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Pingxi 平溪 or Pingshi is the Sky Lantern capital of Taiwan. The Pingshi Sky Lantern Festival — held every January 15th of the Chinese lunar calendar — is an event where hundreds of sky lanterns carrying prayers and wishes are released to the heavens.

You can go to Pingxi (about an hour away from Taipei) to see the scenic countryside, and to experience making your own lantern and releasing it to the sky with your wishes and prayers.

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We visited one of the most famous sky lantern shops in Pingxi to learn about the sky lantern tradition.

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Pingshi Township, situated at the upper reaches of the Keelung River in northeastern Taipei County, covers an area of 71.34 square kilometers. The Township is elongated in shape with many hills and valleys, and very few dotted plains in between. It is surrounded by mountains; an isolated green mountain range filled with phytoncides. Due to the northeast monsoons, rainfall is particularly heavy in the winter, add to this the geological impact of erosion from the Keelung River and its tributaries and it has created many natural treasures such as sharp rocks, cliffs, waterfalls, and potholes, earning Pingshi the nickname “Waterfall Township.”

For more information about Pingshi, please visit the official website: http://www.pingshi.com.tw/

You can also check out the Guide to Taipei’s Pingxi: http://guidetotaipei.com/visit/pingxi

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The sky lantern shop sells lamps and other accessories, offers a sky lantern making experience, and is also known in the town for serving good coffee and tea.

History of the Sky Lantern

The sky lanterns are also known as the Kong Ming lanterns. Legend has it that the lanterns were the invention of Zhuge Liang (Kong Ming was the name of Zhuge Liang upon reaching manhood) of the Three Kingdoms Period, who utilized the same principles as that used in hot-air balloons to float the lanterns as a means of communicating military intelligence. In addition, according to the elders in the Shihfen area in Pingshi Township, bandits roamed the mountains in the early days, and villagers would seek shelter in the nearby mountains when the bandits came on a raid. After they left, the men who stayed behind in the village would fly sky lanterns as a signal of safety to beckon the villagers’ return. Although the area grew more stable later, the activity of flying sky lanterns remained and became a local custom. Today, flying the sky lanterns has become a symbol of prayers to the gods for their blessings. The sight of thousands of sky lanterns carrying peoples’ wishes and slowly floating into the night sky is a sight to behold.

(source: http://www.pingshi.com.tw/EN/origininfo.aspx)

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It was awesome to meet Wang Chaw-Jing, a sky lantern expert and the leader of the Sky Lantern Organization in Pingxi.

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Take four pieces of cotton rice paper about 120cm long and 108 cm wide and cut them into a heptagonal sky lantern pattern.

(The traditional sky lanterns are big and not like the small, commercialized ones you can buy in Divisoria.) 

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Stack them on top of one another, with an overlap of about 1.5 cm.

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Apply glue (which is like our gawgaw) to connect the ends of the paper.

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Fold the top sheet and glue the 2nd sheet to the 3rd by using the same technique.

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Press down on the edges of the paper to make sure that they’re glued throughout.

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Finally, connect the top and bottom sheets to complete the sky lantern.

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Imagine all the edges of the 4 sheets interconnected with a pointed end on top and an opening at the bottom.

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Next, make a circular frame using a bamboo strip of about 220cm in length. The criss-crossing wires create a place holder for the paper (for burning) at the center.

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Use double-sided tape on the outer side of the bamboo frame to secure the open edge of the paper to the frame.

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Tape up the circular bamboo frame on all sides to complete the sky lantern.

(The Pingxi Sky Lantern Organization offers a 7 NT incentive for the return of the Sky Lantern skeleton.)

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Put some air in the sky lantern and do a quality check.

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The lantern is then mounted on a frame so that you can put your wishes and prayers.

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A special brush with ink is used…

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…to write on the lantern.

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Make sure to put a unique, specific, and personal wish or prayer.

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Decorate the lantern any way you like. You can even use a code that only you can understand.

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Think of it as a love letter to the heavens. 

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Bonus points if you know calligraphy and how to write in Chinese. 🙂

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Make sure you take a souvenir photo of the lantern before releasing it to the sky.

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Use 12 pcs. of ghost money (representing 12 months of the year) soaked in 50% kerosene and 50% salad oil so that it burns slowly.

(12 golden paper = 12 periods, and each period burns for 2 hours.)

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Put them at the center of the lantern and fan out each individual piece.

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Tear and ruffle them up like this.

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We walked to a nearby bridge to release the lantern in an open area.

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You need at least three people to hold the lantern edges.

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Hold the lantern and transfer your personal wish and prayers before releasing it.

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It’s time to light the ghost money on fire!

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The fire heats up the air inside the lantern, making it expand. As the density of the air inside reduces, the cold air moves in and makes the lantern rise to the sky. 

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Say a fervent prayer and offer your wish to the heavens.

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We felt like children seeing our lantern fly to the sky. Imagine seeing hundreds of these released at the same time. 🙂 

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After the releasing your lantern, you can go back to the store and buy a Pingxi postcard.

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There’s a postcard of the lighted sky lanterns with an augmented reality feature.

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You can put souvenir stamps on the postcard.

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Choose from different postcard designs or stamp all of it if you want. Write a love letter on the back, put your address, and the store owner would be glad to mail it for you.

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The sky lantern experience in Pingxi was awesome!

They use the right quality materials, a big lantern frame, and slow burning fuel to ensure it rises high up in the air and is safely released.

Budget NT300 for the experience.

Wang Chaw-Jing Sky Lantern Shop & Cafe 
226台北縣平溪鄉石底村石底街52號 
Telephone: +886 2 2495-2145 
Mobile: +886 910-091424 
Emailangel120@ms8.url.com.tw
Websitepingshi.myweb.hinet.net

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Live an Awesome Life,

Anton
Founder, www.OurAwesomePlanet.com 

Disclosure: Our Taiwan Fam Trip last June 2014 was courtesy of the Taiwan Visitor’s Bureau, Eva Air, and Jeron Travel. Read Our Awesome Planet Complete Disclosure Policy here.  

P.S. This is where I personally experienced authentic Taiwanese hospitality in a slow-paced countryside of Taiwan. I loved it. 🙂