Story and photos by Dawna L. Robertson
Was it my blonde hair or my doe-eyed look of bewilderment that tipped her off? Regardless, hearing a stranger say "I will help you...follow me," was as sweet to my ears as the sound of the chimes twinkling in the breeze.
A temple newbie, I obediently tagged along attempting to mirror my new mentor's moves as we maneuvered through the smoke-shrouded chambers of Taipei's colorful Lungshan Temple.
Originally constructed in the 18th century as a temple for Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, Lungshan welcomed more than a hundred other deities as new settlers transported their local gods when migrating from Mainland China's Fujian Province. Matsu, the Goddess of the Sea, and Kuan Kung, the God of War, are the most prominent among these.
Often referred to as the "meeting place of the gods," the 272-year-old sacred shrine has seen tough times. Yet, it always bounced back. It was resurrected after being leveled by an earthquake in 1815, and damaged by both an 1865 typhoon and wayward Allied bomb during World War II.
Time has been gentle since the edifice's last restoration in 1957. Kuan Yin survived each devastation, as if to show the world that it is a place where kindness ultimately prevails.
Unloading a riot of ornate decor, the temple's Ching-dynasty style architecture had my head spinning with its ceramic dragons, detailed woodcarvings, exquisite bronze work and stone sculptures. And no doubt the burning incense intensified that condition.
Following my temple tutor from one deity to the next, I was amazed at the calmness in a setting that was buzzing with worshippers chanting, bowing and shuffling about. Lungshan is typically packed with a large crowd offering incense, fruit and spirit money to the multi-denominational deities. And on this particular day at the end of Chinese New Year, the activity was amplified.
As we jousted for position around a huge yellow lantern with our joss sticks in hand, I prayed that the stranger's goodwill was more than a random courtesy. And it proved to be. This was just a taste of the warmth and hospitality I encountered throughout my eight-day sojourn on "Ilha Formosa," the beautiful island of Taiwan.
More info:Visit the Taiwan Tourism Bureau at eng.taiwan.net.tw.
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