Temple 'sprints' start the Year of the Goat

Temple 'sprints' start the Year of the Goat
People pray with candles and joss sticks at a Chinese temple celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year.

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Temple visits were almost a must for ordinary people and political heavyweights alike on Chinese New Year's Day yesterday, with many worshippers eager to beat others to become the first to pray.

Mobs of believers followed a long tradition, waiting eagerly in front of popular temples for the doors to open on Chinese New Year's Day. They rushed to plant their incense sticks before the idols of deities as soon as the temple doors opened at midnight.

It is believed that the person who plants the first incense stick will receive the most blessings.

While it is usual to see sprinters jump the gun at track events and recalled for a restart, it seldom happens in "temple sprints." But that did happen at Changhua's Nanyao Temple when worshippers rushed in and planted their incense sticks before the official opening.

Nanyao's management had to clear the premises and conduct a fresh race. The winner of the annulled race was disappointed and worse still, he got a sprained ankle in the run, according to an ETTV report.

For some political heavyweights, the very beginning of Chinese New Year was not a time for excitement.

President Ma Ying-jeou, Vice President Wu Den-yih and New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu presided over a bell-ringing ceremony at a Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist temple in New Taipei City to pray for the country when midnight came.

At the Tzuchi Temple in Tainan, leaders made a prediction for the outlook of the country, saying Taiwan will still see a rather stormy first half of the year, but things will improve in the second half.

President Ma expressed confidence, saying in his address to the nation that the Year of the Goat will bring impressive results to Taiwan.

Ma and many other political figures, such as Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je and Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party, were busy during the day attending public events, praying at temples and giving out gifts and red envelopes.

The president also paid a visit to former Vice President Lien Chan at his residence in Taipei.

After the visit, Ma told reporters that he and Lien had a very congenial conservation.

He quoted Lien as telling him that the Ma administration is not a "caretaker" government, the president is not a "lame duck" and that he "must do what must be done."

President Ma said late Wednesday that the government will continue to improve its administration to let the people live in safety and happiness while on a visit to Dharma Drum Mountain in New Taipei around midnight on the Lunar New Year's Eve.

While there were more newborns in Taiwan last year - 210,383, the second highest level in 10 years - foreign tourist arrivals hit a record high at 9.91 million, which the president said is a sign that the country's competiveness is strengthening.

At the same time, the local stock market closed at a 15-year high of 9,529, meaning that each of 9.44 million investors earned an average NT$360,000 (S$15485) in 2014, he said, adding that a booming market will further stimulate the economy and boost consumption.

And he lauded the fact that Taiwan's economy is growing at a faster pace than those of Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea while the country's jobless rate has also dropped to a seven-year low and household income inequality to a five-year low.

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