Thursday, January 15, 2015

Taiwanese Traditions: Holidays and the Lunar Calendar 2015

Living in Taiwan, as a foreigner, means that I have to pay attention to the Lunar Calendar.  I’m a pastor and I have to be careful of church events planned throughout the year, because if they fall on one of Taiwan’s major holidays, I will be the only one attending the event.  As a result I have become interested in the Lunar Calendar. 

The very first renderings of a lunar calendar go all the way back to the Shang Dynasty.  This is the 2nd Chinese Dynasty, which existed in 1600 BC until 1046 BC.  But the calendar has gone through a number of revisions since that time.  As science progressed and the true and actual cycles of the moon and the earth were understood the calendar was changed t reflect this information.  These revisions are tedious and boring, so I will not include all of that stuff in this post but I will tell you that the current lunar calendar has been in use since 104 BC. 

There are a number of rules that govern the calendar:

  1. Each Month begins at midnight on the day of the new Moon.
  2. There are 12 regular months.
  3. The sun must pass through winter solstice in month 11

In order to make that happen, there must be an intercalary month inserted into the calendar.  An intercalary month is like a leap month.  It month can take place after any month and is the same number of days as the month it follows. Because of the use of intercalary months of the Lunar calendar the corresponding days of the holidays in the Solar Calendar Change each year.  For example in 2014, Chinese new Year took place on January 31, in 2015 it will be on February 19.

Most of Taiwan’s traditional holidays are marked through the use of the Lunar Calendar.  modern Holidays are marked through the Solar Calendar.  Let’s take a look at the Taiwanese Holidays:

Chinese New Year春節Lunar date is January 1.  (February 19, 2015)  This is the most important holiday of the year.  It is celebrated much the same way that Christmas is celebrated in the west.  Families gather for 3-15 days.  Traditional meals are served on Chinese New Year’s Eve.  People are given gifts of Hong Bao 紅包 these are gifts of money that are a wish of prosperity for the recipient.

The LanternFestival元宵節 Lunar date is January 15.  (March 5, 2015) This is the first day a full moon can be seen in the New Year.  People celebrate by lighting and launching sky lanterns.  There are also huge venues where people go to see artistically made lanterns and watch them launched.  People often write prayers and wishes on the side of the lanterns before they are released.   The traditional food for the Lantern festival is the Tang yuan 湯圓 (soup circle).  These are balls of gooey, sweet rice gluten.

Qingming Festival: 清明節 Solar Holiday: April 5, 2015.  During the Qingming Festival families gather to sweep the tombs of departed ancestors.  It is a day to honor the dead.  Many people use this day to burn incense and worship their ancestors.

Dragon BoatFestival: 端午節 Lunar date is May 5.  (June 20, 2015)  his festival honors Chinese Poet Qu Yuan.  It is celebrated with the racing of the dragon boats.  People eat a special sticky rice pyramid called a zongzi. 

Night of Sevens: 七夕  Lunar date is July 7.  (August 20, 2015)  This holiday celebrates the legendary love of  Niulang and Zhinu.  According to legend they are forever separated, but are allowed to unite on July 7.  The Taiwanese view this as a romantic night celebrated much like Valentine’s Day in the west.

Ghost Festival: 中元節 Lunar date is July 15. (August 28, 2015)  The festival honors the departed ancestors.  People commemorate this day by placing offerings of incense, food and beverages outside their homes and the burning of spirit money for the family members who have departed the world.  This is the most important date of Ghost Month (The whole month of July on the lunar calendar.) 

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival:  中秋節 Lunar date is August 15.  (September 27, 2015)  This is the day when most people get together with friends and family and barbeque.  Look for an in-depth post on the Moon Festival in September.  A gift is given to friends and family of moon cakes.  Circular cakes made with egg yolks and other things inside.  The shape represents the moon and the cakes themselves are good wishes for the recipient.

