Tag Archives: temple

Confucius temple

On a very rainy morning in Taipei to avoid a drenching I explore Confucianism. There are 6 noble arts and I witness a scholar repeatedly honing his calligraphy writing out greetings and wishes. I choose some poignant ones.

The second skill is chariot riding, (yu) and I sit in a little wooden one facing a video screen of the road ahead. I fail the 3 challenges in spearing boar, navigating a zhushuiqu (high speed waterway) and the guojubiao (slaloming between banners). Later on in hualien I realise these skills are essential for riding a scooter. I get it instinctively. Thunder crashes around and low flying passenger jets roar over as the approach the nearby airport. In a third chamber I learn the techniques of she, or archery, through the help of 3D specs and a video screen. I try my strength by pulling on a bow, but there is no opportunity to actually shoot. These skills are also useful in winning cuddly toys in hualien night market. Confucius lives on! I feel a little short changed as I don’t find anywhere to learn the remaining 3 skills: rites, music and arts.

I get a stamp to prove my competence of the skills I did try out.

As the rain hammers down I collect some analects, some more wisdom.

Classical Chinese

Taiwan Provincial City God Temple, No. 14, Section 1, Wuchang St, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Saturday afternoon is the busiest time in this traditional Taoist temple. This buzzing place is a colourful spectacle of layers of gold, red, smoke. Smart old men making offers of fruit, young women bow with smoking incense sticks clasped to their brow. I watch a strange ritual dropping of pairs of orange segment shaped red wooden pieces. A deep in prayer and concerned looking 20 year old girl does this several times. I can't even guess what this all means. Older people are sitting filling red envelopes with stacks of yellow prayers. Another woman is building a large ornamental boat and covering it with yellow pieces of paper printed with the red backwards swastika symbolising love. There is a long glass window similar to that of a bank at which some kinds of transactions are being made.

A short man of about 40 in a green shirt approaches me and begins to tell me about the temple. He then hits upon inviting me to a class of Classical Chinese. Why not, I say. He leads me though a sliding door, through a kitchen and up some stairs into a hushed classroom where around 40 men and women in their 50s and above are following pages of printed Chinese characters and repeating them rite fashion as the teacher calls them out and indicates them on a video screen. I am compelled to join in with the chorus, though have no idea what I am saying. My friend, Charles is marking the sheet in pinyin and indicating the tones. He attempts to whisper and explain to me by drawing a c clef and musical notation to explain the relativity of the tones. This works differently from mandarin pronunciation. The drill then becomes harder as the class now read the characters as phrases, and this is where the tones descend to create a flowing music. We are reading classical tang poetry. Charles is a teacher of Classical Chinese, like some of the others here. For him it is essential for the Taiwanese culture to perpetuate this form of the language. I suggest that this is like learning Shakespearean English. He expresses disdain of the simplified Chinese of the mainland. The group is serious and committed. They are excited by a short visit by the director of the temple who shakes my hand warmly then makes a little speech in Classical Chinese. I have to say that the whole experience was quite eye-opening and in spite of Charles eager coaching and explanations that this is worlds away and something that has no function or relationship with anything I could ever do!

Xingping day 18

After breakfast with the Germans. I meet up with Echo who works at the hostel for our planned hike. First we have to get across the river li by ferry and the ferryman tries to charge me 5rmb when the local rate is 2. He doesn’t really have a leg to stand on when Echo has just paid 2, but still complains and argues for 10 minutes as we are waiting to depart. On the opposite bank we are met by her friend (and this girl’s friend, plus a puppy) who works in a guest house next to the limestone mountains, surrounded by a peaceful garden where they grow all their vegetables. She gives us a lift in an electric motorbike 3-wheeler with a flat bed trailer. It’s a very bumpy ride and we have to get out and push the flimsy vehicle out of a puddle. After dropping off our transport we begin the walk through farms and orchards of huge pomeloes, towel gourds, golden oranges (these smaller than a ping pong ball, green skin, orange flesh), past pig sties and chicken houses, farmers driving cows. It’s very local, slow and quiet on this side of the river. We are  hailed by younger girl of about 17 on a bicycle with her 3 year old brother. She tells us that they are making ginger toffee. This involves boiling up sugar and ginger to make a sticky paste which the gnarly old guy stretches and pulls and twists on a bench. It’s then pulled into strips and as it quickly hardens is snipped into bite size pieces by the family. They also make sweets from their own sesame seeds and peanuts. The walk is hot and eventually the path peters out in front of a sheer cliff face. In spite of Echo’s calls and reference pics sent to the colleague back at the hostel we cannot find the right way and have no choice but to descend. It’s amazing the little boy has made it this far completely willing and untiring, the only problem being his losing his tiny blue flipflop which keeps slipping off and needs to be retrieved. At the bottom we become 3 and adopt a backup plan which is to walk along the river to an evocative cave temple. The cave in question having no illumination save for 3 oil lights at an altar. My friends immediate reaction is to use the flashlight on their phones to guide them, but I insist we enter and acclimatise. It is so still and quiet in there. We take a rest and eat some noodles at Echo’s friend’s ghostly guesthouse then head back before 3 when I go to bed for a few hours. Exhausted from the head, and probably our exertions.

