I was out with a friend the other night when he announced that between bars we woud be going to the temple. It was to give the bi-monthly respects and offerings that people traditionally do round here. I say monthly - I mean the lunar month. At every new moon and full moon you can smell burning paper all around Shantou and more fruit in front of the little alters in all the shops and homes.
Paper ‘money’ is burnt and fruit offered, as far as I can gather, as a sign of respect to the god to ensure good fortune, I’m honestly not quite sure which god though. I’m not sure a lot of people here are clear about the matter either, it’s just that it definately is a good idea to do it for good luck. These days not many young people are interested, in fact I find them just as agnostic as British youth. However, some young people do still go, and my friend and his older brother (two good looking lads in their twenties) are two of them.
This time there was six of us, because three friends also came. They asked me if I wanted to ‘bai’ (拜) and although I said no (I’m a Christian, it’s not possible), I’m sure they still bought me a bag of paper and incense and offered it anyway. I don’t know the English of ‘bai’. ‘Pray’ doesn’t quite cover it, and ‘sacrifice’ makes me think of blood. Maybe ‘offer’ could be the right word.
Anyway I was very happy to have the opportunity to go. The temple was down Changping Road, past the Lotus supermarket, then off to the right on a dirt track and on some derelict land you have this small but fully functional temple. The place was quite full, and there were lots of cars and motorbikes. Really it was two outside shrines but covered, and at the back some people were doing puppet opera, the first time I’ve ever seen it really done. Their music was blasted through loudspeakers, plus you had the gong gonging all the time. It was loud and busy. There were piles of paper money and fruit everywhere, some of it really big. Some people also offered massive incense sticks, which burned slowly out the back, they really were enormous.
My friends went around and poured oil into lamps and took smaller incense sticks and prayed in front of both alters. There were about fifty other people all doing the same thing at the same time, all in quite a small space, so it was a good thing there were no walls.
Then we continued on to the next bar.