Taiwan lantern festival

by AFP/Benjamin Yeh, Feb 26, 2003 | Destinations: Taiwan / Taichung

TAICHUNG, Taiwan, Feb 16, 2003 - A diplay of massive colorful lanterns in this central Taiwan city drew a crowd of more than million people to celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival this weekend.

Taiwan people traditionally display lanterns, release floating hot air lanterns into the sky and set off tonnes of firecrackers to mark the festival which falls on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. Traffic was virtually paralyzed with tens of thousands of police deployed as huge crowds surged through the streets Saturday night to admire the hundreds of illuminated lanterns snaking for miles through the city, many of them in the shape of goats to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Goat.

Lanterns from the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau and Japan went on display here Saturday together with hundreds of local designs. Adding a further international touch, five Japanese groups from Hokkaido performed heart-pounding street dances in a city square where the main lantern to celebrate the Year of the Goat was sited.

An estimated crowd of more than one million Taichung citizens as well as tourists from the neighbouring areas and abroad participated in the festival Saturday night. The climax came when tens of thousands chanted the countdown for President Chen Shui-bian to light the enormous main lantern, which featured three goats for the theme of "Auspicious Goat for Good Health and the Spring."

The 20-meter-high (66-foot), 10 tonne lantern cost the sponsor -- state-run Chunghua Telecom -- some 10 million Taiwan dollars (287,356 US). Overall the lantern festival cost the Tourism Bureau and private sponsors 30 million Taiwan dollars. Despite the cost, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu expected the festival to "generate business opportunities worth up to 3.0 billion dollars."

Meanwhile, in northern Pinghsi town thousands of tourists released floating hot air lanterns made from paper and driven by heat from burning kerosene to light up the night sky. "The sky lantern is a bridge between the gods and the people... Through lantern festivals, the wishes of the people could be conveyed to the gods," Vice President Annette Lu said after she also released a massive floating lantern.

Separately, in southern Tainan county hundreds of thousands of visitors looking for excitement flocked to the small town of Yenshui, where tonnes of firecrackers were set off.

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