Hundreds of thousands of people crowded into the Pingsi (平溪) District of New Taipei City (新北市) last night to celebrate the annual Sky Lantern Festival, which began yesterday.
Traditionally, participants at the festival fly sky lanterns, a small lantern made of paper with an opening in the bottom in which a flame is suspended. They write the wishes they want to fulfill in the New Year on the sides of the lantern and release it into the air.
Because yesterday was also Valentine’s Day, the festival organizers prepared 120 heart-shaped sky lanterns for 120 couples participating in the event.
Some participants planned to use the romantic evening to propose, while others kissed after releasing their lanterns into the air.
Meanwhile, the New Taipei City Government also flew a huge sky lantern with the Chinese character for “companions” (伴) as the word was voted as that best representing the relationship between two lovers.
The city said that it wished that everybody would find their perfect partner.
Apart from the romantic lanterns, the organizers also prepared 480 sky lanterns for other participants to use. Those who could not make it to the festival last night can still do so on Sunday and on Sunday next weekend, when a total of 4,000 sky lanterns are scheduled to be released.
The highlight this Sunday will be a big sky lantern decorated with the wishes of 1,000 people, which are pieced together to show the Chinese characters for “I love Taiwan.”
Next weekend coincides with the nation’s Lantern Festival and is to feature the sight of a green snake-shaped lantern.
More than 4,600 sky lanterns are expected to be released at the festival this year, the organizers said.
Pingsi is the only place where people can fly sky lanterns all year round. Local business owners estimated that about 150,000 sky lanterns would be released during the first month of the lunar calendar alone.
To lower the impact on the environment, some store owners have volunteered to offer NT$5 to NT$7 for each recycled sky lantern.
The organizers said that motor vehicles entering Pingsi last night were not subject to restrictions, but that they would restrict the access of motorcycles and cars on Sunday as well as next weekend.
To get to Pingsi, people were advised to take the train and shuttle buses from Taipei Zoo MRT Station, Shiding (石碇) Interchange on Freeway No. 5 and Ruifang (瑞芳) Railway Station.
Meanwhile, heavy northbound traffic continued on the nation’s freeways yesterday as many people chose to beat the end-of-the-holiday traffic by returning to their workplaces early.
The National Freeway Bureau said heavy northbound traffic was expected because traditionally, many store owners reopen for businesses on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year holiday. However, the peak time for the northbound traffic generally occurs on the third and fourth days of the holiday, the bureau said.
Statistics from the bureau showed that traffic volume ranged between about 2.8 million and 2.98 million vehicles between Monday and Wednesday.
To ease the northbound traffic, the bureau implemented the second and final high-occupancy vehicle hours of this holiday, from 9am to 3pm yesterday on National Freeways No. 1 and No. 3 on the northbound lanes between Greater Kaohsiung and Neili (內壢) and between Jiouju (九如) to Dasi (大溪), as well as from 2pm to 8pm on National Freeway No. 5 between Suao (蘇澳) and Toucheng (頭城). The bureau estimated that another wave northbound traffic would occur on Sunday, the last day of the Lunar New Year holiday, because elementary schools will start class on Monday.