Yesterday, my husband and I went shopping for some new shoes and summer clothing. On the way out of the mall, we stopped to get smoothies. Just as we walked outside the mall's front doors, we were overcome by commotion. Right in front of the mall, one of Taiwan's many, many temple parades was walking by. This was certainly not the first time we had seen one; it was more like the 20th time.
We sat down on a bench outside the mall, enjoyed our smoothies and just watched the parade consume the entire roadway and bring all traffic to a dead halt, which was no small feat. Some of the same eerie figures from the ghost festival were present, as were some we had never seen before. Many of the people in the procession had squirt guns, and they very much enjoyed soaking passersby. Sean and I just looked at each other and laughed.
Curious, I started Googling the second I got home. This is what I found:
Even if you never set foot in a Taiwanese temple, you’re bound to come across folk-religion parades. These are traffic-stopping events in more than one sense – not only do the crowds of performers and devotees often block the thoroughfare, but the noise and colour are sure to make you pause, watch and take lots of photographs.
A typical inspection parade begins and ends at a temple, and involves transporting an effigy in a palanquin. This may be a wooden sedan chair, or even an ornate wheeled buggy equipped with flashing LEDs and loudspeakers.
The god is preceded and followed by men and woman carrying banners and placards or playing gongs, pipes and huge drums. Frequent stops are made to bless individual businesses or households. At each halt, strings of firecrackers are detonated, joss paper is burned and fireworks launched into the sky – even when the beauty of the pyrotechnics is lost because of bright sunshine. After the rites have been concluded, the parade moves on.
The most eye-catching participants are known as zhentou. These performance troupes (some professional, many amateur) wear fabulous attire, walk on stilts and perform acrobatics. The best known are the Bajiajiang, usually translated as the ‘Eight Generals’. The eight members (almost always men) represent four ‘infernal generals’ plus the four seasonal gods of spring, summer, fall and winter. The vaguely menacing attitude they show when swaggering along the street is heightened by the ritual weapons they carry. Every aspect of their appearance is decreed by tradition, and their clothing and makeup is a photographer’s dream.Every time I see a temple parade, which always happens at the most random times like when I am scooting to the grocery store or out running, I always kick myself for not carrying around my camera or having a cell phone.
Random moments like these always feel like a fairy tale and serve as a reminder that I do indeed live in a foreign culture, and it's no less cool 4 years later than the day it was we arrived.
Here is a video of a temple parade in the capital: