Thursday, February 25, 2016

Celebrating The Lantern Festival with a Bang

The Lantern Festival celebrated each year on the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar marks the official end of Lunar New Year celebrations. Mainstream tradition is to eat mochi balls, look at lanterns, and guess riddles, but I decided to end the new year with a bang (pun intended) like this:
Though only a fraction of the size of the Beehive Fireworks Festival in Tainan, the Neihu "Night of Teasing the Earth God" event is still a lot of fun. The Earth God is paraded around in his sedan chair and shop owners load boxes of firecrackers on him and then light them up. It's a tradition that's supposed to bring prosperity to the owners.
The Earth God being paraded around in a sedan chair
Boxes of firecrackers prepared by shop owners

Because of the close proximity of the firecrackers, the surrounding crowd also gets to experience the firecrackers firsthand. It also symbolizes you getting a piece of the prosperity. I had never been that close to a firecracker before, so feeling the heat emitted from it was quite an experience!
Before coming I heard rumors of how dangerous the event is, but I actually found it to be a very safe and controlled environment. Police and firefighters monitor the entire event while parade staff look out for the safety of the crowd. Just remember to wear proper protection like a hat, face mask, and ear plugs. The rest of the parade also included other friends of the Earth God, drums, and a dragon. Residents also shoot fireworks to add to the festivities.
Friend of the Earth God, Third Prince

The Earth God

After the parade moved on we hung out in the back for a bit to pick up the firecracker remains and put them in a red envelope. This supposedly brings good luck for the new year.

If you're ever in Taiwan during the Lantern Festival I highly recommend attending this event as it's a unique cultural event that only happens once a year. I had a great time and it was a memorable experience for sure. Now that the Lantern Festival is over, let's not all monkey around. Wishing you a great year of the monkey!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Japan Solo // Osaka: In Closing, (r)-Amen

Get the title pun? Har har. I know, I'm so cheesy. No pun on pun intended =P I can't believe it's already the last stop on this trip. Osaka reminds me a lot of Tokyo; a big metropolitan city with crowded shopping districts where most activities revolve around eating or shopping. Having traveled pretty intensely for the past two weeks though, I don't mind this at all.

Namba Parks is the first place I go to after arriving, hoping to see some holiday cheer. The rooftop garden was a letdown and wasn't as spectacularly decorated as I'd hoped for. Got a great exercise from it though as I walked from my hotel (4km roundtrip!)
A bit of the city view, but not much. Most of the light decorations seem to be there year round, too. The area was small too. Seemed to be smaller than the sky garden in Kyoto.

Then the highlight of my Osaka trip: The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum! It's a 5-10 minute stroll from the station and just look out for the signs like the one below. Be careful of the 100 yen store that you pass....I went crazy since they had a lot of Sanrio merchandise (for only $1!)
The building was a lot more modern than I expected! I kept unconsciously associating this museum with Tadao Ando and the Momofuku restaurant in The highlight of this museum is that you can personalize your own cup ramen.
You pay 300 yen to buy the empty cup from the vending machine. Not as expensive as I predicted, and it meets my criteria for souvenirs (cheap, small or perishable, and personal) so I tried it out.
Then the most fun part: personalizing your cup. Channeled my inner artist and created this work of art. I think it's pretty good....I mean you can tell which places the drawings represent right?
Then you get to choose which ingredients you want added to your ramen and see how it is packaged.
Adding the cover to the cup and sealing it.Packaging the cup ramen in plastic wrap.
Then shrink wrapping the cup to complete the look. Note that it's recommended to eat the ramen within a month. And one last photo of the final product in its protective packaging. 
I ended up loving this museum. It's really interactive and I learned a lot about the innovation that went into a cup ramen. All the elements of its design from using the styrofoam cup to the shape of the cup and the shape of the ramen in the cup, it all required lots of trial and effort and creativity to make this iconic product.

Other than this museum, my time in Osaka was very chill and filled with shopping that I had held off on. At first I started this Japan trip very worn from having traveled so much already, but now that it's ending I feel sad and itching to plan another trip. The travel bug never goes away :)