Double Ninth Festival:  重陽節 Lunar Date is September 9.  (October 21, 2015)  People usually celebrate this holiday by climbing mountains or visiting flower shows.

Xia Yuan Festival:  下元節 Lunar date is October 15.  (November 26, 2015)  During this festival people pray to the water god for a peaceful year.

Winter Solstice:  冬至 Solar Holiday (December 22, 2015).  This corresponds to the Winter Solstice in Western Countries.  Families gather to celebrate on this day.

Kitchen God Festival:  謝灶Lunar date is December 23.  (February 1, 2016)  This is the day to thank the kitchen god.  It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year he returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Jun's yearly report.

(You can follow the links for more information on selected holidays.) 

One final note is that the Chinese Zodiac is broken down into 12 years.  Each year corresponds to a particular animal.  It is believed that people born in a particular year will share the traits of the animal mentioned.  The following is a breakdown of the Zodiac and the corresponding years from 1924 through 2031.  See if you can find yours.

Rat                   1924  1936  1948  1960  1972  1984  1996  2008  2020
Ox                    1925  1937  1949  1961  1973  1985  1997  2009  2021
Tiger                 1926  1938  1950  1962  1974  1986  1998  2010  2022
Rabbit               1927  1939  1951  1963  1975  1987  1999  2011  2023
Dragon              1928  1940  1952  1964  1976  1988  2000  2012  2024
Snake                1929  1941  1953  1965  1977  1989  2001  2013  2025
Horse                1930  1942  1954  1966  1978  1990  2002  2014  2026
Sheep                1931  1943  1955  1967  1979  1991  2003  2015  2027
Monkey             1932  1944  1956  1968  1980  1992  2004  2016  2028
Rooster              1933  1945  1957  1969  1981  1993  2005  2017  2029
Dog                   1934  1946  1958  1970  1982  1994  2006  2018  2030
Boar                  1935  1947  1959  1971  1983  1995  2007  2019  2031

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  The Beliefs of Confucianism
Taiwanese Traditions:  The Planting and Growing of Rice
Taiwanese Traditions:  Selling and Brewing Tea

Photo Credit:  http://www.spreadshirt.com/goat+sheep+t-shirts (Ed. Note:  This photo can be purchased as a t-shirt at spreadshirt.com.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Taiwan Adventure Blog

























Brenda, Elizabeth, Emily and I wish all of you a Wonderful Christmas and a Happy and Fruitful 2015.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Construction Boom

We live in a pretty new neighborhood.  By pretty new I mean that most of the apartments weren't here a year ago.  In fact, just in one section of street by our house there are seven apartments and one mall being built.

It’s amazing.  I see all these articles about how the population of Taiwan is declining and I wonder who’s going to live in all these places.  There is room for probably forty thousand new residents, and that’s just in my neighborhood.  The apartments that are for sale here are in about the US $450,000 to US $500,000 range.  That's a lot of Mazoola, but they're pretty luxurious.  You can rent one for about US $650 per month.  That's what we pay for a fairly large 4 bedroom apartment, that's less than a year old.  That's in Taoyuan City though, prices in Taipei are much, much higher.  

We see apartments being built all over Taoyuan and Bade Cities.  Growth is huge.  One of the reasons for that is that it is convenient for people who work in Taipei to live in Taoyuan and commute.  It’s going to get even more convenient as the MRT extends to Taoyuan. You won’t need to ride the train and switch to the MRT or a bus to get to your location.  You will be able jump on the MRT and find your way to anyplace in Taipei. 

I think the real problem with all this growth will be the local roads.  Don’t get me wrong the roads are modern and easy to drive.  Well, the roads are easy to drive on but the traffic is not easy to get through.  I think traffic will become much worse as the construction boom continues, because I notice all of the building but not any widening of the streets.  Small two lane roads serving all these apartment complexes and the mall are bound to become congested. 
 
