Ducks and dinners in the Year of the Dragon

Now, I get it, 100%…

Frontal view of a large rubber duck moored on Kaohsiung Harbor at night.
Photo: Zhen-Kang.

My first lunar new year in Taiwan was three weeks after I arrived, and only a few days after I moved into my apartment. I was far from lonely, but I was technically alone.

Since then, a lot changed during the Year of the Rabbit.

Now, as I enter the Year of the Dragon, my life couldn’t be richer.

For my first 12 months in Taiwan, I said “yes” to almost every social opportunity. It feels sinister to say I was strategic about building friendships—perhaps more open than my introverted tendencies usually allow is a better way to put it—and it’s paid off.

A year ago, I knew no one in Taiwan. Now, I have friends in Kaohsiung and across the country. (Many are technically ‘acquaintances’, but I choose to round up.)

During my 11-day scooter ride around Taiwan, I saw friends in Taitung, Yilan, New Taipei City, Hsinchu, and Tainan.

Then, for lunar new year, I was invited to:

  • Join friends’ New Year’s Eve family dinners (家族聚餐) in Kaohsiung and Pingtung
  • Shop for decorations at Sanfonzon Street (三鳳中街)
  • Play mahjong (麻將) and the scratch card lottery (刮刮樂)
  • Exchange red envelopes (紅包)
  • Eat more and more delicious food

Prevously, I understood lunar new year was special but I didn’t feel it.

Now, I get it, 100%.

Sanfonzon Street entrance. Lots of scooters are parked outside small, crowded shops at night.
Here’s the eastern entrance to Sanfonzon Street (三鳳中街), one of the oldest-feeling streets in Kaohsiung. Ordinarily it’s a dry-food market, but this time of year it’s the place to go for lunar new year decorations. There are many new year pop-up stalls, alongside established vendors who offer nuts, candy, and dried seafood snacks.
A diamond-shaped piece of paper decorated with a dragon head, the year ‘2024”, and three Chinese characters, affixed to a door.
I bought a hanging decoration to give my friend’s mum (whose New Year’s Eve dinner I attended), plus this hand-painted chunian (春聯) for my office door. These characters represent golden treasure, money, and wealth. I’m in!
A diamond-shaped piece of paper with a large Chinese character in the middle, affixed to a stainless steel refrigerator by magnets.
This chunian, also hand-painted, means rich and full. Appropriate for a kitchen.
A tall, narrow, piece of paper affixed to a metal door with magnets. The paper includes many Chinese characters, written vertically, plus a cartoon mayor and Formosan black bear.
This one, on the inside of my front door, was given to me by a friend. It’s a message from my local political crush, the mayor of Kaohsiung, Chen Chi-Mai (陳其邁). Here you can see him in cartoon form, waving a dragon alongside a Formosan black bear. (I can’t imagine New Zealand politicians handing out posters like these, let alone their constituents wanting a cartoon of the mayor on their door.)
At my friend’s mum’s house, I enjoyed an excellent and extremely-filling New Year’s Eve dinner. There was a mix of Taiwanese and Western food, with green tea and vegetarian options. Then, after dinner…
Four people playing mahjong. Their faces are obscured by sheep, dog, dragon, and monkey emoji.
…A sheep, a dog, a dragon, and a monkey walk into a game of mahjong…
Six people sratching lottery tickets on a small square table. Their faces are not visible. One person’s face is obscured by a sheep emoji.
…Before trying their luck with the scratch card lottery. The cards were a surprise from my friend, born in the Year of the Sheep. I won NT$100 (NZ$5)!
A roadside poster promoting Kaohsiung Wonderland, featuring the words ‘I’m back’.
Elsewhere in the city, Kaohsiung Wonderland is a month-long yellow duck-themed festival. Coinciding with the lunar new year, it celebrates the completion of a 4km-long stretch of harborside public spaces. “I’m back” refers to this being the duck’s second visit.
A metal sculpture of a yellow duck, approximately 1.5 or 2 meters tall.
Yellow ducks are popping up everywhere in Kaohsiung. This one’s outside a department store, 7km inland.
Supermarket shelves covered in yellow duck-themed items, such as liquid soap dispensers, bubble machines, cameras, rubber slippers, and carry bags.
The city’s gone ducking mad: My local supermarket now has a yellow duck section.
Supermarket shelves covered in yellow duck-themed items, such as liquid soap dispensers, bubble machines, cameras, rubber slippers, and carry bags.
There’s an even larger yellow duck section at Carrefour Love River.
Yellow duck-shaped cakes in packs of three.
There are yellow ducks in the bakery (3 for NT$59 / NZ$3).
A tram in Kaohsiung decorated in yellow ducks and ‘Kaohsiung Wonderland’ branding.
There’s a yellow duck tram.
A yellow duck-shaped hand soap dispenser.
There’s even yellow duck soap in my bathroom. (Wait, what?)
A large yellow duck floating on Kaohsiung Harbor just before sunset.
There are two ducks in the harbor. Here’s the first one, moored near the mouth of Love River.
Night view of two large yellow ducks floating on Kaohsiung Harbor.
Here it is at night, with its buddy on the right.
Night view of two large rubber ducks floating on Kaohsiung Harbor with a laser light show projecting dozens of multicolor beams of light into the dark sky.
A two-minute light show plays every hour, synced to carnival music.
Frontal view of a large rubber duck moored on Kaohsiung Harbor at night, with hundreds of people silhouetted in the foreground. The duck towers over them, may stories tall.
The ducks are huge, and the crowds are huge too: In 2014, one duck attracted 3.9 million people and NT$1 billion (NZ$50 million) of tourist spending. Based on the number of people I have to squeeze around during my nightly walks, I suspect the visitor stats may be similar in 2024. With a probable spike on Valentine’s Day, when—I kid you not—the yellow ducks kissed.

These ducks aren’t a normal feature of the new year. Which is a good thing, as I couldn’t handle this much yellow on an annual basis.

If you want to learn more about the standard, duck-free lunar new year—including why it came nearly three weeks later this time—I recommend reading Happy Year of the Dragon! by Taiwan-based writer John Groot.

And may you, too, have good fortune in the Year of the Duck Dragon!