Tue, Feb 10, 2009 - Page 4 News List

COMMUNITY COMPASS: Lantern festival leaves foreign guests impressed

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

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It might have been raining on Saturday night, but for the 79 foreign ambassadors and representatives and their families in attendance, the weather in no way dampened their spirits as they took part in the annual Sky Lantern Festival in Taipei County’s Pingsi Township (平溪).

“I am so impressed with everything. This is very beautiful,” said Abdullah Mohd Salleh, the president of the Malaysian Friendship and Trade Centre, saying he had never seen anything like it before.

The distinguished guests, invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were among the 200 people that released lanterns with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that night.

Each country’s representative was given a rainbow colored lantern symbolizing the different cultures and peoples of the world.

Ma, accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) and Burkina Faso Ambassador Jacques Sawadogo, the dean of the diplomatic corps, released a 6m-high lantern decorated with a world map.

According to legend, during feuds between Chinese settlers and Aborigines a century ago, male villagers used to release sky lanterns at nightfall to signal to their wives and children that it was safe to come.

Over the years, the launching of sky lanterns has become a major festive activity in Taiwan, especially around the Lunar New Year period, with people writing wishes and prayers on lanterns for the upcoming year before releasing them into the skies.

Participating in the celebration for the first time, the Holy See’s charge d’affaires, Monsignor Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, said: “I hope God will listen to all the prayers going up today and send His blessings, especially of peace on Earth.”

Salvadoran Ambassador Francisco Santana Berrios wrote on his lantern in Chinese characters, “May the friendship between the Republic of Taiwan and El Salvador remain strong and lasting.”

With his wife and two young sons, Commercial Office of Peru in Taipei Director Gycs Gordon said his family was blown away by the beauty of the lanterns as they illuminated the sky.

“We are all very impressed. My two young sons were totally fascinated,” he said, adding that his family was ecstatic when they located Peru on the main lantern.

“I wished for a healthy baby because my wife is pregnant with our third child which will be born in Taiwan in April. It was also the first thing my wife wrote,” he said.

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