It was the first day of the Lantern Festival in The Year of the Horse, but I had no intention of seeing the floats. I’d been in bed most of the day with a bad case of food poisoning, possibly caused by some bad dumplings. At 4:30, the bleating of my cell phone jarred me out of a sweet afternoon’s delirium. It was my editor, and she wasn’t interested in dumplings, poisoned or otherwise. “Today is the first day of the Lantern Festival,” she reminded me. “Get down there and don’t come back until you have 500 words, some photos, and the witty captions I’ve come to expect from you.” I scraped myself off of my tatami, and hitched a ride down the mountain with a local scooter lunatic.
By the time I got to Chiang Kai-shek Park, the festivities were already in full swing, and the place was packed on all sides and everywhere in between. I headed down Aigwo West Road, attempting to make a beeline for the food stalls over by Hang Zhou S. Road, but it was tough going. The sidewalks on the south side were completely ren shan ren hai, a colloquial term meaning “people mountain people sea,” or crowded as hell. On the north side, the pavement was packed with people and the year’s lantern floats. Some of the floats were fairly self explanatory – horses, angels, that sort of thing. Others were a bit strange, even for a man of my eclectic tastes. Yulon Motors’ “Marvels of the Ocean” float started off with a fairly straight forward motif of an octopus, a shark, and some fish floating in a translucent ocean. But what was I supposed to make of the angels with Hello Kitty faces hovering above the whole mess? Luckily, my mind was distracted from this by the more straightforward “Matching Dragons,” which depicted two wizened old winged lizards engaging in a life or death struggle over a game of Chinese Chess.
I made it to the food court, and got a bag of deathly sweet honeyed yams and an ear of grilled corn. This was the most I could handle, as I hadn’t eaten in over a day, and the last thing I had eaten damn near killed me. There seemed to be a lot more booths hawking aboriginal goods at this year’s festival, but, fortunately for me, there were no freshly slaughtered pigs – with my weakened constitution, I don’t think I could have taken it. I knocked back the food with a few shot glasses of complimentary green tea, and made my way inside the park, where the festivities were officially beginning with a synchronized drum and light show centered on a gigantic horse float.
It was crowded inside the park, and I could barely move. The only direction I could really get an unobstructed view of was up, allowing me to take notice of the ten or more severed head balloons floating above the festivities. The heads belonged to cartoon characters mostly, and I know that they were strictly for the kids, but still, in my condition, the sight of gigantic dismembered heads grinning 20 feet above my own didn’t sit well. I stuck around until nine to watch a few performances, and then headed back to the subway that would take me home. I’d had enough of festivities and disembodied heads to last me for a while.