Well, I went on Saturday night and have this to say: good spectacle.
My wife arrived around 8pm by car. We parked about 1.5km from the temple, near what looked like a school. It took about 5 minutes to find parking and about 15 minutes to walk to the temple.
The roads around the temple had been blocked off to traffic. In all there must have been about .5km2 of pedestrian only space. Food stalls, game areas, booths, and balloon sellers, and tens of thousands of people turned the area into a giant lively night market.
Activities began around 9pm with Tudigong coming out to bless the land where Matsu would be carried. For the next hour an assortment of Chinese dieties and folk figures (Guangong, some child god, a pinked face god, Eyes that see a thousand miles, Ears that hear on the wind, and a few drunken monks) came out and danced around the coutryard to the sound of ritual drumming. Occassionally there were fireworks and some giant explosions.
Behind the temple people sent sky lanterns into the night sky. Once a lantern floated directly into the centre of a fireworks display. The crowd gasp.
Around 10pm Matsu was brought out in her decorative tent. A stream of fireworks lit the sky behind the temple. The crowed jostled to touch the fabric of the tent but a team of men made a wide circle to prevent anyone getting too close. Matsu made it across the courtyard in 1 minute. Last year it took her 30.
My wife and I were standing above the temple entrance on one of the balconies. The view was good but it is better to be out front facing the temple entrance. The very best seats are in the crotch of the tree on the left side of the courtyard. Next year I’m fighting to get a spot there.
After Matsu left, the crowd thinned as thousands followed her south down the streets. My wife and I started to head back to our car but fortuitously took a wrong turn and ended up at the front of the pilgrimage line. We decided to wait to see Matsu be carried by. I’m glad we did. It was quite a sight to see thousands upon thousands of pilgrims stream by, banging gongs, blowing horns, chewing betelnut.
Just after Matsu passed us another fireworks display started. It lasted about 15 minutes and was dazzling.
I saw a few western-faces in the crowd but not many. Too bad. It’s realy worth going to see. If you take the train in, the temple is only two blocks away. Just exit the station and walk straight ahead.
Dajia needs to do a bit of urban replanning. The area around the temple has entire blocks of lovely old buildings but they are marred by neon signs and cables. Dajia should take a cue from Daxi or Lugang and repair these streets and turn the whole area into an attraction. On Friday I watched a bit of a puppet show on the street. How fabulous it would have been had the street been cobbled or tiled and the old buildings around me scrubbed and cleared of cables and signs.
About a block from the temple there is a famous pastry shop housed in an old school. The company did such a good job restoring the building you wonder why more Taiwanese don’t do this, especially given that the old building, spruced up with clean modern storefront windows and bright lighting is extremely popular.
There’s a Wenchang temple not far from the Matsu. It’s in excellent shape and features a lovely old drum and bell and beautiful walls. If you see young students there, they have come to ask the god to help them with tests.