The old quarter, which consists of 4 streets, packs up early evening as the tourists have all gone home. The streets are returned to the residents. Loud shrieking kids running up and down. Families, doors open having dinner. Each house has a plain concrete or stone floor with the living room at the front, revealed through open wooden doors. Each contains simple low stools, a table and a huge tv. This is on in every house usually with the sound turned down. I guess it serves as wallpaper. Nobody is actually watching it. I’m glad the TVs are turned down. The chatter of countless TVs from open doors  would be hideous. Some houses  display a poster of Mao on their wall. Older people sit in the darkness on their front steps, bare chested men chat in hushed voices.

Guangzhou day 10

Sunday morning liu rong Buddhist temple.
Chinese toddlers are quite rowdy and sometimes badly behaved. There’s always one screaming somewhere, in a temple, on a subway, in a restaurant. Mothers are not very soothing, fathers look mildly indifferent. They play with scissors in shops, and crawl along the parapet to the lake. Parents exasperation is the closest there is to prevention or chastising. Bottles of baby milk are favoured. Push chairs aren’t common, with babies often carried lolloping, over a parental shoulder or dangling sleeping out of their arms. 
In general kids seem to be cute-sy and it’s definitely a distinct identity that they have. They wear cartoon character- like clothes, run around shouting and are needy of their parents. British kids from an early age are styled like young adults with groomed hair, piercings and sexualised clothing.


As I make these observations my mood softens. Maybe it’s the herbal infusion in the temple garden, the wafting recording of a chant, the refreshing breeze and the rustling trees, or the general civilised calm of visitors incense burning, bowing and wandering from hall to hall.

It seems to be ritual day. Flocks at the temple and church. I don’t know about the mosque, but I passed it anyway. Burning of whole sacks of fake money in braziers. Behind a double barred gate young children are marching and drumming and enacting a flag raising ceremony.

Outside McDonald’s are queues of blind buskers. An old lady has emaciated kittens on sale outside the metro in a cage and shoes away from my camera. Anxious people sit in front of an illuminated board with people’s lottery numbers. At the counter of a shop a shopkeeper holds her 8 year struggling daughter firm as she attempts to cut her fringe. I our corner cookies lie in their carts, seemingly given up on being hired. One even has a little girl and wife with him. Feels like visitors day at the prison. The wizened little men with their buckets and trowels and tools of their manual trade sit impassive on the kerbs.

Guangzhou day 8

I can’t get the aircon to the right temperature, but anyway it’s cooler than outside. I want to get up early and see the city coming to life. On my street corner are the 21st century bare chested coolies, sitting and squatting, by the kerb, smoking and waiting to be called into action. There seems to be a thriving industry in sorting and collecting recyclables. Bicycles are used as delivery vehicles. I see 12 or so water tanks strapped to one. The little hutongs are atmospheric and historical. Homes to sleepy old people who stare impassively when I greet them. I do exchange a few words with a lady packing up her breakfast stall and offer to send her my photos of her. Another old guy asks me where I’m from. The rest look bemused and I’m not sure if this is guarded hostility for venturing into their shady streets bedecked with strings of laundry. There is a market stall selling chickens freshly slaughtered, a little show through whose curious Windows I peer. It is plastered with amateurish water colours of flowers and writing practice sheets. Inside seated on one side of a long table are two little girls diligently drawing as a youngish man with a white goatee points between an arrangement of vegetables and some sketches he is making pinned to the wall. A lady stands behind the girls and guides their movements. Evidently they are in a still life drawing class. An older man opens the door, I’m thinking to remonstrate, but he invites me in. I politely decline. Could be a bit awkward. Some people don’t mind being photographed. The coolies do, as does the furniture restorer sanding a chair on the street as his caramel coloured poodle sits in attendance.
I’m having lunch at zen again. This time it’s heaving and full of lively chatter. Bitter melon soup and fried noodles with bean curd skin.

