Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pingshi is a small, touristy mountain town nestled in the mountains just south of Taipei. It’s known for the lantern festival, when thousands of visitors go and write their wishes and dreams for the coming year on a giant paper lantern, light a fire at its base, then let it float off into the night.

If you’ve seen Tangled, you know what I’m talking about.

I got to go to Pingshi with my coworkers on a company-sponsored daycation. That means I only paid for my souvenirs, which means I spent a grand total of approximately $10. The souvenirs alone were totally worth it, but add in the pictures, fun day with friends, and a great experience, and I would’ve totally coughed up the $40 it would’ve cost to go.

Taiwan is cheap.

The interior of our bus was swanky. Wide-screen TVs, Vegas-worthy aisle lighting, cup holders, footrests, curtained windows.

We headed out at 7:15am. For breakfast we were served McDonald’s muffins and black tea. Once we were at our first destination, we wandered around, took pictures, and I got in some souvenir shopping.

You could buy a short stick of bamboo and write your wishes on it. There were thousands of "wishboos" hanging around the train station in Pingshi.
Of course I bought one. Polly helped me write my prayer/wish in Chinese. The shopkeeper asked if I wanted to hang it with the others, and I chortled. "No, I want it!"

While waiting for the train to take us to our next destination, we wandered around the area taking pictures. There were several signs warning people to stay off the train tracks, but they were just so inviting.

Yvonne took this picture of me. The only reason I was able to pose was because her boyfriend, Larry, was carrying my bags and jacket. He'd known me for two hours at that point. He's a saint.

Not long after the above picture was taken, we all scampered off the tracks to make way for an incoming train. Safety first!

At 11am, we boarded the train for our next destination further in the mountains.

Polly and I sat next to this kiddo on the train. He was silent the entire trip.

Two stops later we arrived. I followed the group, which listened to the tour guide explaining the history and different aspects of the town. Since it was all in Chinese, I explored on my own.

The day was Goldilocks-perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, not too sunny, not too smoggy, not too crowded.
This was basically it; a lane of businesses separated by train tracks.
We wore name badges to show we were with a specific tour company. As one of five foreigners I saw that day, I'm pretty sure I could've gotten away with not wearing the nametag.

Then, at 1pm, it was time for us to eat lunch. It was a typical meal in a typical setting: many, many courses of seafood and Taiwanese “delicacies” served on a large lazy susan in the middle of a round table. It was a good meal, and I tried sardines for the first time; they were whole and fried, and it weirded me out a bit to eat something’s head. I apologized to both of them before I ate them.

Amidst the chaos is a busy, popular restaurant. We ate on the second floor - this is the first.

Once we finished we were led back to the buses, where we loaded up and set off for the Taiwan Coal Museum. Again, there was a tour, but I just wandered around. So did most of our group, to be honest.

We were led through a series of tunnels to show what mining was like for the miners. It was really hard being tall.
Yvonne and I stood lens-to-lens and took a picture. This is her lens.
This is my lens. We're nerds.

As the tour went into the museum portion, Yvonne, Larry and I separated from the group and went into the back door of the museum to look around. Then we walked to a separate building where the bathrooms and bathing rooms were located.

Can you find me?
The fact that Larry posed for not one, but two shots, and changed his expression in each shot, is a testament to his total awesomeness. This is probably one of my favorite pictures ever.

The end of the tour called for a short, somewhat anticlimactic ride in a coal car like the miners did. I was hoping for some kind of rollercoaster, Indiana Jones-inspired runaway-mining-cart adventure, but we topped out at 5kph. Maybe. It could’ve been slower.

I know, it looks fast, right? So fast you can almost make out individual blades of grass.

The exhilarating ride wore us all out; at least, it made our bodies sore from the bumpy tracks. Comfortable it was not. Luckily, the next step was to make our own lanterns and set them off at sunset.

I wrote my prayers/wishes, as did the others in my group, and releasing the lantern into the sunset was actually a bit of an emotional moment for me. It was a beautiful, peaceful sight.

Where's the genie? I've got my wishes ready.
One of the engineers took this shot of all of us waiting to release our lanterns.
Setting it free.
I took video of the lanterns, but luckily others took stills of them silently drifting away.
The lanterns drifted to the horizon. We all clapped, took a group picture, then headed back to Hsinchu. It was a wonderful day.