As Ran and I headed toward Chinatown, I noticed that many of the buildings had unique architectural styles. It’s amazing how many different types of designs exist and how modern and traditional buildings stand side by side. When we arrived in Chinatown, I thought it was just as chaotic as all the others I’d visited in the U.S. However, since this was Asia, there was an even more overwhelming feeling surrounding the place.
Shops and people competed with one another for a bit more space. Stores selling Chinese medicinal herbs stood next to souvenir shops that were across from fruit and vegetable stands that surrounded restaurants and electronic vendors. The idea of personal space is completely out of the question here. I don’t think it’s a concept that many in this part of the world know about yet. And if they do, they’re opponents of it and not supporters.
Ran and I waded through the sea of tourist and touts until we finally came to a square that was large enough for us to breathe in. Across the way the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple stood grandly, if not a bit intimidatingly, before us. Rows of paper lanterns hung from its wooden boards and incense sticks burned for the gods. A whole host of people waited patiently for their chance to pray hoping their wishes would be heard and answered.
If I thought the outside of Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was staggering, the inside was beyond anything I’ve ever seen before! There were thousands of relics, statues, candles, fruit offerings and incense throughout the building. The room and all the decorations were in reds and golds.
Buddha and many other Chinese gods and goddesses had special alters in front of which people could donate and pray. And, yes, that’s the most popular order of things – give, then pray – at many religious sites, but I thought this place was impressive due to its scope of deities. I’m positive that there was one god for each of your worries and that you could literally address all of them and offer up a prayer with a small gift to each deity. Figures hung from the walls and looked down upon you as you walked about seeming as if they were daring you not to donate.
Even though visitors and non-Buddhists were openly welcomed within the temple, I still felt like I was stepping on someone’s toes as I walked around taking photos. Throughout my life I’ve been to a couple of Buddhist services, mostly funerals, but I’m not well-versed in many Buddhist traditions, practices or beliefs. As dozens of people stood around me offering prayers to the gods, bowing and shaking their sticks of incense, I just felt very awkward. It was as if I was witnessing something extremely personal between them and Buddha and I was a peeping tom.
In any case, even if I couldn’t understand the intricacies of the religious practices going on around me, I could appreciate the artistic craftsmanship and skill it took to build and keep up the temple. The religious figures and effigies were masterfully sculpted, etched and painted, and you could tell the temple was highly influential to people in the area. How could you not be moved by such beauty?