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Single Shot: Welcoming the Ghosts

I’ll take a break from posting a recent series from my last trip to Okinawa to show off something I saw last weekend at the Hsinchu City God Temple. This is part of a ceremony allowing and welcoming spirits to roam sort of “finish business” from the earthly realms. During this month, spirits are appeased and/or kept away from homes through incense and offerings and spirit money, or ghost money, is burned as an offering. I have some more shots from last year here.

As school is about to start, this is a bit of a culture shock to many foreigners entering Taiwan for the first time. It’s hard to believe this is the start of my third year on the island!

 

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Falun Gong Demonstration, Jhubei

Last Saturday, I was sitting inside my apartment when I heard a marching band go by. Looking out to see what it was, I saw people exercising in the street and a costumed drum group. Soon enough, I saw the familiar expression “Fa Lun Da Fa Hao” (法輪大法好) or “Fa Lun Da Fa is Good” – a message often repeated in Taiwan where this “new religious movement” is free from persecution, unlike in mainland China where practitioners of this blend of Buddhism, Taoism, and exercise have been tortured, imprisoned, and killed. Also known as Fa Lun Gong (法輪功), the movement itself is very peaceful and lacks any real controversy on the surface. While there are claims of wrongdoing made by the Chinese Communist Party, it seems that the group’s exponential growth in the 90′s is what most concerned the communist government.

While I did not follow the parade very far, I did catch all of it as it went through central Jhubei being protected by the Taiwanese police. This was not a political demonstration primarily, although there were some politically-oriented signs. Instead, it simply seemed like a way to show off what the movement is about. I was welcomed by some of the people following and covering the march as they answered any questions I had with a great deal of respect and excitement that I would be interested in their march.

Above: a set of banners proclaiming that the next group would be an exercise team (seen on top).

Above: this banner states the fact that in 1999, Falun Gong had more members than the Chinese Communist Party. 1999 was the first major year of crackdowns against the movement in mainland China.

Above: a policeman watches as the parade goes by. Religious and political freedoms are heavily protected in Taiwan, and seeing this is gratifying.

I have to say that as China grows and becomes a world power, it has to deal with the fights it wants and the fights it needs. It will be interesting to see how and if Taiwan influences China in the coming years as we see the two countries creating economic ties. While one can always hope for more freedom anywhere in the world, it’s important to keep these things in mind as we as Western countries decide who to deal with when it comes to international politics.

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Random Recent Shots

These shots are from the past month – as you might see from the lack of updates lately, I haven’t been out much partially due to the cruddy weather. However, with Spring’s arrival, the clear days are increasing as the temperature does too and I’ve been taking more shots this past weekend.

These are from Sinfong and Jhubei.

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Experimenting in Lightroom

As I mentioned a few days ago, my MacBook went kaput. Thankfully, everything’s backed up and the hard drive is still alive. This did leave me, however, without a photo processing tool. I’ve always used Aperture 3 just because it was the first thing I  tried. While I’d played around with Lightroom, I hadn’t had a chance to use it for my own shots.

I think I might stick with it. It’s much more responsive to Aperture 3, for one thing. Even though it always deals with the huge amount of data in a RAW file, it’s a million times faster on a PC comparable in hardware to my  MacBook. I was also able to experiment with the different settings – which do the same basic stuff – and have some more features.

A few things I was looking for include contrast, color, and sharpness. All went extremely well. Here are three results:

The above was a bit over-saturated for my taste. I’ll keep experimenting with what to do with saturation in the future.

With how poorly Aperture 3 acts on my more-than-decent MacBook, I might just have become a convert…

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Single Shot: Jhubei Mazu Festival

This show comes from last weekend, which gave me a great opportunity to take plenty of pictures. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to processing them all yet.

This shot is part of what I believe is a Hakka group. It is along the lines of a group of clowns or street performers who dress up in outrageous costumes. It includes some male-female cross dressing, ridiculous outfits, and a lot of noise. I’m still searching all over for what it is, where it comes from, and why it happens. I’ve taken photos of these people at a drum festival before – they participate in a lot of cultural events in the area.

EDIT: Yes, this is a Hakka performance troupe. They are involved in drumming, dance, and some theatre. You can find more out about them here (English) or here (original link) – thanks to my wife, Yuling for finding this!

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Mazu Statues, Jhunan (竹南)

Jhunan, or Zhunan (竹南) is a city in northern Miaoli County, Taiwan located about twenty minutes south by train from Hsinchu City. Its name comes from the Chinese word for “bamboo” (竹, or Zhu) and mixes in the direction “South” (南, or Nan) and literally means “south of bamboo.” Hsinchu, or probably more correctly “Xinzhu” means “New Bamboo” – so this obviously refers to the larger city in the north.

One of the main draws in the city is a temple dedicated to Mazu (媽祖), goddess of the sea. Mazu is huge in Taiwan as a religious figure. She is also referred to as the Heavenly Queen or simply as “Grandmother” or “Mother” as the name Mazu actually implies. The temple is home to the largest statue of Mazu on the island – to my knowledge. It is said to be over 100 feet from bottom to top and I will post more about it later.