 I’m kind of looking forward to the completion of the construction because the buildings are beautiful and modern.  I’m tired of the construction dirt and noise, and all the blue trucks.  For the uninitiated, blue trucks are the scourges of traffic in Taiwan.  They drive fast and it seems like they go out of their way to violate traffic laws and startle pedestrians and motorists.  They make taxi drivers look like concerned and careful drivers. 


Taoyuan City is an urban environment by American standards.  When I was young I always thought that I wanted to live in the country.  Away from the city and enjoying the natural scenery.  But in the US for a time, I lived in Dunsmuir, which is a small town of 1,500 near Mount Shasta in California.  I fished, I hiked, I did all the things the country dwellers did.  But since being in Taiwan and living in this type of urban environment I have discovered that I’m really more comfortable in the city.  I like having a lot of people around.  I enjoy the fact that something is happening all the time.  I liked Dunsmuir well enough, but give me that old hustle and bustle.  I guess I’m just a city guy.  







































Other Posts you may be interested in:


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Real Reason for the Season

Every year we've struggled getting into the Christmas spirit, because there’s no hullabaloo about Christmas.  You don’t hear Christmas music on the radio and in every store.  There are no huge blowout Christmas sales.  No Christmas parades.  No Charlie Brown Christmas specials playing on the television.  No Salvation Army Santas.  The cops aren't pulling you over and giving you money like in the US.  Nobody decorates their house.

This year, though, we’re noticing some Christmas cheer.  Downtown Taoyuan is aglow with Christmas lights.  There are Christmas trees in every store. Some stores have photo opportunities where you can pose in a Sleigh or something winterish.  There are only two things missing.  You don’t see any fat white guys (or Asian guys for that matter.) in red suits, ho-ho-hoing their way through lines of children dying to tell them what they want for Christmas and there’s no baby Jesus. 

In Taiwan, Christmas is a secular holiday.  Well, actually Christmas isn't a holiday at all.  Christmas is just a sales opportunity for the big chain stores.  You don’t see little shops that people open up under their homes decorating for Christmas. 

Personally, I’m into Christmas.  Please don’t make me listen to Christmas music, though.  I don’t want to hear “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”  Spare me Alvin, Theodore and Simon, singing their little Christmas song.  Do not “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” I moved to SoCal all those years ago to get away from that.  I’m not into the post-Christian era Christmas.  I’m a Christian and I’ll tell you why I appreciate Christmas, so much.

As a young man, I was successful in my field.  In high school, I started and operated a number of recycling centers at local high schools.  I got out of college and went to work for a waste hauling company, as a recycled materials collector.  I drove a pickup truck and pulled a trailer collecting cans, bottles and newspapers on the street.  After 20 years in that field I ended up as the Director of Recycling and Resource Recovery for the largest privately held waste hauler west of the Mississippi River. I was on the board of directors for California Resource Recovery Association. I was 35 years old. 

I lived in a beautiful condo, had a hot car and a lot of money.  My neighbors would point me out to their teenage sons and tell them, “If you work hard, you can be like that.”  The problem was that my life was a mess. 

I was an alcoholic.  I drank myself to sleep every night.  I had isolated myself, because social interaction interfered with getting drunk.  I was lonely, miserable and full of self-hatred.  I knew the things that I had done to make myself  "successful."  The way I had treated people:  The lying, the cheating…all of those things that you don’t feel good about. 

Then I was diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy and I thought to myself, “If this is what life is all about, who needs it.”  I spent a number of evenings trying to kill myself, but couldn't drink up the courage to do it. 

An acquaintance invited me to see a drama, in which she was starring.  She was a waitress at my favorite restaurant.  So I went.  The drama centered on Mexican gangsters:  The old school Mexican gangsters, “Cholos.”  I had very little experience with gangs.  In the suburban environment where I grew up the toughest gang was the Parent Teacher Association.  But the drama struck me, because it was my life in dramatic form:  A successful young person whose life had gone downhill. 

At the end of the play a young man preached a short sermon and used the line, “Jesus took a bullet for you.”  In my spare time, my mind drifted back to this line over and over.  I went back to that church the next week and ended up giving my life to Jesus.

That was 23 years ago.  The change in me was apparent immediately.  My sisters had been taking turns calling me to “check up on me.”  They were worried that I would do something drastic. They couldn't get over the change that had taken place in one day.

I no longer drink alcohol.  In fact, I haven’t had a drink in 23 years.  I’m not a recovering alcoholic…I’m an ex-drunk.  I committed myself to Jesus and patterned my life after my pastor’s life.  Now I’m a missionary and pastor because I want to see what happened in me, happen in other people’s lives. 

I appreciate Christmas because it is an opportunity to honor Jesus.  We celebrate the birthdays of presidents, not because of their birth but because of what they did in their lives.  I celebrate Christmas because of what Jesus did with His life.  He sacrificed His life, to free us from the bondage and self-destruction of sin.  He took a “bullet” for us.


Merry Christmas.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On the Road, Again: Hualien

Editor's Note:  After a long hiatus I've begun to work on this again.  I just wasn't feeling like writing.  It’s a long story, better left untold, but my mind is back in the right place now, so I think we can expect regular Taiwan Adventure Blog posts again.  I apologize for the hiatus but it was needed.

The Virtually Indestructible M13
Recently, my friend You Tube Motovlogger M13 had a serious accident on his scooter.  He ended up going over a cliff, breaking both legs and having to have part of his hand amputated.  The accident happened right outside of Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan, about four and one half hours from where we both live.  My wife and I went to visit him.  We had never been to Hualien before, so we stayed for the night and did a little sightseeing on the way home.

Hualien is located about a third of the way down the east coast of Taiwan, about 177 km (about 110 miles) from Taipei.  But those 110 miles take about four and one half hours.  From the perspective of the drive Highway 9 is horrendous.  The road is narrow and traveled heavily by quarry trucks and tour buses.  There are also those intelligent drivers who have no fear of passing on a blind corner over a double yellow line.  Caution is required.

From the Nan ao Overlook
It’s a long, tiring trip but very worth the effort.  The vistas of the Pacific Ocean are spectacular.  There are a number of overlooks where one can stop, take in the scenery, and get a few photos. 

In Hualien, we stayed at a motel called the Taiwan Best Hotel.  The hotel was comfortable and clean and rented for about $2600 NTD (about 90 USD) per night.  This isn't bad considering Hualien is one of the premiere tourist locations in all of Taiwan, because of it’s proximity to Taroko Gorge.. 

The Entrance to Taroko Gorge
So, even though we were in a hurry to get back, (I had to finish up working on my Bible Study for the evening) we took a short detour to Taroko Gorge.  The road through the Gorge is one of the three most scenic roads in the WORLD; not Taiwan, but the ENTIRE world.  We were there only for a short time but were awed by the beauty of that place.  We will definitely make another trip to Hualien and to the Gorge to see it all.  This is just a taste of The Road to Hualien.

The day was pretty hazy, due to high humidity, and the photos aren't the greatest, but we’ll do better when we go again.

Taroko Gorge


Chung Chan Temple

















































Su ao Overlook:
Su ao harbor


The Port of Su ao

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Mountains of Taiwan

We recently took a trip to the mountains of Taiwan to a small picnic area above the city of Sanxia.  We got lucky, in terms of the weather , which is pretty unpredictable this time of year.  The Plum Rains have started and we are seeing thunderstorms on an almost daily basis.  But last Saturday was just about as perfect as weather can be.  Temperatures were cool, but not cold.  There was no rain, just a slight refreshing breeze.  As an added bonus, because of the terrible weather for the last week, everyone stayed home, expecting the weather to repeat, so we had the place virtually to our selves.  Only lifeguards were milling around.  That doesn't happen often on a weekend in the Taiwanese mountains.








































Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwan Travelogue: Lala Shan la拉拉山
Taiwan Travelogue:  The North Coast
Taiwan Travelogue:  Driving to Hawaii

Photos:  Elizabeth and Emily Banducci

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Shameless Plug: Book Excerpt

Our book, The Taiwan Adventure:  An Expat's Observations of Life in Taiwan is on sale at Amazon.com and other bookstores throughout the World.  It's now out in the Kindle Version, so it has become quite accessible.  You can purchase the book at this link.  Today in a shameless plug I want to present and excerpt from the book:  The Number 7 Cross Island Highway.

