Return To Taiwan

Posted on February 19, 2013

I’m thrilled to return to Taiwan to capture our fifth adventure for Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope. What I enjoy most about our travels in Taiwan is the opportunity to show our viewers’ sides of Taiwan and the Taiwanese people that they have not considered before.

During Season 2 of the show I began my explorations into the cultural and natural sides of the country.  I was on a hunt for the heart and soul of Taiwan after getting the feeling that most of my listeners and viewers thought of Taiwan as just a high-tech, low-touch destination.  I think the two shows that we produced changed many people’s minds.  It was also where I was introduced to some of the remaining ethnic minority people of Taiwan and had a good taste of Taiwan’s natural side while traveling through the southern part of the island nation.  I also made my first and only visit to Taiwan’s “Grand Canyon” – the beautiful Taroko Gorge. 

My next visit to Taiwan produced the shows that were part of our 3-time National Emmy nominated fifth season – Taiwan - The Culture of Tea and Taiwan’s Aboriginal People.  I never thought that we could produce an entire show devoted to tea, but I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and also by the overwhelming positive reactions from my viewers.  I learned that apart from water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world and as the show began to air on PBS and public television stations around the country that there are a lot of tea drinkers out there ready to discover more about this ubiquitous drink.

The real high point of my last visit was the opportunity to travel to two of Taiwan’s many offshore islands.  Only 2% of the Taiwan population belongs to an ethnic minority group.  Of the 14 aboriginal groups that exist on Taiwan, the Tao people live on Orchid Island while the Ami people were the original inhabitants of Green Island.  On Orchid Island, I had cultural encounters with the Tao people and was able to sample their special foods, stay in traditional dwellings and participate in the rituals and customs associated with the hunt, capture and serving of flying fish.  It is an adventure I highly recommend for anyone fascinated with cultures – which I’m assuming all of you are.

On this trip I’m following the festival theme and covering the Lantern Festival surrounding the Chinese New Year.  It takes place on the first full moon after Chinese New Year.  Since the New Year symbolizes new beginnings, as well as the end of winter and the beginning of a new season, the Lantern Festival tops off the New Year festivities with a celebration which represents the return of the light and warmth of the sun.

imageIn Taiwan, the festival has two major manifestations.  The Sky Lantern Festival features the release of thousands of Sky Lanterns into the air.  The most famous example is in the small mountain town of Pingshi.  This tradition is popular throughout Southeast Asia.  We witnessed such a display when we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the annual Loy Krathong festival.  Since our Taiwan show will not start airing until later this year, if you want to get a sense of what I mean, check out that show at Travelscope.net/ThailandFestival.  Like most lantern festivals in Asia, Taiwan’s Sky Lanterns are made of bamboo wrapped in pieces of oiled paper.  When the kerosene wick inside is lit the air inside heats up and the lantern rises up into the sky.

In Pingshi the Sky Lantern custom is rooted in ancient times as the rising light was a way for locals to alert their families of their safety in this mountainous countryside.  Today participants send their messages skyward in search of good fortune, family health, a bountiful harvest, increased prosperity and love, love, love.  I understand everyone’s wishes are guaranteed to come true.

On the other hand, the Taiwan Lantern Festival is a national electric celebration that Taiwan Tourism has put on in different counties throughout the island for going on 24 years.  Each year, the festival features a Main Theme Lantern based on the Chinese zodiac animal for the new year.  In addition there are thousands of other lanterns that burn with a different theme, such as the Blessing Lantern Area, Local Culture Area and Joyous Lantern Area. This year the festival is being held in Hsinchu County and promises to be a turned-on affair whose zodiac animal is a monumental snake lantern consisting of more than 200,000 lights.

Every time I do a show on Taiwan I’m pleased to find that that there is always something new and exciting to discover and a new way to tell the story of this fascinating country.  Follow our travels in Taiwan on Facebook at Facebook.com/Travelscope.  For more information on Taiwan go to www.taiwan.net.tw

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