Shning Han arrived to greet me at 7 am – she was wearing sensible walking shoes. I was glad I too had on my sneakers. And she had a public transport pass for me as well as a bottle of water. We walked to the bus stop where I was grateful this retired mother of two had agreed to give up her Sunday morning to show me her home town. Lucky too, cos I would have had all sorts of trouble trying to decipher this timetable.
An older man was also waiting for the bus. It transpired that he was going to the same place as us – the Lungshan Temple, which was founded in 1738 and dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kuan-in. People were pouring into the Temple, bearing vegetarian gifts. The 1st and 15th of every month are key days. It was now the 19th and volunteers were clearing away the masses of flowers left from a few days earlier. We bought incense and Shning showed me the blessing ceremony. Our fellow traveller was putting on a black robe. Buddhists are vegetarian, and for those who follow Buddhism but, for whatever reason, can’t be vegetarian all the time, they can wear a black robe when visiting the Temple.
This seems sensible to me. Rather than having a rule that excludes people, they are accommodated in a way that allows both individuality and inclusion. A particularly popular God was the one that helps people find a partner. Our impromptu guide showed us how small, crescent-shaped wooden pieces are thrown to reveal answers to a question: either ‘yes’ or ‘you already know the answer’ or ‘it was a silly question to ask’. It can be hard to please the Gods it seems.
The bells rang out calling people to the day’s lesson. Chanting began. It was haunting and peaceful at the same time. Some people I noticed were counting beads – 108 of them, 108 times. I never did discover the significance of the number 108. There’s so much about the world I don’t know.
We left the peace and beauty of the Temple and had breakfast from a street vendor – rice cakes and soup – before experiencing the super-efficient underground train system. Even on a Sunday the trains ran every few minutes. They were fast, clean and, did I mention, fast. Groups of school children in uniform were practicing dances and performances, families were out for the day, and musicians were practicing Chinese opera in the shade. The sights, sounds and smells were a great warm-up to our traditional Chinese lunch.
There’s nothing better than having a friendly, proud, and in this case, bi-lingual, local to show off their own city to a visitor.
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