  The route here takes me past countless little stores selling refrigeration parts, copper piping, hardware type stuff. That reminds me of the neighbourhood near Mong kok where all the little shos sold paint and decorating stuff. These kinds of places would have vanished decades ago as the diy mega store took over in uk.
The guan xiao si temple next door is week worth a visit and seems to be more monastery than temple. The garden is pretty and peaceful. On the hall of the sleeping Buddha a meditation chant has begun, primarily led by black and brown robed women, some men as well. They are not monks as they wear grey and nuns shave their heads. The chanters walk in a clockwise direction snaking in and out of the rows of cushions they squatted on and circling the reclining Buddha in the hall. Two ladies one clinking a bell, the other tapping a block, lead the way. This lasts at least 40 minutes and seems quite joyous. Outside I listen and watch. A 4 year old boy copies his mother and circumflexes.

I want to get somewhere else, but the hutongs and their rich source of image delay me. Finally I get the metro to yuexiu park and visit the museum of the mausoleum of the second nanyue King zhao wen. It’s a kind of pyramid covering the excavated 2000 year old tomb. This was discovered only in 1983 as the hill it was secluded in was being levelled for housing. The museum contains fabulous jade artefacts from the tomb, which fortunately had never been pillaged. This is the suit he was buried in.

  A thunder storm is brewing and I hit the streets and explore. Cities have a sense of urgency in the rain and figures sheltering under umbrellas reflected on the glistening neon lit pavements are an enticing sight. I’m hoping I will get a bit lost once I’m past the hospital and climb over a flyover, but there is something vaguely familiar. It’s the plumbing shops. Somehow I’ve made a direct line back to my familiar neighbourhood. I’ve walked a lot and sweated a lot. Time for a beer.

I wonder if anyone is reading this. Leave me a comment!

Hong Kong day 4

A day on my own today. Starting by a trip to the veggie dim sum stall, then a walk to hau temple garden. The temple is the usual affair of incense and bowing, whilst the sprawling mama of the temple and the man selling incense sticks are more engaging subject matter. I breakfast in the garden. Under the pergola is a group of picnicking maids. The steps at the back of the garden take me to a road in which an ancient huge tree with hanging roots causes the carriage way to bisect it. I’m climbing flights of steps which rapidly take me up past schools, tamarind trees and swish apartment blocks to the beautifully named cloud view road. My google map is disorientated and I’m heading in the opposite direction to my intended one to tin hau, and also, I find out later, and the map doesn’t show elevation, that I’m about 100 m higher up than need be! The views down onto the repeated blank windows of causeway bay and glimpses of ships in the twinkling blue sea in nooks between this pattern are awesome. I find myself looking down on an artificial sports ground, situated on top of a covered reservoir. Bright green and terracotta in colour. It’s a sweltering mid day, yet there is a game of football going on and as I descent to take a look see a couple of glistening joggers. It’s serene and other worldly scene, backgrounded by the soaring towers. My walk takes me to a bus terminal on possibly the highest point on the road, which then sweeps majestically round a hospital and along the ridge of the hill flanked to the left by a long residential block of 20 floors. Old women and a Boy Scout wait for the bus. There is a switchback as the road snakes rapidly downhill. The drop to the left is accessed by some steep steps and looks inviting. By now I’m trusting my nose and this is the right direction. Away from the road the walkway is tranquil and unlike the hk I’ve seen so far. Happy kids and mums skip down steps. There is one of the brightly coloured kids play areas I’ve been getting used to seeing and a public siting area, again occupied by maids. I’ve never den kids in these play areas. Opposite the play area is an eye catching Art Deco era block house of 4 stories. I’d like to think of it as authentic to the character of this neighbourhood. I’ve reached elusive tin hau. This pocket of calm is nestled against the mountain in a gorge that opens out into causeway road. Easy to teach from there, but I had no idea of its proximity. It’s a a small neighbourhood laid out grid like with small low buildings. Old people sitting on chairs on the streets, long queues for the famous congee shop. A snarling dog prohibits me from entering a tiny street side shrine cum temple. I chat to a local woman who says she wonders why the fog is so unfriendly to me, this doesn’t happen to the locals… I’m looking for the Lin Ka fung temple which is at the end of a little street backing the mountain directly below my earlier walk. It’s an odd round grey squat building with unusually 2 side entrances and a kind of balcony where you would normally expect the entrance to be. It seems popular with locals and there is an oldish venerable balding man in glasses reading fortunes.
On leaving the temple I’m now walking along side the fences of tennis courts, the former site of a wide open drainage channel which emptied into the canal where causeway road now is. It’s a surprise to find myself on causeway, now in full Saturday afternoon mode. Next to the courts and by the library is a sports ground with a jogging track. I go and watch. The runners for the main part look like they are stoically undergoing some kind of extreme punishment. Even the two young kids in their argentine and muller, Germany football shirts seem to be hobbling.

