I do not know how other foreigners spend Chinese New Year in Taipei, but as far as I am concerned, this year has not been much more exciting than the last (which I mentioned in another post). I think that if you have no family or girlfriend / boyfriend in Taiwan, it is quite hard to find something to do during the Spring Festival. The city seems to come to a standstill. Even some coffee shops, restaurants and Eslite bookstores are closed.
Yesterday evening I took a walk around to see if there was something going on. I have to confess that I was quite disappointed. Perhaps I went to the wrong places; but I knew of no others.
There was no particularly festive, special atmosphere, no excitement in the air, no happiness emanating from the people, and there were not even remarkable street decorations. How comes it that during the most important festival in Taiwan, everything seems so somber, and a veil of melancholy descends on this city? Or have I just imagined all this?
Maybe I am indeed imagining. The Spring Festival is a period for family reunions. I think of family gatherings in Taiwan as very formal, stiff parties. I have already written about what I consider to be a certain ritualism and attachment to social roles in Chinese/Taiwanese families, much of which has its roots in Confucian traditions. Family meals are occasions in which the elders discuss about the younger, and compare them: job and marriage are two of the subjects most talked about.
Only yesterday, the Chinese newspaper The Global Times published an article about a man who passed out while on a train back to his hometown, because he learned that his parents had arranged for him a series of blind dates. This is, of course, an extreme example. But it’s an extreme example of something that seems to happen in many households. Whoever among the younger has no job, no boyfriend / girlfriend, or isn’t married by what is considered to be the “right” age, may face pressure. Certainly, this doesn’t happen in all families. But I do imagine that it does happen in many of them, and that the filial duty to make parents proud is strong, and is keenly felt. Or am I biased?
Later in the evening I went to Xinyi District. I had a strange encounter near Taipei 101. I was about to take a picture of the building when a girl stopped and asked me: “Do you need any help?”
“No, I’m just taking some pictures,” I said smiling, and I thought she’d go away. But she didn’t.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“I am from Italy.”
There followed a series of questions, “Do you work here? How long have you lived in Taiwan? Are you here with your family?”
Whenever I didn’t give her a detailed answer, she looked annoyed.
“Do you want to go and have something to drink?” she suddenly asked.
I was baffled. What could I reply? “I’ve come here to take pictures,” I answered vaguely.
“You can come back tomorrow to take pictures,” she insisted. “Taipei 101 is closed now. You should come again tomorrow morning or afternoon.”
“I just want to take some pictures.”
“But it’s closed now, you can come tomorrow,” she said, somewhat angrily. She simply wouldn’t listen to what I was saying.
Then she began talking about herself: her job, her ex-boyfriend, her travels. I just hoped she’d stop at some point, but I felt she could go on for ages.
“I think I should go now,” I interrupted her. “I want to visit Longshan Temple.”
“So you want to visit Longshan Temple?” She looked disappointed.
“Yes, I do.”
“Can you give me your phone number?”
“Okay,” I said reluctantly. I didn’t want to be rude.
As we spoke she became increasingly assertive. She patted on my arm as if we were good friends, and she laughed out loud at things I said, which were not supposed to be funny. I began to feel uncomfortable and just wanted to leave as quickly as possible. But she dragged on and on.
“Listen, I’ve got to go, it’s getting late,” I said, quite impatiently now.
“Okay. After you visit Longshan Temple, call me and we can talk. I am looking for a job in Europe, maybe you can help me.”
I couldn’t believe my ears.
“I think it’ll be a little too late when I come back home” (it was already 10 pm).
She stared at me as if she couldn’t understand my words.
“It’s not late,” she said.
I realised there was no point in arguing with her at all. I put on a fake smile. “Okay.”
“So, you go to Longshan Temple, then you call me, okay?”
But I saw in her eyes she sensed I was not going to do it.
What kind of person would talk to strangers on the street, in the middle of the evening, behaving in such an intrusive, almost aggressive manner? Perhaps I am too suspicious. While in the MRT, I blocked her number.
I went to Longshan Temple, one of the oldest ones of Taipei, built in 1738. During the Qing Era, the temple was not in Taipei walled city, but was located outside, in the settlement of Mengjia (or Bangka). Now it is part of Taipei’s Wanhua District.
Temples seem to be the liveliest places on Chinese New Year. There were a lot of people, and the queue of those who wanted to go inside to pray was long. I took a few pictures, and then I left.
Perhaps it is only natural that one doesn’t have any particular feelings during a festival one has never celebrated in his own home country. But so far, my impression of Lunar New Year was not one of happiness and excitement, as I usually see during New Year in Europe.