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AAA offers trip to discover Taiwan’s culture

Much ado is made about Chinese Lunar New Year, with most Taiwanese workers getting a week off to celebrate. However, Taiwan also has two other festivals that are quieter, more sedate celebrations of Chinese culture. Both use the contrast of darkness and night to highlight the beauty of light. One is the Moon Festival (aka Mid-Autumn Festival), which takes place during the autumn full moon. The other is the Lantern Festival, which follows immediately after Chinese New Year.

This year’s Moon Festival falls on Saturday, September 21. Already, Chinese bakeries and supermarkets are fully stocked with an array of decorative mooncake boxes. A popular gift during this festival, businesses give mooncakes to valued clients, while families give boxes to each other.

Mooncakes are typically round, but they can also be square. They are usually filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. In some, the cakes might have a preserved egg yolk or two in the center, symbolizing the full moon. The outer pastry is usually decorated with an intricate design of Chinese characters before being baked to a glazed golden brown. Due to the richness of each cake, they are usually enjoyed in slices.

During the full moon, family and friends gather to celebrate the festival by gazing at the moon while enjoying mooncakes. Today, this centuries old custom is continued in Taiwan and pockets of Chinese/Taiwanese communities worldwide.

Another festival popular in Taiwan is the Lantern Festival, which is held on the 15th day of the new lunar month. In the past, families might have taken the time to stroll near Taipei’s Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, to see the colorful light shows of giant lanterns and floats derived from Chinese zodiac animals or animated characters. These days, the festival is celebrated across the island.

In the 1990s, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau decided to promote the festival worldwide. Since 2001, many major cities around the island have held special events linked to the Lantern Festival. Nowadays, the Tourism Bureau compiles a long list of activities for local and international visitors. The festival has become so popular it is now a part of Discovery Channel’s “Fantastic Festivals of the World” program.

Taiwanese people still celebrate by making paper lanterns, writing their wishes on them before setting them adrift into the night sky. The sight of hundreds of lanterns floating towards heaven is truly breathtaking.

This year, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, along with AAA Sojourns and television personality Liam Myclem, are offering a trip to see the Lantern Festival next year. The 10-day trip will depart on February 10 for Taiwan and Hong Kong. The bulk of the trip will be in Taiwan, discovering the island’s renowned food culture, famous night markets and taking specially arranged trips to Taiwan’s scenic countryside. Excursions to Sun Moon Lake, Antique Assam Tea Farms and other relaxing experiences will enliven the senses. The 2014 Taiwan Lantern Festival and Hong Kong Experience with Liam Mayclem starts at US$3,899.

Taiwan Tourism Bureau partners with AAA

On June 18, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau hosted a cocktail reception to announce its new partnership with AAA, a 51 million member US motoring organization. The reception at Bistro Boudin (Fisherman’s Wharf) was well attended by members of the media, travel writers and representatives of the travel community. During the reception, Sylvia Yu, the director of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Steve Chan, senior vice president of Strategy, Marketing and Product Management of AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah (AAA NCNU), introduced AAA’s new trip to Taiwan during the Lantern Festival next February.

Chan said that many people consider AAA, formerly known as the Automobile Association of America (est. 1902), merely as a domestic US organization. However, Triple A in fact began promoting overseas travel after World War II in order to help revive countries damaged by the conflict. In researching AAA’s first trip to Asia, Chan was surprised to find out that it was in 1961 and was a tour of Taiwan. He then shared his personal connections to Taiwan, speaking about studying at National Taiwan University as a college student in the 1980s.

On hand was Liam Mayclem, the host of CBS’s Eye on the Bay, who returned from a visit to Taiwan this April. Mayclem spoke of his trip in glowing terms, saying that “The heart of Asia” slogan was very appropriate, since “The heart really was the people. The genuine hospitality and kindness and the warmth shown by the people everywhere we stopped…” He was very excited to show the promotional clips for the two half hour programs they shot in Taiwan.

He also shared a special moment watching the sunrise at Sun Moon Lake. Not being a morning person, Mayclem said it was rare for him to get up for a sunrise. However, he had heard so much about the magical sunrise that he too made his way to see it at 6:18am. In February, he will host a group of 30 on an exclusive tour of Taiwan. “As for the extraordinary 2013 Lantern Festival Tour, I am excited to personally host the Sun Moon Lake itinerary because with every tour, different, new adventure awaits,” he said.

The Eye on the Bay specials on Mayclem’s Taiwan trip aired on June 18 and 19 at 7pm on CBS.