Today is the Qixi Festival (七夕節) — commonly referred to as ‘Chinese Valentine’s Day — which falls annually on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
Chinese Valentine’s Day is based on a Chinese fable about two star-crossed lovers. A cowherd fell in love with a beautiful weaver girl, who in was actually the daughter of the Goddess of Heaven who descended to earth for some fun. They married and had two children. But then the Goddess found out, and was so furious that her daughter had married a mortal that she recalled her to heaven and put her back to her job of weaving clouds. The cowherd was distraught. He killed his ox, put on its hide and went up to heaven with his two children to try to find the weaver girl. The Goddess found out, and using her hairpin, scratched a river of stars (the Milky Way) in the sky to separate them. Once a year, some magpies help them to cross over the Milky Way so they can reunite briefly.
Chinese stories rarely have a happy ending, especially if they involve defying one’s parents (unfilial actions usually result in tragedy). But at least this one has happy overtones, at least once a year. Qixi Festival is one of three romantic days celebrated in Taiwan: Valentine’s Day on 14 February is becoming increasingly popular, and the 15th day of the first month of the lunar month is also a popular day for romantics.
The lifestyle magazine in my local paper is full of ideas for romantics to enjoy Qixi, but thankfully most options do not seem as kitchey and commercial as Valentine’s Day. Apart from chocolates, dinners and flowers (oh, and visiting temples to pray either for a love interest or for pregnancy), romantics find ways to spend quality time with one another. Which reminds me of a recent trip to the Taipei Botanical Gardens (台北植物園).
Taiwan’s Botanical Gardens are somewhat unknown. Several of my colleagues — long-term residents in Taipei — had never even heard of the Botanical Gardens. Located in the Xiaonanmen area near the Presidential office and key government buildings, the gardens are not on the usual tourist trail. Nor are not especially large, but they are still a fun place to visit — especially in summer when the lotus flowers are in bloom.
The Botanical Gardens are a social place. In addition to groups of elderly citizens chatting or doing slow tai chi manoevres, there are groups of roaming photography buffs sporting impressive arm-long lenses, and people with easels honing their artistic skills on the lotuses. My son had lots of fun searching for turtles amongst the lotus leaves.
On our recent wander, my husband spied an unusual tree. If you look closely, it appears as if it is two large trees hugging one another. I am not sure how the tree appeared to almost split in two like that, but it is very sweet to imagine two trees hugging each other.
Then, not far from the lotus pond we spied a heart-shaped hollow in a tree. A few people paused to take pictures, but most just wandered by without noticing. Isn’t nature wonderful in its quirkiness?
It can be quite hot around the lotus pond in summer, but thankfully there are shady areas as well. We bumped into a young couple having their wedding photos taken in the dappled light. They drew quite a crowd, but had to compete for attention with the cheeky squirrels that bounced around trying to find peanuts. (Signs urge people not to feed them, but they are obviously used to receiving handouts.)
Also worth checking out is a Qing dynasty building, the Administrative Commissioner Museum (布政使司文物館). This building, originally located closer to where the Presidential building is today, was once the seat of the Qing government in Taiwan. It was moved to its present site in the Japan era, and fell into neglect after World War II. It has now been extensively renovated (at least part of the original structure — not all of it remains), and there is an interesting Chinese-language video inside on the process.
The Taipei Botanical Gardens are at number 53 Nanhai Road (台北植物園,台北市南海路53號). We took our car and parked near the Bo’ai Street entrance; you can also arrive at the park via the Xiaonanmen MRT station, which is close to this entrance. Directions (including public transport information) are on the Botanical Garden’s website.
So tell me, what did you do for Chinese Valentine’s Day?