Although I may have used this title in a blog on a previous trip to China, and perhaps I need to take a closer look at the definition, but it just seems to fit. For instance, Jing’An Temple in Shanghai underwent major renovations at various times since it was, according to various written information, built in 247AD, with the most recent construction finally finished in 2010. I thought I would never see what is behind the walls. When I lived in Shanghai the gates were closed and the ever present ugly green shroud common on every construction site in China was the only view. When I visited the temple seemed to have s pending opening date. Last year I managed a glimpse before the gates closed at 5:00PM. I thought I was fated to never see inside.
Therefore, this trip had a few specific places I planned to visit. Jing’An Temple was at the top of my list. To keep my thoughts I recorded on my phone – now to remember how to record so that it writes at the same time. On problem with staying in hostels is lack of quiet and privacy. My thoughts at the time were mixed. It was quite busy for a weekday morning. Entrance fee, the wicket was tucked away near the gates – just a 12’x12′ opening where visitors basically only hear a disembodied voice, hand over their 50CNY and get a ticket. There was a more elaborate ticket booth, I believe for anyone wanting to make offerings to the fires burning. No photos are allowed from inside the actual temples where the various gods are seated (or standing). Which meant I forgot to take photos of what each place was! In the first shrine, holding eight standing Demi-gods, piled boxes of incense shared the space. I found this a sad state of affairs when a shrine is also used as a warehouse of sorts. I do get it though, the two places for burning incense and making offerings are also there.
If anyone thinks temples are for quiet reflection they have not been to a Chinese Buddhist Temple! To paraphrase my daughter from one of her papers, Buddhism is a living, and lived, religion. Adherents were praying,monks were chanting while striking gongs and wooden clappers, gawkers trying to take photos from outside. It was a very active environment. I wish I could include the recording I have of me attempting to describe the scene, my voice is nearly drowned out. Twenty years ago, when I first came to China, was still a time when young people scoffed at ritual, choosing instead to mimic and laugh when visiting once holy sites, especially when they saw their elders bowing in deference to the various gods represented. What I see now is young people, in their twenties, joining in ritual and prayer with reverence. Having faith, or an outlet, is important.
Offerings were being made for, I assumed, the recently departed, at both of the burning altars. Red bags of gold or silver ingots – rapidly being folded in various corners – were dropped into the fire, one family seemed to want to ensure their ancestors would never go without in the next world. At one point one family was made to move to the less busy altar (sorry everyone, I really do not know the correct term) rather than have any crowding. I could not see a difference, perhaps the winds were friendlier at oneover the other. However, that slight change meant so much to the family when the assistant/security? somewhat roughly took the bags and dropped them unceremoniously into the fire. When he made to take a very small offering an elderly lady was holding cupped in her hands she snatched her hands away. She did appear visibly upset – either with him or the event I could not tell.
I did feel rather like a voyeur. At another shrine – these are usually massive structures that house a specific god related to Buddhism – also highly decorated, a couple was making offerings, following the direction of a monk who was chanting in harmony with others who played cymbals and bells, all in view of onlookers. When the woman left I could see she was trying very hard to hold back her emotions. Knowing a little about Chinese cultures I did wonder if these two had recently lost a child or were so far unable to have children. The culture of the past and now has not changed so significantly. The difference is that even with a loosened restriction on the one child only policy couples, and their families, still prefer boys.
However, life goes on, and it certainly was at the temple. I discovered that, like many Buddhist Temples, a vegetarian lunch was being served. After some hemming, walking around a couple of times and some complaints from my travel companions I de died to partake of the meal. For 10CNY I was given a bowl of rice and a bowl of soup. It was quite tasty, with mushrooms, cabbage, and cauliflower in a light broth. Just what I needed to continue on with my day. I was quite impressed.
For dinner though I was less than satisfied. One of my favourite street food places does lamb kebabs – only that and flat bread – which I did not buy because it came out of a bag rather than their circular clay oven – more expensive, less tasty, too much gristle. Add in the lowering of already lackadaisical service at my go to hostel and I think Shanghai has lost its lustre for me. I was ready to leave.
A note about posts: although I had intended to post twice a week about this trip I am finding that access to Internet is so spotty it does not make any sense to wait. Besides, I rather like letting readers know what is happening in the moment.
Expenses (CNY) taxi 253; hostel 180; 120 transit card (20 deposit); 100 Chinese phone number + internet (not enough GB so very poor service; 50 Temple; 10 lunch; 11.50 breakfast; 28 dinner and leftovers for breakfast, water. I think my expenses in Shanghai was a staggering 700CNY (at the time of writing I the hostel I was st had no power so can only estimate that is about 120CAD) for the two nights. At that rate I will rapidly run out of funds for China. Must watch the wanton spending.
Steps: over 17,000