There are not too many famous tourist
sites here in Taipei, and alas, it is not a loveable city like Montreal, or San Francisco, or Hong Kong, where just to
walk down the street is to come to the festival of life.
The street life here revolves around
ten lane boulevards and their accompanying underground passageways, with flights of steps so tall that they could knock
out an asthmatic.
Just yesterday, crossing in front of
the train station, I saw a horde of citizens gathered around a street stage, with dancing corporate executives.
I could only assume they were
business people, since they were males wearing ties, shirts, and dress slacks. The music had a tinge of Elvis Presley,
passed through an Asiatic filter, and I was dumbstruck with horror.
There was a strained quality, a
fun-house mirrored mockery of Western sales promotion; dictated spontaneity is definitely an oxymoron.
The crowd, who like myself should have
better things to do, stood transfixed before chubby Taiwanese singing execs, accessing the most expensive equipment for
their amateurish jingles.
Their very humourlessness was to me
I continued even more determinedly on
my second visit to the Longshan Temple of Manka District. On my first visit, I discovered Snake Street and its cheap
discount stores selling plastic vaginas. I had never seen these anywhere in the world, so it was a tourist first for
me, one that I savoured happily as I paid for my Chinese erhu music tapes and electric hairbrush.
Between fat singing execs and rubber
genitalia, the day was shaping up quite promisingly for bizarre and frightening moments.
Though I laughed at the fake femininity,
I could not laugh at the fluffy white dog sitting in a large cage at the doorway of a restaurant outside of the discount shop.
The Chinese girls on the porn CDs at
the next store smiled with an exuberant toothy enthusiasm I have rarely seen on the faces of the urban Taiwanese.
It must be the thought of escaping work
in a chicken factory in North China! Still, I was disturbed more than usual by the face of one young woman, and I asked
Studying the picture for a second, it
dawned on me that the photographer had cunningly refused cosmetics for her face, thereby making her appear as young as a thirteen
year old girl.
After all this, I just wanted to sit
quietly at the Buddhist temple, though typhoon warnings were forecast. I wanted to get my mind off the gyrating businessmen,
the doomed dog, and the toothy girl.
I remembered what an American teacher
at my hotel had said the day before: I hope there is a really bad typhoon here soon since we haven't had any excitement since
the last one.
It was full Asian Fun Fair at the temple
when I arrived passing the flower vendors and the old folks resting by the broad gates.
There are three rectangular courtyards
here, at this celebrated tourist site, and I sat in the first courtyard, after passing trays of pressed red flowers
and a kiosk of iced teas and incense sticks.
Here I could observe the key action,
the nuns in black scurrying, the children playing irreverently, the aged sitting on lime green plastic stools at the
far back, with the second row of supplicants nearer to the Goddess of Mercy.
And from within the temple, singing
that went on for hours, singing with a hollow resonance, singing that reminded me of North American Native peoples.
I watched the rising smoke, the purple
orchids, the massive golden urn we placed our incense sticks in. I missed Hong Kong and I missed China, because of all
the friends there.
I did not know why I had come here to
I was happy at the Buddhist temple though.
For me, it is the the heart of the city. As I sat there, I read the promotional brochure, suitably impressed:
"It is well known the statue of Kuan
In in this temple survived the bombing from the allied aircrafts on 8 June 1948. Longshan Temple was bombed on that
day. The whole main hall and a part of the right annex were burned out during the air raid, but the statue of Kuan In
in the centre of the main hall was left intact."
I believed it, lock, stock, and barrel.
For the contemporary world of prancing
execs, doomed canines, and purchased smiles requires a higher realm to balance its worldliness: a realm to aspire to, to escape
to, to pray to for its merciful benevolence.
I inclined my head to The Goddess Of
Mercy, and promised to return.