7.1 The Number 7 Cross Island Highway

A Poppy Field in Daxi

One interesting thing I've discovered is that the meaning of certain words is different in Taiwanese English than it is in English-English. Huh? What does that mean? Take the word Highway, for instance. We've driven the #7 Cross-Island Highway from Daxi Township all the way to Yilan. It starts out
as a beautiful highway. It’s wide with double yellow lines down the middle
and moves along easily at 60 km/h (38 mph). In essence it lives up to the
name highway. 
One minute we’re zipping along in beautiful mountain scenery. We 
passed a huge field of orange poppies: Then the immaculately manicured
Chiang Kai Shek mausoleum. Then something happened to the road. The
highway was like a road with dual personalities…and suddenly the evil
personality showed up.
The complexion of the road changed. It narrowed a little, then a little
more. Then it began to snake through the forest and up the side of the
mountain; twisting and turning; even the switchbacks had switchbacks. Until
the Cross-Island Highway looked more like the Cross Island Goat track: And
then I’m sure I saw a goat refusing to get on the road.

A remote temple in the mountains

At times it felt like I was driving the car in the cartoons where the tires
on one side of the car stayed on the road and the others hung out over a
yawning abyss. Okay maybe I’m exaggerating here, but not much. Then the
road got really narrow and the sun began to set.
Then it got darker and darker. The conversation turned darker as well. It
was like driving through a horror movie. It got so dark that we couldn't see to
the trees on the side of the road. And then it got really dark. I thought it would
never end.

A waterfall near the road before it went all Twilight Zone/Zombie Apocalypse on us.

We had decided to drive over to Yilan. People have been telling me what
a wonderful place it was, so we thought we’d make it a day and drive the 7.
Because I hadn't been there before, I was watching the mileage signs; just
before dark we saw a sign that said 28 kilometers to Yilan. So we drove in the
same direction for at least 10 kilometers then we saw the next sign. Yilan 32
kilometers…wait…we were traveling in the right direction how did it get
farther away. Then I’m sure I saw him…In fact, I’m positive I saw Rod
Serling hitchhiking with a sign that said “The Twilight Zone.” Then it got
really, really dark; it got so dark that the boogieman had a night-light.
Eventually about an eon later we came out of the mountains and into a good-sized city.
We stopped for gas and a man gave us a road map so that we could find
an alternate route home. One of our friends had commented to us that we
shouldn't stop for anyone walking on the road. He said that many people had
reported seeing ghosts on the side of the highway waving to people. I just
passed it off as a legend. You know where I grew up we lived with the legend of
the “White Witch of Nortonville.”
This woman was apparently a nurse in the 1800s during an epidemic of
small pox in Northern California. Legend has it that she overturned her wagon
while trying to reach some sick child in a remote cabin in the hills near the
Somersville mines in Nortonville. Now she supposedly wanders the roads
around the cemetery she’s buried in. We would go out and visit Nortonville
looking for her but didn't really expect to find her.
Then, I saw a guy, standing there, I couldn't help but stare he was
completely pale, like he hadn't been outside in years. He had dark circles
around his eyes and walked with a shuffling gate, sort of dragging one leg
along. He had a double-bitted axe in one hand and chainsaw in the other. He
was headed for the mountains… on the road we just came down.
When he heard we’d just come out of the mountains he looked a little
peeved. He just muttered something that sounded like, “I knew I was late.” I
wonder what he meant by that…