“They say Karma’s gonna get you…”
Temples hold a great power over me, ever since a few of my trips to Thailand to see the great wats; I’ve meditated in Buddhist centres in the UK: but when the focus is paired down to a deep relationship between the Buddha, the white light and all the offerings…I usually just end up thinking about the delicious salty snacks laid before the enlightened one.
No, for me; it’s truly about the temple atmosphere; legends guarded by guardian lions; mermaid princesses and giant statues; You can’t turn your face away from this kind of imagery; it’s actually kind of an insult within the faith itself to turn your back to it;
The first prayer ribbons encountered in Lijiang, Yunnan, China.
I grew up in Britain; where some religions heavily featured violent or graphic images; those memories are covered in a literal smell of dust that is hard to summarise on a social media platform…but anyway this was why I was excited to see what Guangzhou had to offer;
1. To Chen Clan Academy…
My adventure started with Chen Clan Academy; which started life as a short-term accommodation space in 1888.; a sort of frat house for Chen Clan members to sit provincial exams; a wordsmith, a Mr.Guo Moruo obviously brushed up on his poetry a bit on this one; writing the following poem in praise of such an academy;
‘Nature’s engineering can be replaced by human creation, yet human creation cannot be surpassed by natural force. The human world is created in a way like this, a visit to this place is better than ten years learning from books’
While not strictly a temple; those ten years as a bookworm are rightly a waste compared to the rooftops of the academy; something I’ve noticed as a sure sign of a temple; a quick google search reveals Chen Clan as an academic temple; which mostly consists of a series of dramatic rooftops depicting everything from flowers, birds to scenes of Cantonese soaps of the time;
For me; coming from a place where our history is depicted in solemn, almost dowdy or melancholic; even the statues of Chen Clan could be called fruitful; consider my bouche amused and hungry to be led by lions to the various incarnations of Gautama Buddha;
2. Xiaozhou Village;
Which led to me to Xiaozhou village; a short bus ride away from the bustling; “shop, shop and eat” culture which envelops Guangzhou; Xiaozhou village in itself is a chance to see what life in China would have been like nearly 30-40 years ago; a mural of Chairman Mao smoking a fag; confirms your trip back into time;
The shrine here is less about the pictures for WeChat or Instagram; it’s a great glimpse into local beliefs and how faith and belief is a personal thing in Buddhism; rather than something you have to spread to the rest of the world;
Small and solemn buddhas at Xiaozhou
As a result; it ranks on the rather small scale, but it’s a good starting point and a good excuse to visit Xiaozhou; which has sort of charmingly given up on tourism. I’m a big fan of those postcard pictures; where you sort of superimpose the old and the new; or just the local site; Yes it’s a great place for budding photographers; Check out the Oyster house in Xiyuan!
Some sites in Xiaozhou
3. Renwei Temple
A quick boat ride a week later and I was heading to Liwan Lake Park; to check out Renwei Ancestral Temple; the first full temple I’d stumbled into; In China; temples aren’t the boisterous affairs that you encounter in Thailand; this isn’t a measuring contest; but things are very different in China when it comes to Buddhism; it’s on a smaller scale Temple wise.
What was wonderful at Renwei is the little statues encased in kind of a rotating case; the closest comparison I can see is the prayer wheels of Nepal; which mainly depict the mantra over any actual depictions of the Buddha;
Renwei enjoys a history of over 900 years; how can you not be impressed, simply by visiting old stuff and being alive to enjoy experience how people used to live; and how the local people have made a community around the history and kept it alive.
4. Liurong Temple
But this isn’t enough surely? You can’t just smell the incense and give up as a Temple Runner; I took a rest and found myself the next week in Liurong Temple or more well known by foreigners as Banyan Tree Temple; I’d seen the temple from the famous Canton Tower and vowed to trade the steel building for something a bit more karma centric; So I shuffled in and lit some incense…and what a temple it is:
It started to rain, my feet were soaked; shoes ruined etc; but the Lotus Pagoda as it’s also, also known was a sight to behold as you can see from my random images; it’s named as such due to it’s habit of giving out light; imagine the feeling you’d have had back in old 537 AD. Seeing those 9 layers shining out…awesome!
But even more than that; the three fairly middle weight statues definitely depict some kind of teenage phase of our golden gods; They are like naughty schoolboys rather than supreme beings dictating the life of us ‘Germs with shoes’ as Bill Hicks used to say. The rain didn’t dampen my spirits; but it did ruin my shoes!
Then on and on; after a delicious meal of Prawn Summer Rolls and Seafood in a coconut with boiled rice at Tiger Prawn; a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant down in Beijing Lu…or Beijing Road to the tourists…
5. Dafo Ancient Temple
…I came across Dafo Ancient Temple; right in the middle of all the chaos of one of Gunagzhou’s main eating/shopping district; the same imagery of the lions is here; led by some fairly confident herders; again the emphasis here is on the great bounty of the Buddha.
The most curious artifact here is the White Buddha; being attended to in a no-go zone for those who haven’t sacrificed their life to live in the temple, instead of randomly shuffle around them; this was like the VIP room of every club you ever went to as a teenager;
Still it made you curious what the life of a Buddhist monk must be like; all the orange robes; incense burning; is it the same coveted items that drives some people to become a police officer? or a professional football mascot? Earlier in the week; I’d come across a female monk in the street; something I found refreshing to what surely must be a little bit of a boys club.;
The construction work that goes on with temples isn’t talked about much, perhaps it’s not particularly of any importance to most people; but does it remove the magic? like a magician with his pants down and a rabbit poking out his arse? No…but it’s important to give a resounding thanks to all the effort that goes into crafting the temples as seen here:
6. Foshan Temple
So; we are led to Foshan to encounter Zumiao Temple; where the temple lions have gnarled claws and the memory of China’s greatest Kung-Fu master Ip man lingers; a perfect mix of noble character and talent; which is historically described as a Lotus Flower in Chinese culture. Ip man’s most famous student was of course; the Hong Kong born Bruce Lee; who definitely traded dumplings for dumbbells in a quest to become a Kung-Fu master under the Ip man.
Relics from the life of Ip man…
While here; I managed to get a temple to myself; where my hand was halfway to my camera phone and halfway to my timer; I’m a practicer of Transcendental Meditation and have worked on films on the subject; the mantra comes in strong in this kind of environment; but it makes you wonder; Are we here to simply record everything? What’s that all about? Why are there statues with fake beards…? What’s it all about…
Which is why I’ll still visit more temples…Is there anything that makes you question yourself more than a few golden statues and a mantra?
Perhaps I’ll become a temple reviewer…
A templeviewer…? No, that doesn’t quite work…
This started life as a reflection on Buddhism and temples; I’m sure it all looked better while I was writing it…
Bar of the week: Sun in the Sky; a wine bar for the Warhol generation; go haunt the expensive clothes; I’ll be back for a 500 yuan shirt sometime around November…Featuring Wine Tastings very soon, which I’m getting involved in.
Restaurant of the week: Tiger Prawn
If you love Thai/Vietnamese food this is a great place to dine alone or with just one other person as it’s always packed…the prawn summer rolls were a little past their prime; but seafood served in a coconut is sublime…also everything comes with sauce; I think the secret to any good restaurant is a lot of sauce; a good atmosphere and an extensive menu; as long as it’s not ‘all over the place’
Snack of the week: Random Jelly Lollipops…Every wandered around and fancied something a bit like eating a breast implant? Me neither…but then; it’s sticky; it’s chewy and I’m hooked…