I cross the footbridge and am in Victoria park, shady promenades, artificial football pitches, surrounded by the inevitable sky scrapers. The most amazing thing is the presence of thousands of young women, Indonesian mainly, and mainly bescarved muslims picnicking en masse. Some are playing informal badminton, some dancing. There are a few stalls, seemingly advertising wedding packages. Whilst sitting in the shade on the pitch I’m approached by 4 red shirted girls in their early twenties who ask me if I want to take their pic with the backdrop of causeway bay skyline. They are quite extravert and tell me they work here and are also a hip hop dance group, which they then demonstrate. I cross through the park and the pavement under the flyover is equally crowded. I see a man giving guitar lessons and several Indonesian restaurants.

On the main shopping drag of causeway bay is a rally. The local elections are coming soon and you see the faces of the various candidates on the sides of buses, on fliers and now in the flesh. This party are yellow and identified by number 7. Their supporters are I yellow t shirts and have adopted white framed glasses as the symbol of the leader, nicknamed 4 eyes. There is a lot of cheering and a number of impassioned speeches, of which I understand nothing. One of these is a guy who styles himself like a pop star. Kk has told me he works in new media and has a gold coloured Mercedes. On his poster he looks like a boxer. KK is a fan. Tom says he has shown himself to be a little uninformed but is building support on charisma.

All my batteries are exhausted. I go home for a rest, then meet tom for dinner. This is in a great Taiwanese veggie restaurant where we have a yellow curry and fried mock chicken. It’s noisy and clattery here. Tom says this is normal in a dim sum place. Twice one of the waiters smashing a plate on the floor. 

Hong Kong day 2 part 2

After reaching the road at pok fu lam we dither about the next step, and owing to time we decide to head back clockwise around the island to soho on the bus. A little walk down some steps takes us past and diverted into a couple of broc a brac shops, the second being rammed with cameras, projectors, old games consoles, memorabilia such as presentation plaques from various defunct regiments and place departments, old prints of yesteryear including crazy shots of airliners approaching the old hk airport through a canyon of sky scrapers. The usual approach route I believe. There are some old news articles from 1989 from the hk press with photos of the build up to what became the tragedy of tianenmen. Would be good to show my Chinese students this. 

We find the man mo temple dedicated to the God of literature. The wooden beams are hung with smoking coils of incense. I remark on how calming the place is. If you tune into the atmosphere of the temple the constant city noise outside disappears. We talk about smells and my nose seems to have been stimulated by incense, KK notices a smell of cement that evokes his primary school. For a few minutes almost at each step I notice a new and different smell.

I get excited on spying mangosteens, my favourite fruit. The first one is rotten. KK turns down the offer when he sees the mess my hands get into. There are 3 veggie restaurants here. One near to the old west market, an Edwardian market hall now converted into boutique food stalls. The first promises all you can eat but turns out to charge by weight and is rather cold and unfriendly. We end up in a place which serves ” members only ” but they let us in. All the tables are reserved and we have a window of 1 hour to eat. Service is forgetful and slow. KK remarks again on the friendliness standard, and isn’t overly impressed with the food. I find the braised fungi quite interesting, fleshy and fibrous. KK has issues with food textures and some mushrooms and later I introduce him to the word umami. I walk KK to bus bus stop then get the tram back to base.

Confuscious temple

I don’t understand the selfie or the rituals people enact when they go places. Is visiting a place such as a temple like putting yourself on a stage in a new theatre to perform to your camera. Only this is a closed loop. Theatres have an audience. The selfie audience is yourself, and hence it provokes narcissism of the highest order. From photo opportunity site to photo opportunity site. Everyone does the same preening, posing and gesturing. This is me, I’m here. Actually the here doesn’t matter too much. The this is me, and oh aren’t I happy and isn’t my life full of the craziest moments is what is happening here. Jumping through some little gate at the confuscious temple, pulling the v-sign. Those stupid plastic green antenna that girls are wearing in their hair.

