Monday, October 22, 2012

How can we sleep when a boat is burning?

Over the weekend, photographer Rich Matheson and I attended the climax of Donggang's famous triennial boat-burning ritual, 2012 edition. We got there about 7.30pm, when the boat was still in Donglong Temple's forecourt. Watching the slow, ritual loading of supplies and other rites, around 10pm I asked myself, "Why the hell did I come here, knowing I'll have to stand up all night?" But things soon got livelier. Seeing the boat dragged through the temple's massive gateway was thrilling. After that we didn't hang around - the writer of this excellent article about the festival had given us good advice: dash to the beach, 1.6km away, so you can get a good spot from which to witness the burning.
On the black sand we sat and watched for a further three hours as the masts were erected and the sails hoist. Sacks of joss paper were piled around the hull, and strings of firecrackers laid across them. Around 5.30am, the firecrackers were lit; the joss paper immediately caught fire and within 45 minutes the boat was a charred wreck. It was entrancing. Spectacular. Truly memorable. Now I understand why some people travel all the way from Taipei to see this event, even if they've seen it before.
The title of this post was, of course, inspired by Midnight Oil's classic song.


  1. I wanted to go and I regret not going but I was already exhausted from several weekends of travel. It looks awesome though. Kirk

  2. It's a pity I didn't go. It looks very unique and interesting. Thanks for sharing.