Walking up from the statue of Confucius, I arrive at Confucius Plaza. Scaffolding is blocking the sign, but the constant stream of people from a narrow passageway suggests I should take a closer look. I can see the banner directly now, and I make my way towards the sounds of traditional music and children’s laughter. The festival is an annual event held in the courtyard of the Confucius Plaza apartments where the first floor houses many travel agencies.
The courtyard is lined with booths flanking a large stage. There is also a little island of booths in the center of the courtyard. A man hands me a pink piece of paper. Upon further inspection, the pink sheet of paper has the schedule of performances on the main stage on one side and a sort of “passport” on the back. In order to get a free door prize and a chance to win the raffle, festival goers must visit each and every booth and have their “passport” stamped. Once all of the blocks are stamped, then they hand in the completed passport at the Taiwan Tourism booth. It’s a pretty ingenious idea to get festival goers to visit all of the sponsors and booths at the event – a great way to guarantee foot traffic. Also, the only way to win the grand prize during the raffle is to stay until the end of the festival in order to collect it.
The sun is extra bright this lovely summer Saturday morning, but luckily, there is a light breeze. The faint scent of stinky tofu wafts over to me. It smells like a night market! A singer is on the main stage, and the list of scheduled performances is very long. There is a wide range of performances from martial arts demonstrations to interpretive dance to aboriginal songs with dance. A small band of an erhu (Chinese two-stringed violin), accordion, and keyboard accompanies the singers and a few of the dance ensembles as each one takes the stage.
Volunteers dressed in aboriginal costumes and other traditional dress wander the festival while onlookers request photos with them. Several of the booths are providing truly Taiwanese cooking; like fried stinky tofu with pickled cabbage and hot sauce, rice with Taiwan Tourism Festival a stewed meat sauce, braised eggs, or fresh garlic pickled cucumbers. Iced teas of all sorts such as fruity oolongs, cooling herbals, and refreshing greens are available at a number of the stalls, especially in this summer heat. My Taiwanese friends were in heaven.
Aside from the food booths, airlines and travel agencies have set up shop offering free takeaways and information about their packages to see Taiwan. Language schools had their booths as well as some of the local cultural clubs. I was intrigued by the New York Chinese Calligraphy Club. Sheets and sheets of beautifully written traditional characters and artfully painted scenery and animals fill the table. Handmade jewelry and tassled lucky symbol wall decorations are up for sale at the other booths.
So many people clapped along to the traditional songs and were overjoyed to see the shaved ice or stinky tofu, it really was wonderful to see the celebration and sharing of culture in such a welcoming way.
For more information regarding tourism in Taiwan, check out the website available in Mandarin, English, Japanese, Korean, German, French, and Dutch: http://taiwan.net.tw. Mobile version available by selecting PDA from the language dropdown.