Something that is less known about the temple is the 10,000 or so Mazu statues that line the walls of different floors. I wasn’t sure if that was an accurate number at first – then I started to climb stairs and see the huge number of figures. They line every wall in the temple in some parts, acting much like the golden temple donor plaques. These shots are made at an angle and it was hard to grasp the huge number while still dealing with the low light – you’ll just have to trust me when I say 10,000.

I’ll be posting more about Mazu in the coming weeks as the Jhubei temple will soon be having a large celebration. The last big Mazu event I attended was the Mazu Pilgrimage, which takes place around the time of her birthday in Changhua City. You can see posts here and here.

  

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One Giant Leap

Forgive the clichéd title today. I was digging through my Spring Scream photos and realized I never posted this shot of th e lead singer of TAKAYUKIDAN, or 多火油機團, a Japanese band performing during the second and third nights of the festival in Kenting.

Next week is the Dragon Boat Festival – I hope this week flies by!

Sorry about the pun… I’ll stop now.

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Festival at Dajia Mazu Temple, Taichung

Part of the Mazu Pilgrimage, which I recently posted about, was an ongoing celebration at a Mazu temple in Taichung. This celebration was going on at the same time the pilgrimage made its way to Changhua just south of the city.

Mazu Festival: Dajia Mazu Temple, Taichung San Tai Zi 2

These gods represent Ne Zha San Tai Zi, or 莲花三太子. He is known as a trickster god, usually represented as a boy, and is seen as playful and mischievous.  You’ll see him even on Taiwanese television, as he has sort of melded into a pop culture symbol.

Mazu Festival: Dajia Mazu Temple, Taichung

These mobile altars were common through the day, as certain gods “visited” Mazu. The man on the left was dressed in traditional clothing and I’m regretting every time that I missed taking his portrait.

Mazu Festival: Dajia Mazu Temple, Taichung

Mazu Festival: Dajia Mazu Temple, Taichung San Tai Zi 3

This man is pulling a San Tai Zi costume off the line, presumably to give the dancer a break. Later, I had a chance to get an image of the three costumes lined up as the dancers rested at the temple.

Mazu Festival: Dajia Mazu Temple, Taichung Gods Lined Up

Mazu Festival: Dajia Mazu Temple, Taichung Offerings

Offerings are given to the temple gods. Notice the pile of burning “ghost money” on the ground at their feet.

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Spring Scream, 4/3: Sea Level 海平面

Sea Level, or 海平面 (hǎi píng miàn), is a Taiwanese band that mixes certain elements of punk, rap, and rock into their songs. They were pretty great to see on stage as the lead singer’s stage presence really took hold.

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Goddess of the Sea

Before I begin, I should mention and thank GigGuide.tw, a primarily English music site in Taiwan which chronicles music on the island. They featured some of my photos in a Spring Scream guide – check them out here.

Instead of covering more bands, as I planned, I’ll switch back to Taoism after some incredible events last weekend.

One of the largest pilgrimages in the world is underway. While many people think of the Muslim Hajj in Mecca or the various festivals in India which draw millions when it comes to these events, a festival currently underway in Taiwan is drawing huge crowds for Mazu, goddess of the sea.

Mazu is worshiped across East and Southeast Asia – especially by seagoing people as in Taiwan. Her blessing is seen as so powerful that people all over Taiwan and some outside of Taiwan will be sure to visit her as she makes her way through various cities.

Last weekend, I went with Yuling to witness such an event in Changhua, a city just south of Taichung.

This festival is indeed a pilgrimage – and a large one at that. It snakes around Taiwan, through various cities which are all excited at the presence of one of the most important gods in Taiwan. The parade processions include costumes, banners, fireworks, horns, and as said earlier, massive crowds. A perfect day for a camera. With the crowds and smoke, my 35mm f/1.8 never left the camera body.

Participants, like these seen above, wear simple clothing and are fed by people while making the trek throughout the island. I was offered food and drink multiple times by complete strangers, testament to the attitude of giving throughout the day. Many temples set out vegetarian food which was free in exchange for a small temple donation.

These scooters were caught up in the endless traffic. We actually left Changhua before it got even worse, with thousands filling the streets at night.

The people kneeling above are prostrating themselves so Mazu’s altar will pass over them. It is said to bring blessings if she visits you – even more if she passes directly overhead.

This man looked over his shoulder at me as the sparklers coming from the sky rained down – the parade had to stop multiple times for fireworks, sparklers, and other things which purposely try to keep the goddess in the town as long as possible so she will bless the residents.

These men were carrying banners and large spears ahead of Mazu as a sort of honor guard. It was great to spend time with the parade in the evening as we got some beautiful light from the setting sun.

   

Left: The crowds in the above photo are waiting for Mazu to arrive as fireworks are laid out before her altar moves through. Right: …and some fireworks to finish off this post. I’ll be back later with another post about this huge event, I’m sure.

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