Our last full day in Taipei, we went west from the Taipei Artist’ Village, towards Wanhau, the old district of Taipei. Three subway stops away, Long Shan Temple, one of the largest and most ornate of Taipei’s temples beckoned. Maybe these were more ornate than the ones we’d seen in Kaohsiung. (Read this page first, and then CLICK HERE to see a second page of more pictures of Long Shan Temple)
Founded in the 1738, Long Shan Temple is not a particularly old temple. In fact, it has been destroyed by earthquake, typhoon, and war several times, and been rebuilt and expanded.
Let’s talk about temples in Taiwan—as Joel understands things. Both Buddhists and Taoists, not to mention Confucians, build temples here. But unlike those narrow minded and monotheistic folks in the Middle East, Europe and Americas, here gods and religions can share. Long Shon is a classic example. Both Buddhist and Taoist altars are set up and worshipped--generally even by the same people (why leave a god out and risk offending it?) This sort of thing would send Jerry Falwell or an African Anglican bishop into orbit, but seems the normal thing here. There are 2 main gods at Long Shan, Guanyin, patron of mercy, and Buddha. Another 32 gods have their altars here, too—some of them in temporary trailers while temple repairs and expansion take place. The Three Wise Men of the East, Fu, Lu, and Shue have an altar and their effigies are often seen placed atop Taoist (?) temples.
Temples are BRIGHTLY colored; and no surface is left undecorated. No Baroque Rocco church in Austria is more decorated.
random view of a ceiling
ten ft long ceramic dragon on roof top
After the dragon, the phoenix is the
most commonly depicted magical creature. Like the temples in Kaohsiung, the creatures and scenes are made in cement covered with thousands of specially crafted bright pieces of ceramics and glass.
Moreover, temples here are like medieval cathedrals—meeting places, centers for commerce. Come and pray any time, get your fortune read, enhanced, or just find out your lucky number. Walk around, play mah jong, eat, gossip, walk around in the court yard some more. Gawk at tourists gawking. Feed the koi, light candles and burn a helluva lot of incense. If you’re in need of serious spiritual guidance, burn extra incense, pray extra hard, and ask the gods various yes/no questions by throwing wooden, orange slice shaped red blocks on the floor.
the second inner courtyard
the second inner courtyard. note all the altars covered with fruits, etc. and the incense burner
Leave a donation or not, buy postcards, mementos, and stacks of spirit money to burn. Rent the temple bridal furniture if you’re planning to do it up right (ornate, carved sedan chair, gigantic embroidered banners, and enough drums and bells to put a CIAA marching band to shame.) Listen to old men laugh and tell dirty jokes, admire the bonsai tended by the monks and faithful, read the newspaper, or sit quietly reading scripture verses over and over and working through a rosary.
the bridal sedan chair
drum shaped embroidered banner for bridal procession
You enter an outer courtyard. There is a waterfall to your right, garden, and koi pond to your left. Through a second opening covered by a red fence, you can see an inner court yard for worshippers. When you enter the second courtyard, there are vendors of incense, food, candles, etc. Along both sides of the building holding the Buddhist altars, are alleys -- one simply for access back to the Taoist altars and the other jammed with people in a long line that snakes back and forth to get to one of nearly a dozen cash registers to buy lucky numbers, make donations, buy indulgences, etc.
the first courtyard--waterfall in background
The offerings at the altars are interesting. Outside the temple, street vendors prepare arrangements of lotus, orchids, and lily blossoms to sell to people to put on altars. All sorts of things can evidently be offered. I took a picture of a large jar of candy left on one of the Taoist altars. The jar still had the price tag on it, raising all sorts of theological and moral questions in my Western mind. Would a god need to know how much you paid for an offering? Wouldn’t a god already know how much you paid? If you got it on sale, was it still just as good or not? Does your god prefer Target, 7-11, or the Million Store? Oriental theology obviously holds minefields Kierkegaard never dreamed of.
One of the gods just said "no" to this lady praying and throwing question blocks
It was not clear to me whether it were a Buddhist or Taoist, who handled the vase of fortune telling. A large vase holds a number of thin, ornately carved wooden sticks. Pull one of the sticks from the vase; read the number engraved on the end; go across the temple to a large bank of wood drawers that look like a card catalogue in an old school; pull out the drawer labeled with your number. In the drawer is a pad of paper with Chinese writing on it. Peel off the top copy of the pad; close the drawer and take the paper to the monk or seer on duty. For a fee, have the paper “interpreted.” (I know, makes me think of stockbrokers, too.)
schoolgirls look up their fortune papers
Watch workman in their constant repair of the ornate figures. Pollution and acid rain take their toll but not pigeon droppings. They eat pigeons. It is obvious they would no more tolerate pigeons all over their public places than we’d tolerate chickens.
Speaking as a sculptor of public art, I think this is one of the best and sanest public policies on Earth!
(Want to see more pictures? CLICK HERE to go to more pictures of Lang Shon Temple)