Fireworks shoot up from the eight pagodas lining the main avenue of the Buddha Memorial Center. When they burst in a myriad white sparks, the full moon is almost lost behind their light. It is a fortnight after the start of the Chinese New Year and this is the culminating day of the Lantern Festival. More than a thousand people have processed down the new drive from Fo Guang Shan monastery above, some in traditional dress, some wearing headgear or lapels that flash on and off, mixed in between the floats and the uniformed marching band. More thousands have been awaiting our arrival.
I’m there for a mixture of motives, most of them childish. It’s more fun to be part of the procession and it lasts longer too, giving you time to savour the experience. Then again, those in the procession are given one of the best positions to view the fireworks. But beyond that, I joined in because of the kindness of a devotee I had met the evening before in the company of one of the monks. She had a flashing lantern that I admired and asked for a demonstration of how it worked. Next afternoon, the monk called me to see him and said that the lady had asked him to give it to me. They’re generous like that if you say you like something in Taiwan.
Putting the gift to use by joining the procession on two consecutive evenings was one way of repaying the obligation. But another is to share the happiness you’re given, so as we went up the avenue I swung the light at every child I saw, colouring a line of delighted faces in red and blue, or swung it over the heads of the smaller ones, to their parents’ amusement. All my life, people have been kind to me and it is seldom that I have been able to repay them directly. Passing on their kindness to others is the best return.