Saturday, September 1, 2007

Ghost Festival

Biker Gangs and Bodhisattvas :
The next day we all met in BaDu at the transfer station, the Taipei/Tap Group and Sijhih Hiking group. Dr. Collins joined us from Yilan. Our advisers resources again proved beneficial, as we were greeted by the leader of a motorcycle gang (the doctor/lawyer/business executive weekend style biker gang) and ushered into three nice cars. They drove us to their shop where 8 were outfitted with helmets and strapped to their backs for rides into Jilong.
****Biker Gang has a different meaning here - the not so tough, though still betel nut chewing crew****

Initially, this connection was to result in all of us riding on their backs during the parade, being interviewed by local media, photo ops, and then a performance in front of the large parade audience (remember, this is the largest Ghost Festival event in Taiwan). The audience involved a current presidential candidate, as well as the nation's current VP. Unfortunate circumstances (our contact's father fell ill in another city and the biker's participation in the parade did not emerge) prevented this from happening, but this indicates the amount of support we've received in the program.

Prior to the parade and festival we explored a few temples. The festival is a mix of religions, both Taoist and Buddhist, a characteristic of much of the basic spiritual culture in Taiwan. According to our friend from Taipei, many temples are more or less amusement parks, where people come for the novelty of the experience; fun statues, large bells to ring, souvenirs to buy, and go-karts litter the grounds. She says that there are fewer people in the North who revere and truly believe the religions (though they are not absent by any means). In the South, the general temple culture is very different, the teachings and grounds revered as more sacred. This distinction doesn't really hold up as cut-and-dry as I describe it here, but this photograph shows some of the amusement park characteristics:
*****Traditionally protected by fearsome animals, these cute monkey guys are a little more kid friendly (adults like to ride the go-karts too****

****Guanyin - note the Amitabha Buddha, her teacher, on her crown****

Buddha Theme Parks:
This is not unlike many of the temples in mainland China. Having had most of the historic statues and buildings razed during the Cultural Revolution, China's relationship to its religious culture is often that of novel amusement. Tian Fo Shan or Thousand Buddha Mountain in Jinan City, Shandong is an example of this. Named so for the many statues that cover the mountain and pathway up to the temples, the grounds also serve as a vending site for concessions, picnic area, and amusement park. Small children irreverently climb the Boddhisattva's, chase pigeons, and jump on the merry-go-round. My favorite part of the mountain (beside's the 95 year old melt-in-your-mouth, not-in-your-hand M&M sized, yellow-robed monk with what seemed not a care in the world - think of the changes he's seen in his country over the nearly hundred year span) was the way down. Think Helter Skelter's "when I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide, where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride" - sing it with high energy, sit on the flat board with four wheels and a pole up front for braking, push off down the snaking metal body-width tube, and fly (miraculously) down and not off the mountain. This thing would cause more than a few snickers from anyone in charge of passing safety inspections in the states, but it was the best time I've had getting off a mountain (and Zach, it is impossible to fall off a mountain, only down).

Despite all of this, there are majority of religious individuals have a healthy respect for their deities. Here is Guanyin, the Compassionate One. She is one manifestation of Avalokotesvara and a Boddhisattva. This means that she has acheived understanding and enlightenment enough to allow her consciousness to graduate beyond the realm of being self-aware, beyond the realm of unconscious thought, and out to nirvana or non-existence. However, she didn't want it, and stays behind to help others, vowing never to remove her consciousness from samsara until every other personality also acheives nirvana. This makes her a Bodhisattva and is one of the key elements separating Theravadan from Mahayana Buddhism, the previous and more traditional believing that such metaphors/deities as Guanyin should not be worshipped, as choosing to remain behind in some form of being after having the opportunity to leave, even if to help others, still perpetuates existence and adds to the snare of illusion that most unknowingly live in; if she really understood, she wouldn't be here. Take her as a metaphor, and implications are believing in her validates a concept of existence that is linear (you're here now and can be out later) and can accept both being with non-being (logically difficult for those Theravadans).

