At about the same time that the splash of bright red hits your vision so too does the strong sweet smell of incense. Children are pulled along by their parents to the different praying stations, women kneel down tucked away into quiet shady places to deliver their prayers, and men place their offerings on the tables laid out around the courtyard. At first, a visitor needs time to adjust to the rhythm of Longshan Temple.
During holidays, the temple is alive with people seeking answers, offering gifts, and finding solace. Overhead, the red and green dragons and geometrical patterns give way to golden hues and pillars shaped into figurines and Asian motifs. What an interior designer in the Western world might call overdoing it is a work of art, tastefully fusing all of these elements into a captivating homage to the spirits.
Upon entering a temple, I am pulled along by the string of incense floating through the smoky air and am pushed by my curiosity to observe. People-watching has always fascinated me. Unlike exploring everyday activities of people passing on the street, temples strip away human activity to its raw form. When people go to the temple, they go there to invest in themselves and to partake in the activities that bring them spiritual health. They are less concerned with who else is present than they normally would be, even forgetting about that blonde girl blinking wildly into the mass of controlled confusion. I get to witness people in one of their most honest moments.
I remember a day three months into my transition to Taipei. I had forgotten my earbuds back at the apartment and the noisy streets began to overstimulate my senses. The roar of the traffic, the mix of Chinese still harsh to my English-searching ears, and the flood of multi-color, dual-language shop signs hung as far as the eye could see were all muddling my ability to hold it together. Overtime, I became much better at handling the mix of the visual and the auditory. In fact, most days I can override these hooligans and actually delve deeper into the tangle. However, this feat took time, effort, and unwavering will even for someone who actually believes adaptability is her greatest attribute.
So when I walk into a temple, the muddle actually makes sense now. The streets of the city have just more tastefully manifested itself inside the spiritual walls illustrated in red, green, and gold. But isn’t human existence like that? In some ways, we are managing to navigate through our lives by finding small patches for self-reflection and meditation in a world that may appear in utter chaos to the unprepared observer.