Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Working Day of the Lunar New Year

{In which the pyromaniac in me is happy}

The sixth day of the lunar new year is when everyone returns to work, and in order to invite good luck for the new year, many businesses in Taiwan will offer food, drink, incense, and paper money to the gods. I noticed many tables of food on my way to work, and then got to experience a new part of Taiwanese culture at work for myself. Many of the foods on the table have special meaning based on puns in Chinese. Others are there because someone likes to eat them. I had fun taking lots of photos while my coworkers bowed with incense and burned paper money. The fires were fascinating.

These moon-shaped things are a set of tiny 筊杯 (jiaobei) — they're used to interpret the will of the gods. One side is rounded and one side is flat. To use it, you ask a yes-or-no question and throw it on the ground. One round and one flat means yes; both round means no; and both flat means the gods are laughing at you. My coworkers used them to determine whether the gods were full yet. It took a few tries, but once the answer was "yes" it was the cue to begin burning paper money.
I saw a lot of black marks on the sidewalk and gutters and wondered what caused them. It turned out that they were marks left by firecrackers. We set off our own and the sparks and smoke and noise were pretty amazing. It didn't photograph too well though, so I chose this shot of the aftermath instead.

I meant to do a few posts introducing my coworkers but still haven't managed to do it yet, although I've been collecting portraits of them. Next week, maybe? I have way too many photos to get through for this week. February really is a crazy month. But that means you guys get lots of great content! (Just humor me and pretend you're excited, ok?) :P

I'll try to get the photos from this weekend up on my blog by the end of the week, so stay tuned!

with love,


  1. i should try to start making a habit of commenting in your posts cause i always comment on it in my head and then forget about it HAHA. anyway, i love the last three pictures

  2. hehe yay! comments are awesome :D or else i always wonder if anyone actually looks at my blog XD
    yeah i would comment on your posts too except i don't have a tumblr account lol. remember that one time i sent you an email of random comments?
    you should totally go back through my blog and comment on ALL my posts :D :D :D

  3. i have read every article in your blog and am amazed that you put so much energy into it. can't wait to see the palm spring pictures!

  4. haha thanks dad. ummmm i think i might be lazier about the palm springs pictures and just upload them all to picasa or something XD i don't know if i'll be able to sort and process them all properly...

  5. Cultural question: What is the nature of belief in gods in Taiwanese culture? When the people in the pictures offer food and burn paper money, do they do so from a strong belief that the gods are listening, or is it mostly a cultural ritual, detached from any supernatural reality?

    Also, do Taiwanese Christians do anything special for the lunar new year/first working day post-new year?

  6. i think it's different for everyone. like how Christmas and Easter are like
    in the states - for some, it's more of a cultural thing; for others, it's to
    celebrate Christ. it's hard for me to tell whether my coworkers are
    completely serious when they say things like "my experiment isn't going so
    well, maybe it's time for me to 拜拜 (*baibai,* make an offering to the
    gods)." at first i was surprised that scientists can be so superstitious,
    but after a while you realize that sometimes it's impossible to figure out
    scientifically why an experiment didn't go the way you expected.

    as for Taiwanese Christians - i have no idea, actually. maybe i can find