****Look Through Here for Enlightenment****

Back to Taiwan.
Post temple visits, we lined up for a photo with and said goodbye to our new biker buddies. Time to kill before the parade meant Keelung night market, famous around Taiwan. Here are a couple shots of some available food:
****Night Market Food Block 1 of many****

****Nutritious Sandwiches Available****

****Turns out they are meat, eggs, veggies, a ton of mayo stuffed in fried bread; delicious as they are, nutritious they are not****
****Didn't go for the life frog dish****

****Nor the plate of crunchy seashells****

The Festival involved a long parade; we sat on the steps of a parking garage and enjoyed the fireworks, noise, a couple beers, and photo-ops:
****Prime Viewing Location****

****Lanterns on a Parade Float****
****Fireworks and Balloon****
****Foto Booth Fun****

****Guanyin in person: she broke her stoicism to smile at me after I was blessed by the Compassionate One's water****

****McDonalds, open 24 hours, and wait, what's that? Oh, Lady Liberty****

****7-11s are also a big part of the culture here: pay your bills, meet your friends, offer directions, all using the Seven****

****Angry-Dragon and McDonalds****

A Peek into the Moleskine:

Neon Glitz and Tacky Shit sells everywhere,
but the Vice President's here
and there's a photobooth
can make you look a rockstar,
nutritious sandwiches
can make your heart stall,
live frogs, nai cha and
atmosphere: carnival.

The temple's a carnival,
the kids are all laughing;
the statues are corny
and Guanyin's still stands in it.

She's no choice really,
Stands still,
scroll in hand
and I'm awed by the sweet sign
with pinyin, hanzi, and bopomofo for
Om Mane Padme Om,
so soon it'll be all over

(it, the light of
this life,
enlightened and not, not, not
not here anymore).

Ellen says from the center and south,
they believe, are reverent in their temples,
but not up here up North,
not so much.

Not much respect, but the laughing Buddha's
still laughing, and Guanyin's
still silent,
and we're outta here.
He was crying earlier,
this little boy, and
sadly stared at the foreigners
sitting behind him.

Mother struck his arm
to hush him up,
toughen him up,
and afterwards he got his ice cream cone.

The lights come on
as night comes up
and he's laughing now,
playing peek-a-boo:

"I see you, foreigners!"
written in his bright little,
firework-reflecting eyes,
and miniature smile.

And the temperature and humidity
have not abated,
despite the lack of daylight
by which to write

(don't worry,
it's like i said,
neon shit sells everywhere -
there's plenty of light).

Did I mention the VP's here
and KMT would-be Pres-to-be Ma
just stepped off stage?

The old bird on the sidelines
gave him a hug, as he walked by,
and the audience cheered.
They like him,

but politics here (so
somewhat say some friends)
somewhat a farce,
a game of popularity
as related to alignment withe the current mood
of the China-Taiwan debacle.

Jerry is jaded;
Everyone elses' colors have faded;
Change your shirt and
People are talking about it.
Lunch is good here, despite it
and these kids, good kids, you and me,
all have somewhere to go to eat.

Pork blood and pig intestines
("that's neither pig nor pork; it's beef!")
in a spicy sauce,

garlic tofu and scallions,
eggplant and red sauce with spices,
pork slid (good riddance) right off the bone,
rice noodles called "ants marching on a log."

And Michelle can climb, too,
up a rope to higher heights
and slicker slopes,
a steeper ledge than she's used to.

We would've been performing,
I now see, in front of Ms. VP -
a nai cha (bubble tea) love song
set to the tune of S&G's Cecilia;

Head line the next day reads:
"Americans Love Bubble Tea"

Half a beer and Meg's happy.
A float goes by with a spinning carousel,
contestants in a battle,
just statues,

one atop a green dragon,
the other upon a flame-eyed horse,
white with two heads;
they're locked in an automated battle
won't end soon.

The fireworks are some of the most impressive I've yet seen, coming off the harbor and over our heads. Some spray in a field, left to right, a steady barrage of machine gun style blue, with explosions of white cannon flowers atop. These fireworks have style. Green stems and wide flower tops or perfect hearts with 10 specific red dots.

Little monsters wear blue and red devil horns, lit neon little shits, dancing with wands of some sort of devilish magic.

****Damned Cute****

****1AM in Yilan City, Sidestreet on TaiShan Lu - the Butcher was busy washing fat over a drain by the curb. Pig sacrifices are one traditional aspect of many Taiwanese festivals. There are groups that protest the act, but old habits, you know.****


Morgan said...

Dalbanese - The story, the pictures, the food. I wish I was there with you. Do you know how blessed you are? All the best.
P.S. Great site.

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