Maybe I should be less cynical. Is there anything actually intrinsically that interesting in this place. The codes of confuscious ism are dead. The structure is pretty, but it doesn’t have a lot of relevance beyond a pleasant place to visit and spend time away from the mundanity of everyday life. So why not perform some act to remind yourself you are still alive and that things are not so bad after all.

Beijing day 3

It’s all quite confusing here still. Learning a little Chinese doesn’t really prepare you for a place where you can read nothing and nobody speaks any English….and this is the capital city. I believe that Chinese kids learn English from the age of 8 or so. Well the TV show about the “Chinese way of education” obviously was a red herring. From my experiences at my work and what I have seen here the facts are that their way of learning languages definitely doesn’t work. Not that I’m counting on being helped, and have tried, but I don’t know enough to negotiate a deal on a SIM card, and can’t read the signs in the station to find out where to pick up my ticket.

Many prejudices have been confirmed. It is a poor place and my students represent a very small section of Chinese society, a section I haven’t even encounters here. The society I have seen live in the hutong. These are grey brick and cement alleys with houses arranged around wiggly courtyards, some behind heavy teed doors. Inside each of these pasted to the walls are, I believe housing committee orders. The yards are often piled up with old pieces of furniture, broken bicycles and strung with drying laundry. It’s a hot and dusty place, with a grimy layer of grey dust adhered to everything, even the statues at the temples. I guess this is pollution. The air feels superheated and sticky, this must be the greenhouse effect. Old guys sit on boxes outside their gates, often shirtless or with their t-shirts pulled up to expose them. A crude way to keep cool. Some of them pass the time playing Chinese chess, the women sit with their poodles, smoking and playing cards opposite their shops. It’s not as loud as I imagined. People don’t shout, and travel around on electric motorbikes ( how can this be?). Bikes are a plenty, so are motor tricycles. It’s not a hostile or suspicious en place, but people don’t smile back and rarely return my “ni hao”. I’m not sure if they are aware of me, a rare white devil in these parts, or that they choose to ignore me. There is no calling out or efforts to sell me anything. Such a contrast with elsewhere in Asia.

I’ve been to some temples. The confuscious one was disappointing, and more a museum to a dead way of thinking. That’s certainly how it was described in the adjoining museum. Mao put the final nail in its coffin I guess, but no mention of this in the museum of course. What I thought would be a tranquil visit was annoyingly soundtracked by Chinese guides jabbering on headset mics. Do they really need to be this loud, and why do they seem to be following me?

The lama temple was a more religious experience, with people burning incense sticks and bowing, though even this didn’t feel too spiritual. Across the road at night time people burn piles of fake money and prayers as sacrifices.

Tiananmen Square was unreachable, with a heavy military and police presence cutting off pedestrian access on the eve of the parade to commemorate the end of ww2. Many of these uniforms look very young, like school boys with their happiness extracted and replaced with a cold empty communist stare of contempt and surveillance state. The presence of control can be felt all over the place. Every subway station has a scanner for bags, in front of each exit on a platform stand pairs of green garbed, large capped soldiers. Each platform has a guard on a set of steps marshalling passengers. On the enormous square in front of Beijing west railway station police stand under special police parasols, pairs of soldiers dotted around. Here people seem to have been waiting for trains forever, or they live here. Thousands of families, peasants with sacks stuffed full of god knows what lie, sleep, sit, squat as throngs of passengers pass through this colossal communist edifice. It’s an intimidating and confusing place and makes very little sense. Absolutely no comparison with a British station. I didn’t once see a platform or train. I guess they are here somewhere. In spite of this heavy surveillance, it all seems very benign. Nobody gets hassled, I’m not stopped from taking pictures. I think the presence is so normal, that everybody is used to it, and therefore won’t step out of line, or whatever they are not supposed to do here. I did see them rush into action close to tiananamen when a woman started shouting hysterically at some guy. 4 or 5 uniforms rushed over, but actually were more interested in stopping people from gathering and watching. I reckon that they are more fearful of crowds assembling than some crazy woman. They never did sot out her problem. I have to say this was so unusual, as the Chinese don’t ever draw attention to themselves.

The internet is the other thing that reeks of over zealousness. I can access very few of the sites I want to, including blogs, file share sites and social media. It really makes you aware of how little information is available here.

I tried to get a bus earlier and ran into a number of problems. First the timetable. It made no sense, plus of course I couldn’t read it. I did ask a guy to help and he explained patiently, but I couldn’t understand very much at all. Then I realised that tickets can’t be bought on the bus. So where? I should have bought a travel card, but didn’t due to poor advice. When the bus finally did come, it was rammed packed, so I aborted my mission.