DIHUA STREET, TAIPEI — Taipei is a city of markets, and I’ve already written about a few of these in previous posts. These markets are open nearly every day and night, and provide so much context for live in a major Taiwanese city: the people, the fashions, the foods, and the conversations.
For two weeks each year, one market in particular hosts upwards of one million visitors, all leading up to the Lunar New year.
Located on what is generally regarded as the oldest street in Taipei — dating back to Dutch Formosa — the Dihua Street Market rebrands as the Taipei Lunar New Year market in a kickoff celebration of one of most important holidays in Taiwan.
Most Taiwanese markets are nearly over-stuffed with foods, and the Taipei Lunar New Year market is no exception. I settled on a Taiwanese sausage, and then some thick-cut jerky, and then some Yakult black tea, followed by dried and sweetened okra and apples, then dried onions, some famous medicinal candy, a leek and onion cake, some pieces of candy, dried seaweed … well, you get the picture. In fact, here’s several =)
With so much happening in and around the market, it can be easy to forget to look upward. Here, Dihua Street offers some truly unique insights into the tumultuous history of Taipei. Some parts of the street date back to the 16th century, but most of the buildings pictured here were influenced by Japanese occupation during the late 1800s to 1945. The Japanese were very fond of a Baroque aesthetic in many of their civic construction projects, and those design elements provide a unique “Old Taipei” backdrop for the market.
In the center of the market is the very important Taipei Xiahai City God Temple, which has been maintained by a single family for over a century. Although there are numerous religions and philosophies in Taiwan, temples are an important part of daily live and likewise, play a critical role for many celebrations. For the Lunar New Year, pilgrims are sure to make offerings to temple deities, to ensure good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
Walking by the temple, the smells and sounds of the bustling, sprawling marketplace melt away. In their stead, the unmistakable scent of sacred incense wafts from the temple, and throngs of worshipers clutch joss sticks and offerings. Hushed whispers of Mandarin prayers are heard, the words too soft and too personal for anyone but them (the pilgrim, and the deity) to hear–despite how public this place is, these are conversations meant for two.
NOTE: Joss sticks are phasing out in contemporary society, and one wonders if these smells might soon be a relic of the past.
I’m not sure that I’ll give it a try, but rumor is that if you are the first person to place your incense into a temple’s altar at the start of a new year, then that temple’s god will watch over you for an entire year. Judging by the video below, the competition for such luck and blessing is a bit fierce.
The Taipei Lunar New Year market captured so much of the spirit of Taiwan. The crowds moved and hummed with a sense of celebration for the year to close, and excitement for the year to come. Vendors and passers-by welcomed me into their little space for a day, and prayers for prosperity took hold of the entire street.
I have a good feeling about the Year of the Rat.