Lantern Festival

I will start writing and sharing more again through my blog. My goal is to write at least one meaningful blog post per week. I write in my journal everyday, and record my dreams. It's an essential part of my day. I end up spending quite a bit of time processing and reflecting. It's time to start sharing this with everyone again. Please give me feedback! (I probably won't edit what I write too much. Please forgive me--- and, enjoy!) 

The first full moon of the new Snake year is tomorrow. It's a Chinese festival called the Yuan Xiao Festival (元宵節). I looked it up on wiki, and in English it's called the Lantern Festival. 

I've been substitute teaching English this week during the mornings. I finish teaching right in time for lunch. I bring a packed lunch with me, and find a nice place to sit somewhere new everyday, between the school and my university. Two days ago, I sat on a bench in front of a small pub to watch fireworks. During New Years, there have been so many fireworks! Fireworks are lighted to banish negative energy, and welcome positive energy. It starts things off with a BANG! All of the employees are involved in the ritual. It's especially interesting and delightful for me to see very modern places, like banks, with formally dressed people all standing outside of the building, and a pile of food offerings on the table, with candles, incense, and fireworks. My grandparents offer food to our ancestors and the spirits of the house every new moon and full moon. Grandma Ahma eats a vegetarian diet on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar calendar, which means the new moon and full moon. I wonder who the bankers and other stores are offering their altars to? Who are they praying to? I will ask them, next time I see them lining the streets. 

I arrived home in time today to see Grandpa Ahgong slowly moving around the living room, with the big red metal container next to the door, a pot filled with water, and food in front of the altar. For Chinese New Year, I hung out with my entire Taiwanese family. I spent several hours at my Grandma Nainai's house, trying to engage her in friendly conversation, helping with small things such as moving food between the kitchen and the living room altar, etc. After we finished our relatively elaborate living room altar set up, we went to the back of the house. There are many plants growing in hangers here. I come here every time I visit to check and see if any flowers have bloomed. These flowers and plants were my deceased Grandpa Yeye's pride and joy. He has grown them since before I was born. To my surprise, Nainai brought a small plate of chicken and tiny cup of wine to the back of the house, where the plants grow. In the furthest back corner of the hallway, there was a tiny old table that I had never noticed before. She placed the chicken and wine on that table. We lit some incense. "Pray," she directed, gesturing towards some small red stickers on the wall in front of the small table, around shin-height. "What's this for?" I asked, curious. "This is for the spirit of the house," Nainai explained. I exclaimed that she treats the spirit very well! Nainai replies that the spirit has taken really good care of her as well, and it's only appropriate for her to offer the spirit some nice food and wine. 

My Nainai considers herself an atheist. She has no strong religious or spiritual belief system, which is a striking contrast to my other Grandma Ahma, whose spiritual belief system is the foundation of her life, the axis around which all of her days revolve. 

Today, I sat under some old banyan trees next to an "experimental elementary school." I saw big red lanterns hung here for many days, and was curious. To my delight, many people were holding a small ceremony here, including several young ruffian-looking teenage boys walking around in traditional costume with their faces fully painted, slouched over, holding a traditional weapon in one hand, a cigarette in the other hand. It's surprising for me to see these young teen boys participating in these ancient rites. I wonder if they are joining in only because they grew up with it? Or, are they actually spiritually, mentally, and emotionally concerned with and committed to these happenings? How about the bankers? How about my atheist Nainai? 

What's your belief system? What do you do out of cultural conditioning? 

Burning the fake money for the ancestors in front of our home building today with my Ahgong, I watched the offerings writhing and disappearing into the flames. "Burn away my fears," I prayed to the sacred fire, "Burn away all I don't need, all that no longer serves me, the clothes that fit me no longer." Wind blows rain drops onto my face. "Bring me that which I need right now," I pray again to the fire, "Bless me, my family, our world." 

I noticed the small pagoda in front of our building, the banyan trees (especially the huge ancient one with the red ribbon wrapped around it's belly and uncountable years of incense and prayers at its base), red lanterns. I noticed the small snub-nosed Taiwanese trucks, the endless stream of scooters and motorcycles, the tiled rain-proof buildings. 

There is a lot that I take for granted, a lot that I have gotten used to. What small beauties, tiny miracles, can I notice, appreciate, celebrate? 

This Lantern Festival, the first full moon of the Snake Year, may you enjoy time with your family and loved ones. May you enjoy the beauty of the full moon this month and every month thereafter, with all of your senses awake and delighting. May you NOTICE small beauties, BE as a question, GIVE gratitude, and OPEN your heart and mind moment by moment! 


my beautiful parents

One of my yeye (grandpa on dad's side)'s greatest passions was photography. Through his lifetime, he created and collected thousands of photographs. I flipped thru many dusty albums today, with delight. Photo after photo of important life moments, moments of beauty captured on film, small snippets of life, huge life events. I watched my parents and grandparents, even images of myself, going from crawling babies to radiant children, to proudly graduating from various schools, happily getting married, getting older and older... until death (the death piece has only happened to yeye thus far, but awaits all of us). Life moves so quickly. What mark am I leaving on in this world of such transient beauty?

ancestral altar

Happy lunar new year! Year of the Water Snake, this year! 
The ancestors' feast, from both sides of my family.