Final Reflections on Five Weeks of Asian Festivals

Article by: unknown author

Mon March 04, 2013 | 00:00 AM


“There’s a kiss that will wake you up. And, there’s a kiss that will put you to sleep. The kiss may be fleeting, it may be as soft as a whisper, or like a gentle breeze caressing your cheek in a riot of sunlight. If you stare at the hourglass waiting for the kiss, disappointment will be the doormat for your expectations. In Asia, I got kissed and was conscious and in the moment enough to receive it. I am more awake now.”

From aesthetic to ascetic, this trip was ecstatic. I was kissed many times (figuratively) with experiences that felt divinely guided and I also stepped in way too much cow poop in Varanasi, India. I missed two of my favorite U.S. televised “festivals” if you can call them that (Super Bowl and the Academy Awards), but I was richly rewarded by immersing myself in Thaipusam outside Kuala Lampur, the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival in northern China, Kumbh Mela in northern India, Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, and the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival outside Taipei.

If I had to choose 5 photos that defined these 5 festivals in 5 weeks, these would be my choices:


Dances Sacred & Profane. That could be one way to describe this trip. Within two hours of being off the plane from SFO to Kuala Lumpur, I saw guys at the Thaipusam festival with spears piercing their faces with a Playboy bunny logo in the background. Asia is ancient and modern at the same time.


Who can doubt the industriousness of the Chinese? The Harbin Ice & Snow Fest was a miraculous combo of aesthetics and logistics in the world’s most unforgiving climate: Siberia meets Manchuria. If the Chinese are going to take over the world, at least we know they know how to sculpt awesome ice castles the size of a modern downtown. Highly recommend you find your way to Harbin some winter.

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What China is to industriousness, India is to devotion. I felt so called by the world’s largest festival that I wrote 15 blog posts from Varanasi and Kumbh Mela. I love India and can now see the breadcrumbs that take me back to my fascination and affection for Bali (the Hindu connection). This gracious and radiant man joined me for a couple of hours of listening to gurus….he helped translate Hindi for me. But his eyes were the ultimate translation.


If there’s any doubt that the future of the world rests in the hands of Asia, just read the stats. 60% of the world’s population lives there and that percentage is increasing, partly because India continues to have such a population explosion. Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei (I visited all four of these cities on this trip)….these cities are becoming more modern than the most modern of U.S. cities. If you haven’t been to Asia recently, make a trip this year as you’ll get a good glimpse of the future.

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The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival reminded me of that exquisite scene of the paper bag in the wind in the film “American Beauty.” How can something so simple be so stunning? This photo above is just one of the more than 100,000 heavenly lanterns launched on a full moon night to celebrate the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. Each lantern is tattooed with the hopes and dreams of Taiwan’s young people, the primary participants in the festival. It was encouraging to see the innocence and aspirations of people under-30 in Taiwan. Reminded me a little of the U.S. in the 1950s.

Asia seems to be a sky lantern that’s just accelerating from the ground (can’t say the same about Europe or the United States these days where the lanterns may be descending). While the experiences along the way were unique and the festivals were diverse, there were two commonalities that struck me. First, there was a palpable “collective effervescence” amongst the festival participants whether they were in awe of the intricacy of glowing, gargantuan ice sculptures or the mass rites of passage that occur through the devotion of pilgrims. People love losing themselves in the midst of something bigger than themselves, eternal and ethereal. And the second commonality is the connection I made on so many occasions in the midst of that collective joy. It reminds me of writer E.M. Forster’s last piece of advice to the world before he died: “Only connect.”

In that spirit, I offer John O’Donahue’s quote, “When you travel, a new silence goes with you, and if you listen, you will hear what your heart would love to say.” Listen I did on this journey. And, I am all the better for it.