Dihua Street (迪化街) and the City God Birthday

Last month I brought one of my friend to Dihua Street to see the famous street with chinese pharmacy stores selling all kinds of goods, furniture shops and craftsmen doing all kind of traditional items. As we were sitting on small plastic chairs enjoying a bowl of noodles, we saw a procession coming, it was the local temple’s birthday. Little did I know that four hours later, the procession would still be parading, stretching over maybe several kilometers!

This article has two parts: let me introduce you the many nice attractions in Dihua Street, and then show you some of the City God birthday’s procession pictures!

Dihua Jie-73

I. Visiting Dihua Street

Let’s start with Dihua Street. It is a somehow less famous attraction in Datong District, I think that’s because it is a bit far from the MRT, maybe 15 minutes by walking. Anyway it has a lot to offer:

1. The wholesale Fabric Market (永樂市場, daily 9:30am-6pm)

there’s a great wholesale market for fabric, it looks old from the outside, but if you dare enter you’ll be rewarded by possible the greatest fantastic weirdest accumulation of fabrics you have ever dreamt of, it’s just so easy to get lost in it, very good for pictures, and people are so nice, we got some free fruits 🙂 Looks like good old Taiwan to me, it’s somehow reassuring to find a place that didn’t change that much, where people are nice, different generations living together, and everyone just about as smiling as can be…

2. Chinese Pharmacies and Porcelain Shops

Then, Dihua Street is famous for its Chinese Pharmacy shops, I suggest you go to have a look for yourself, it’s full of weird things, Shark teeth, bird’s nests, mushrooms, and plenty of other things, just ask and try to find what you like. I guess you may not want to bring back home shark’s teeth, but you may be more interested in the many excellent tea selections, or any of the freshly renovated porcelain shops, they have nicely crafted items, and rather cheap given the quality.

3. Dadaocheng Pier (大稻埕碼頭)

Next, if you keep walking down the street, you’ll find signs on your left to the Dadaocheng Pier, it’s a nice place, let me be lazy and link to another article on this blog if you’re interested: a href=”http://litanies.net/blog/2013/river/”http://litanies.net/blog/2013/river//a If you’ ve been walking a lot as it will be probably the case, you can go to the pier, there’s a good coffee shop, and you can take a rest with the many people often staying there while looking at the river.

4. The Taipei Xia Hai City God temple (台北霞海城隍廟)

One of Dihua Street’s main attractions is the old temple that always draws big crowds of Taiwanese. I went there several time over the last few years’ and there’s often something going one. Once people wanted to thank the God for its kindness so they let him watch a movie, another time the temple was packed… but I didn’t understand why! And finally as I went there with my friend last month, it happened to be both its birthday AND Matsu’s birthday! This temple is well maintained, and they even have an english website, something quite rare!

http://tpecitygod.org/en-about-xia-hai01.html

Browsing the website, I could find that my friend and I attended the “City God Birthday Parade” on May 13th, and that it is classified as intangible city asset by the Taipei government-and I trust it really is, you can read more details below. As for the temple, it is more than 150 years old, and devoted to the City God, and important deity that takes care of love affaires, business success, protects the city and deals with the dead… no wonder he is so busy and people have a lot to ask him! As often the case in the Taoist religion, the god is described with an extreme precision, and over the years many adventures related to him happened, for example you can read the story of his wife!

All in all, Dihua Street is a nice place to spend a couple of hours, you can see a more traditional part of Taipei there, and also do some shopping! To visualize the street under “normal” curcumstances, I refer you to the excellent blog My Kafkaesque Life in Taiwan, for some views of the street. I would just add that what he calls the very old market is the wholesale fabric market, definitely worth having a look 🙂 http://mykafkeasquelife.blogspot.tw/2011/03/dihua-street-taipei.html

II. City God’s Birthday

But let’s go back to the City God’s Birthday! I couldn’t understand everything of what was happening and thus decided to simply shoot as many pictures as I could. It was some kind of photographic dream, lots of troops coming an going before my eyes in an endless, colorful, dynamic procession!

The ceremony itself follows a pattern that I have seen during many processions in the past. The temples that are befriended with the City God, or those dedicated to the same God, send their troops to pay their deeds, and each team they send is made mostly of musicians – well, maybe noise makers would be more appropriate since that includes a lot of firecrackers and weird, old instruments 🙂 -, dancers, plus statues representing the Gods.

The procession in this case was extremely long, it started around 5pm and at 8pm there were still god parading! All along the way, lesser temples or altars get the parading troops blessings, a couple of firecrackers are lit, a quit dance is made, and the Gods bend before their friend, telling them the news of other districts or ages. Sometimes, a shop can ask for the Gods to stop as well and bless them, in this case, they will give as a reward some of their delicacies, or some nice things to eat. Usually though, the presents are taken away by the dancers and performers, and the Gods, in the Great Generosity, don’t make a fuss about it. Some shops may be particularly generous, and it’s great to see the performers rewarded, because they are really doing a good job.

There are so many troops that I couldn’t describe all of their dances, hopefully you’ll get a better idea with the pictures. But all I can tell is that some of the parades are really complex, and require a lot of preparation. Also, most of the kids that perform are so happy that it’s a pleasure to look at them, they look proud of their culture and to display their strength and skills. Lastly I couldn’t help but notice that carrying a god isn’t easy. The statues are very heavy, and those who carry them need to walk and dance for a long time. This is why several people usually carry the Gods in turn, and they are incredibly quick to shift!

After several hours in the crowd, the noise and with the excitation of so many performances, our eyes full with great art and stories from the Gods, we decided to call it a day and moved to our next adventures, but the whole procession made a great impression on me, and I won’t forget it for a while! So if you’re around on May 13th in Taipei, don’t forget to go to visit the procession in Dihua Street, you won’t be disappointed!

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