I'm starting this blog for the sake of collecting information on Taiwan, with a focus on cultural activities or other events and activities of interest to a visitor, student or expat here.
The thing is that most of this information is available only in Chinese, or in English, but sporadically; often, it's out there, but you have to hunt it down in person, which can be time-consuming or even impossible for a shorter term traveler or someone on a busy work schedule.
With that, I bring you information gleaned from Bao'An Temple regarding their annual cultural festival. It's based on the lunar calendar so I've looked up dates in my 2009 daybook as needed.
Activity 2009 / Date / Lunar Calendar Date / Time
Temple Parade - Baosheng Dadi
Thurs. April 9
Friday April 10
Temple Parade - Sengung Dadi
Wed. May 20th
All of these events begin at Bao'An Temple near Yuanshan MRT in Taipei City. It's on the map in the station there, and noted on most city maps, including those in the major guidebooks.
The information comes from a 2008 brochure, with the lunar calendar dates projected forward into 2009 - fortunately my daybook cites the lunar calendar date for each day under the main calendar. If there are any changes or other interesting activities during that time, I'll update when I become aware of them.
What to expect at one of these events? The "parades" are really "God's Border Inspection Tours" - the idols from the temple are taken out on palanquins and paraded around town. They are usually accompanied by a long parade including martial artists in traditional face make-up, large "puppet" costumes (they're not really puppets - they're immortals and other spiritual beings) that tower ten feet or higher, lion dancers, ceramic animal floats blowing steam, music and all sorts of other fun stuff.
The firewalking is probably the most fascinating of the activities. The same palanquins are brought out along with slightly different "lion" heads while young men run around a spread of blazing hot coals. Then some people come forth with baskets of salt and pour it on the coals, creating billows of smoke. The men carrying the idols are said to become "possessed" by the gods and walk across the coals as such. Apparently, they are not injured.
At least one student of mine has said that the bearers are, in fact, injured - usually with 2nd degree burns on their feet (big surprise). "Are they really possessed?" I asked.
Apparently not. Some say they are, others just go with the flow, but aren't 'possessed' in any way.