10 January 2014

New Year, New Beginnings in Taiwan

It happens every year, you finally awake from your festive food coma, the glitzy Christmas decorations have been put back in their box until next year and as the winds of change whip the cold January air, the New Year begins with a jolt.  Achieving those New Year’s resolutions feels about as easy as turning back time to when you hadn’t eaten all that turkey and the realisation that getting paid before Christmas means you’re broke for 6 weeks instead of 4 sets in. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there (every year, in fact) and usually I struggle through January and the post-Christmas sadness alongside the rest of the UK population. One year, however, I decided to escape, and promptly embarked upon a magical adventure to Taiwan.  Despite a burst of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century, this Chinese republic has still retained some pretty dazzling landscapes and exquisite verdure and looked to me like the perfect antidote to my January (February, March…any month without sunshine?) blues.  In fact, I found the juxtaposition of the urban and rural elements made this a unique and rich land to explore, and explore I did.


Upon arrival in Taiwan, I decided to go off the beaten track a little and explore the rural country around Taipei.  This was when I discovered the hidden gem that is Pingxi.  Rolling mountains carpeted with luscious greenery form the backdrop to this sleepy town.  It was early February and there was a sense of anticipation and energy crackling in the air.  The reason, I discovered, was the fast approaching Chinese New Year. Pingxi felt like a world away from home, secluded and delightfully antiquated, but this quiet town was about to undergo the most amazing transformation, and I had no idea.


Before I knew it, this usually peaceful town exploded with people and a vibrant energy.  Everyone was here to celebrate the New Year and brought with them an ebullient spirit.  Pingxi was simply brimming with positivity and the variety of food stalls that popped up, along with the colourful firework displays, gave it a real festival atmosphere.  What an utter delight and privilege to be spending the beginning of a New Year surrounded by such amazing energy.  Still, the best was yet to come.

The pièce de résistance of the festival came on the last day, as revellers released thousands of ornate Chinese lanterns into the air, each adorned with personal messages of hope and success for the future.  This is a tradition that stems from the occupation of the Han in the Pingxi district.  Crime was rife during this period so people used the lanterns to communicate to others that they were safe.  So, on this special last day, a monumental crowd gathered by the side of the mountains whilst market stalls and food stands lined the streets.


The optimistic cacophony of the group and their colourful lanterns gave this bizarre scene an almost carnival-esque quality and as the cloud of radiant orbs filled the sky an orange glow flooded the faces of the happy on lookers. Being such a small district there is very little light pollution, so as you can imagine, the spectacle was utterly breath-taking.  Under this canopy of glittering lights, I was suddenly aware of my place in this world, of being a part of something much larger than my usual mundane day-to-day routine.  It was the fresh perspective I needed to propel me into the New Year. Post-Christmas escape? I thoroughly recommend it.

Words by Louise Bastock