We have now been in Taiwan for 11 weeks, only a couple more weeks left before we head to Japan! Our days are filled with Chinese studies as Stu shared last week and time with family and friends. The months are flying by and we are truly enjoying a full range of Taiwanese places festivals, holidays and rites which include normal Temple ceremonies, funeral, wedding, Tomb Sweeping holiday, Matsu’s wedding and Matsu’s birthday.
Ritual claims a large part of many Taiwanese every day. As my mom says you can find a temple every ten feet in Taiwan. Mini shrines commonly appear on road sides. Most days you can smell the smoke of incense burning somewhere. Shop keepers and homes have individual altars and make regular offerings. Tombs cover many hillsides in the country. Taiwanese religion ranges widely from Taoism, Buddhism, Confuscianism, Chinese and Japanese folk traditions, as well as Christianity and Islam. Most often religions and philosophies are blended.
Last month we celebrated the union of my cousin Da Bing to Jenny Chen. They make a striking couple with a broad range of talent. Da Bing is a young farmer and Jenny a psychologist. Taiwanese weddings are all about family. They started the wedding day with an engagement ceremony where the groom’s family provides sweets and jewellery for the bride and pays respects to the parents. The immediate family and elders eat lunch together. After a period of rest, the groom has to pick up the bride from her home with pomp and ceremony whisking her off to wed. Reception and ceremony are one, mixed with a western flavor starting at 6pm. As guests we sat at banquet tables for 12 bordering a central aisle leading to the stage. Our groom walks down the center aisle with a bouqet of flowers and presents them to his bride as he greets her father. Then the xin lang xin niang (as they are called in Chinese) continue down to the stage for series of bows, toasts, and speeches. We chow down to a 10 course feast while we are serenaded by live musicians and a singer. We never saw our bride and groom sit down at the banquet! They were up with their parents performing a tea ceremony, making rounds of toasts at each table, greeting guests and changing clothing at each stage. It is traditional for the bride to change her gown at least 2-3 times during the wedding itself, not to mention the morning activities. The whole she-bang ends promptly at 10pm with guests taking photos with the bride and groom and lots of candy to take home. We had lots of fun feasting, drinking, and reuniting with family I haven’t seen in 10+ years and introducing Stu.
Along with the joys of life and celebration we experience death and sadness. Sadly, my cousin AhJia’s husband passed away of a Marphan syndrome related heart condition in his late 20’s. He leaves behind both his parents, his wife, and the Manga comic book shop they ran together. Our deepest sympathies to his wife and family. May he rest in peace.
Bridging both ends of the spectrum is Tomb Sweeping Holiday which is Taiwan’s Spring break. Time to enjoy life and spring weather with family, pay respect and remember your ancestors by cleaning tombs, making offerings of gold, food, money, and whatever else you think they would like in the afterlife. This was a monumental year for the Chuangs because it was the first time my grandfather met his first Chuang Great Grandson. My brother’s whole family, and my parents came to Taiwan for a Chuang family vacation touring the country for 5 packed days of fun and culture. We also connected with all the other generations of Chuangs that have sprouted in Taiwan from 7 generations ago. Atai, great grandfather, 97, was a special guest everywhere he goes.
Offerings range from food, booze, holy water, and paper gold ingots to paper anything you think your ancestors would enjoy in the afterlife– paper Gucci purses, bicycles, mansions…
All are burned to send the offerings in smoke to the heavens.
Matsu, Goddess of fishermen and the sea is the center of attention for months as her icons travel from the South to the North of Taiwan on the backs of adoring worshippers from February to April. Her wedding and birthday are major days of celebration with dancing, music, parades, and firecrackers.