I was surfing the Internet at home alone last night. As both the clock’s hands hit 12, the sound of fireworks began. 恭喜發財! 萬事如意! gong xi fa cai! wan shi ru yi! Chinese New Year is here. As it is with any new year, it is a beginning that calls for fireworks, feasts and traditions to ensure that we all start the year right. On Chinese New Year, it is well-known that dragons and lions dance to bring year-long prosperity to homes and businesses they visit. People of other cultures see this as an amusing spectacle, apart from the scrumptious Chinese feast of course. But similar to the Japanese practice of visiting the temple on the first day of the year 初詣 hatsumode, a lot of foreigners are unaware that the Chinese may also be found flocking to temples during the Lunar New Year.
As I continued to surf the internet, I came across some pictures of trips to Longshan Temple 龍山寺 long shan shi in Taiwan and 文武廟 Man Mo Temple wen wu miao in Hong Kong. It was nowhere near New Year when I visited though, but the scenes I was in, are probably going to be similar on this new year’s day – only more populated, massive, festive.
Upon entering a temple, the aroma of incense abound as eyes are flooded with smoky red and gold. My ancestors being from Canton 廣東 guang dong, I take three pieces of incense sticks –light them and bow three times in front of a deity as my Father has taught me. I was never sure why, but I overhear the Japanese tour guide beside me speak of it being the past, present and future. Perhaps I am praying for my yesterday, today and tomorrow? As I place my sticks in the vase full of ashes, I raise my head towards the ceiling and watch out for falling ashes. The ceiling is covered with huge spring-like incense coils in an inverted cone shape. My eyes are teary from all the smoke and so I walk away. I stop by a wooden can of thin numbered sticks to pick it up. I bow in front of the deity three times while asking about my troubles. Holding the can of sticks, I started to shake the can with the intent to let a piece fall off on the ground. The deity gives me a number marked on the stick. I pull the drawer on the side with that same number to get the answer to my doubt on a sheet of paper. Everything is in Chinese, of which I can understand only a quarter – but then again it is a vague oracle – make that an eighth. For Long Shan Temple, I can only rely on translated oracles online as I looked it up later on. For Man Mo Temple, a kind monk is waiting for English-speaking guests such as myself, for us to understand the deities’ response.