Shifen Lantern Festival and More

Flying Lanterns in Shifen
Flying Lanterns in Shifen

The final day of the Lunar New Year celebration is on the fifteenth day of the year. It is known as one of the two Valentine’s Days in the lunar calendar. This was when lantern festivals were traditionally held, and girls were allowed to go outside and enjoy the festivities and perhaps meet someone. This time last year, I was in Taiwan. From the capital 台北 Taipei to small towns like 十分 Shifen were all holding their own lantern festivals.

At Shifen, I released my very own lantern into the sky. The vendor lit a stack of paper inside the lantern. There were only a few short seconds to take pictures before the heat from the burning paper carried the lantern away. I headed to the shuttle bus afterward. On my way back to Taipei, I noticed my wallet was missing. My credit card, debit card, New Taiwan Dollars and currencies that I was going to exchange into NTD were all gone. Another girl reported her wallet missing too when we reached Taipei. The shuttle bus company called their drivers to check the buses for missing wallets. They found the girl’s wallet on the bus she was on and returned it to her promptly.

I waited and waited, and my wallet was still missing. Maybe I dropped it on my way to the shuttle bus, maybe I dropped it right when I let go of the lantern. Who knew. So the shuttle bus organizer asked one of their drivers returning to Shifen to take me along. I was the only passenger going back to Shifen as the festivities were ending by then. The bus driver asked why I was going back in Mandarin. I said I was looking for yiwu. The friendly bus driver stopped talking immediately and the atmosphere felt cold all of a sudden. Then I realized I shortened "lost item" 遺失物品 yishiwuping to just "remains" 遺物 yiwu – as if I was a ghost wanting to return to Shifen to find something I left behind. When I explained it, the driver chuckled in relief and was back to his chatty self.

About another half an hour away from Shifen, we hit traffic. There were so many shuttle buses going to Shifen to accommodate people leaving the lantern festival that buses were waiting in line to reach Shifen. The bus driver flagged down a traffic cop and told him about my lost wallet. They decided that it was best for me to go with the traffic cop on his motorcycle the rest of the way to Shifen. Otherwise, I won’t have time to look for my wallet and I would miss the last shuttle bus back to Taipei.

Without hesitation, the traffic cop drove off with me sitting behind him on the motorcycle. Wind was blowing in my face. I remembered that we were going up a curving hillside road from the day. But at night all I saw was the queue of buses on one side and complete darkness on the other. At first, I was scared – I rarely rode on the back of a motorcycle and told the traffic cop that we didn’t need to go that fast. Then I realized I was on one of those travel adventures that people relish years later. The wallet did not matter anymore. It still doesn't.

The traffic cop wished me luck as he dropped me off at Shifen. I retraced my footsteps and reported my missing wallet at the local precinct before catching the last shuttle bus back to Taipei. The shuttle bus could only drop me off at the train station closest to the shuttle stop. I was there just in time for the very last train of the night. The station attendant used her own New Taiwan dollars to exchange the few Hong Kong dollar coins I had in my bag, so that I have money to pay for the train fare back to my hotel. I felt so blessed for everything that happened as well as for the spare credit card and passport I left in the hotel.

I had two more stops before going home. So here’s what did when I lost my wallet:

1. I called my banks and canceled my credit card and debit card. (Skype allows you to call toll free numbers for free even without any paid subscription.)

2. I used Western Union’s website to transfer cash to myself and picked it up at a local Western Union location. (If you are doing so using a credit card, it’s considered as a cash advance and not a purchase. So a higher interest rate may apply.)

That’s really all there is to do. I didn’t expect to see my wallet again, I didn’t, and that’s fine. The adventure was worth so much more.

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