Two days ago the New Year Festival officially ended with the Lantern Festival. No more fireworks at 2 in the morning. No more firecrackers exploding near my apartment and damaging my eardrums. No more red pieces of paper enveloping the sidewalk and grass. Oddly enough, I may be looking forward to the humdrum of daily life.
Lantern Festival was a special day. Two Chinese friends invited me and my friends to travel to Zibo and explore its Silk Road alleyways. At the ungodly hour of 5:30 am, we hopped into my friend’s “bread van” and traveled for three hours to Zibo. Before our arrival, we stopped at one of the pottery meccas of China. In this town, there are literally blocks upon blocks of pottery stores, anything from plates and tea sets to animal figurines and human sculptures. Some of my favorite stores boasted a colorful array of glass art. Some of their pieces were glass balls with sea anemones and fish (not real ones) frozen inside. Many of their glass animals were beautifully infused with yellows, oranges, reds, and other vibrant colors. The most perplexing ones were plant-like objects with a foot-long bulb followed by a stem several feet long.
Aside from the glass shops, most stores sported a vast selection of pottery. Many had porcelain tea sets with a design for every day of the week and then some. Others had vases ranging from intricate, one-foot pieces to massive, 6-foot giants. Personally, I wanted to lug one of the giants back to my apartment and make it the centerpiece of the living room. But then I looked at the price tag, and I changed my mind. Some other shops had animal and human figurines and plate pieces. Their owners would engrave a portrait upon the plate or paint an image on it. Pretty impressive, I thought. I would struggle engraving a smiley face on a piece of porcelain let alone a lifelike portrait of Mao Zedong. At least they can pull it off.
After the pottery tour, we happened upon a parade with a dragon, donkeys, and drums. The dragon’s body was dragon-like enough, except that its legs were composed of men holding wooden stilts attached to the dragon’s belly. If the dragon’s body draped around the men, the effect would have been more impressive. Beside the dragon, women in neon greens, pinks, and reds marched along the road. There were a few cymbalists too and a group of drummers outfitted in military uniforms. One especially odd portion of the parade were a few stray donkey creatures. One man decided to dress like a female donkey with some disturbing anatomical features. Apart from that, it was a fun sight.
Later we visited Zibo and its ancient Silk Road alleyways. The streets were paved with cobblestones and lined by one-story cinder block buildings several hundred years old. Some vendors were selling silk sheets, dresses, and scarves. Others had their food stands: bird eggs on a stick, tofu, Chinese hot dogs (a mash of remains from some animal), etc … And of course there were the obligatory tables of trinkets, plastic toys, and rubber Grim Reaper masks, oddly enough. Since I brought no money, I didn’t buy anything, but I did watch a live performance of three monkeys entertaining a crowd. I also attempted to walk on iron stilts and brought some more entertainment to the crowd.
As we headed back home, we visited a furniture museum replete with intricate redwood furniture designed for Chinese emperors and the upper echelon of society. A small desk cost several thousand dollars. You pay for quality, and if it took one worker six months to carve a set of furniture, I guess the price was warranted. As we neared Huangdao, fireworks greeted us near and far away. In fact, some seemed to exploding over the highway, but maybe it was just my imagination. With it being the last day of the festival, any remaining fireworks had to be used, and they certainly were being expended.
Back at my apartment, my friend Joshua and I had a lantern we wanted to release into the sky. It was sort of like a miniature hot air balloon with a square piece of wax as the fuel. With an unusually windy night, it was not a favorable night for flying lanterns, but somehow we managed to light the lantern and send it skyward. It nearly landed on the porch of a neighboring apartment and set their plants on fire. Thankfully, the wind shifted, and after several unfavorable wind gusts, a propitious current of air guided the lantern up, up, and away into the heavens. Apparently, it was a wishing lantern, and I think I used up my wish after I fervently prayed for it not to inflame my neighbor’s plants. After a full day of traveling and wishing, I wished myself to sleep and said farewell to the Lantern Festival until next year.