the few Chinese characters we knew (fire, sheep, man etc.), wishes for those who have passed away before us, and a cheesy love heart: not quite as elegant but filled with the same intention. Some lanterns did, not ideally, hit the surrounding trees, but luckily ours had a clear path up.
I think perhaps this may be the most beautiful thing my eyes will ever see, and photos of course never do it justice.
How to get there?
Take the train from either Taipei or LuoDong to Ruifang. At Ruifang Station you can change to the Pingxi line which will take you straight to Pingxi. The train from Ruifang takes about half an hour.