Saturday, 19 January 2013

Culturally Fulfilling Afternoon

Visitors praying to the Great Immortal Wong at Wong Tai Sin Temple
With Chinese New Year approaching, my friend and I thought we'd observe a few rituals before welcoming the Year of the Snake on February 10.

Some make elaborate offerings in the hopes of better luck
We headed to Wong Tai Sin, the well-known temple where those keen to give offerings to the gods and pray for good fortune come here.

It was quite busy in the afternoon, but in the next few weeks it'll be even busier.

I hadn't visited the place in many years and it has since been renovated in making efficient pathways to handle large groups of people. Staff are on hand to direct traffic and there are many rules people must observe, including lighting incense before going to the main temple area to pay their respects to the gods.

As a result, there's much less smoke in the area than before, though I must admit it was pretty smoky standing there waiting for my friend as she prayed to two smaller temples on the grounds. She even bought some new clothes for the Great Immortal Wong, for whom the temple is named after. She presented it to him as an offering and it should be burned so that it will be sent to him in heaven, but to restrict the amount of smoke, it would be burned later in the day.

A special way to bless a red string in hopes of tying the knot
We passed by a fountain with bronze lotus leaves and flowers. People were throwing coins in there, even paper renminbi. Then one woman was reading the sign which read, "Don't throw any objects into the fountain". No one else seemed to have read the warning.

We also went to see the God of Marriage who has a crescent moon behind his back. Between him are a bride and groom they are holding opposite ends of a large red rope -- covered in red strings.

Those looking for a partner or a proposal from their significant other should tie a string on the rope, but not before doing a ritual involving putting your hands in a bizarre origami position with the red string between your fingers, bowing to the God of Marriage three times and telling him who you are, where you are from, and either what kind of mate you are looking for, or saying the name of your boyfriend or girlfriend in the hopes of marriage.

Water lilies at the Chi Lin Nunnery are in bloom in winter
Then you go to the bride and bow to her three times, then to the groom and bow three times before tying the string on the rope on which side you hope to find a mate.

Who knows if it really works, but we thought we'd give it a try.

Next up was the main reason we went to Wong Tai Sin -- having our questions answered by shaking a container of bamboo sticks.

We told the Great Immortal Wong our name and what question we wanted answered before shaking the container until one stick fell out. Each one has a number on it.

Then we went downstairs to where the fortune tellers were who could decipher the poetic-like fortune -- or in our case -- misfortune -- to us.

The golden Pavilion of Perfection in Nan Lian Garden
We decided not to take what he said too seriously and went to the nearby Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in Diamond Hill for a beautiful retreat.

There's some renovations going on at the temple entrance at the moment, but inside the compound is looking great. We like the overpass leading to the garden which is still gorgeous in winter. The pine trees are pruned so that they look fluffy from a distance, while mini trees are groomed like bonsai. In the pond are massive Japanese koi, the biggest I have ever seen. They swim serenely in the water, completely unaware of us above.

Hidden behind a waterfall is a restaurant serving vegetarian dishes that is slightly expensive for afternoon tea, but a nice setting. Nearby is a small cafeteria that we popped into for a snack and drink and got there just in time before it closed. They were out of toast so we had some mock meat made of gluten instead.

The beautifully landscaped trees make for a pretty sight
We were so happy to end our afternoon on a high note, taking in the gorgeous man-made scenery that helped us escape our everyday woes temporarily.

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