Thursday, January 17, 2008

On The Road - Part 4: Taiwan Longshan Temple

The last day in Taiwan, our flights left quite late in the day. ‘The girls’ (Rae, Nitta, & Sandy) took Jordan and I on a little morning adventure in Taipei before our flight.

First, we went to the Longshan temple. As you can see this is quite a beautiful temple in the city and besides being well known in and of itself, it is also known as the temple near to the snake alley night market I mentioned in one of my earlier posts.

I am so glad that the girls went with us to Longshan because they knew all of the rituals and traditions for visiting the temple. The temple really wakes up and feeds all of the senses. For starters, in the entrance courtyard, there was a spectacular koi pond with waterfalls. This beautiful view created a sense of peacefulness when you walk in as well as forming a sonic container from the business and noise of the street right on the other side of the gateway. I truly love water gardens and Koi ponds! There were quite some magnificent and large koi, just relaxing under the rushing of the waterfalls above.

Past the courtyard, we entered into the next layer of the temple to be assaulted with the thick smoke and smell of burning incense offerings. All around the temple were offering bowls with sticks upon sticks upon sticks of the burning incense. In the center of the temple, was a shrine with the main Buddha statue surrounded by handful of smaller shrines on the perimeter. The girls had us each get a handful of large incense sticks that we would then use for our offerings at each shrine. There apparently was an order in which to make our offerings. I never quite found out or knew how the girls knew which way to go but we followed their knowing lead.

Different shrines were dedicated to different purposes and the girls instructed us as to what kinds of wishes and prayers to offer at each location. Once we made our wishes we were to leave a stick of incense at the burner in front of that shrine. One Buddha we were told is where all the mothers and students go to ask for passing marks before big exams and tests. Another one was to ask for abundance of children and fertility (we passed that one quickly, simply offering our incense with no wishes!) One of the last ones was for asking for the partner you wish to marry. I was instructed to whisper my name, birthday, and a very detailed description of what I wanted. In that case, of course, should my wish come true, I was told I would have to come back and thank the goddess. We’ll see what happens…..!

Each shrine was so intricately detailed with gold, carvings, paintings, offerings and lights. There was so much for the eyes to take in, I felt quite overwhelmed with it all. The smell of the incense ever present and the sounds of people whispering prayers and clacking ‘question blocks’ (for lack of a better term). These blocks were two little wooden pieces that you us to ask a specific question to the Buddha. Basically you pose your question, and toss the blocks. Depending on how they land, the answer is ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘undecided’. Along one wall were fortune tellers offering to read your numbers or your palms for a small fee.

Besides the massive input to the senses, I found my heart very moved as I offered my prayers. I spent some time considering the question of what exactly I wish to pray for and the answer always came back the same:

Om Lokaha Somastaha Sukhinu Bhavantu
Om Lokaha Somastaha Sukhinu Bhavantu
Om Lokaha Somastaha Sukhinu Bhavantu
May all beings in all times and all places be free from suffering and know deep deep peace.

I recall feeling tears in my eyes at one point as I felt the depth of that prayer in my heart. Why should I ask the universe for just me? What I want of life, don’t we all want?

It was hard to walk away from the temple. I felt like I could have sat there all day praying and wishing…..but alas, we moved on!

Next the girls took us for a quick bite of lunch. Here we are enjoying our meal, which was the Wa Guei I mentioned in one of my earlier posts about food. Say hi to the camera!!

After a quick lunch, we went into one of the markets, this one being a food market. Talk about a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT attach of the senses!! There were so many smells, fish and meats and fruits, and people, fried foods, grilled foods, etc. The sites were also something to behold. Any part of a fish or pig or foul that you could imagine can be found in the markets like this. As we walked down the narrow alleyway, there would be giant fish and pig heads watching us. Full pork legs with the hoof and all laid out on the butcher counters. Of course, like visiting Chinatown in any major city, there were many many ducks and chickens hanging in the shop windows. One shop even provided some helpful education as to the various types of chicken one might find around the world!

Finally, to end this adventure and head back to the hotel and finally to the airport, we took a brief walk to the subway. Here, like NYC and probably many cities, there was the excitement generated by spectators watching the men play games on the benches near the station. I climbed up on a bench to get a view.

And now, we take our subway ride back to the hotel. Rae, don’t lose your subway token being silly!

All in all, our trip to Taiwan was a good example of the old saying; Work Hard, Play Hard. I really treasure the opportunity to experience different parts of the world. For the full selection of photos I took on this trip, go to my Photobucket Album.

Stay tuned for future “On The Road” blog installments… stop…Hainan, China!

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