Only in Taipei would I ever spend the morning at the temple and go straight to karaoke with my cousins. My grandfather’s name, along with those of our ancestors, are placed at Zhao Ming Temple in the outskirts of Taipei City. It’s a low-key temple, nestled in hills of Yang Ming Mountain.When I say “name,” I mean a placard that is meant to represent the spirit of these ancestors. A family buys the placard from the temple, which promises to keep it until the temple itself is demolished or destroyed. If it is not there materially, the name exists in spirit.
And when I say “low-key,” I mean, it’s not a garish temple outfitted in gold and marble. The nuns don’t all have their own laptops nor do they have a queen bee nun that is driven around in a bullet proof Mercedes (there are plenty of these “humble” religious leaders about in Asia). The temple is run by a handful of elderly nuns and their fresh-faced disciples, and all share in the household duties and worship services. They cook and serve meals on special occasions such as funerary ceremonies or on the first day of the new year, during which many families choose to eat vegetarian. After lighting incense for our ancestors and the deities that watch over them, we dined at the temple. We can choose, if for some reason the temple no longer pleases us, to move the placard to another temple, but at present we are very pleased with this one. Its name, Zhao Ming, means “Divine light.”
The temple’s exterior.
It is the swastika, a word derived from the Sanskrit word “svastika” meaning any lucky or auspicious object. Buddhists believe it was stamped upon Buddha’s chest when he died and they call it the heart seal. You’ll find it on temples all over Asia – the Nazis have nothing to do with it. Hitler, after much deliberation, decided to use the Swastika on his flag to convey “the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work.” Whatever.
My uncle, holding his incense and waiting for his turn at the altar.
The altar for ancestors. Each placard represents one family. The food on the middle table is prepared by the nuns. After it is offered, they eat it. The side tables are meant for families to place fruit and other goods. Normally, after the fruit is offered, it is left there for the nuns to eat, but on the new year, they make an exception. Families take the fruit home for themselves because it’s lucky to eat on this day.
And because some kids don’t like fruit, no matter how lucky it is, parents make the most out of the situation…
Volunteers cooking in the temple kitchen. No animals killed or cut in this kitchen ever. Truly vegan.
Our vegetarian lunch – less exquisite than New Year’s Eve dinner, but no less delicious, and far more refreshing.
Karen and Melody – my cousins – singing in our tiny private room. Karen went from being one of those, “Oh I can’t sing, don’t make me sing,” girls to a mic hog that now jumps up and down sofas.
Taiwanese super idol. I have no idea who he is.
But I know who she is…
And that’s how I spent the first day of the Chinese New Year.