Longshan Temple is on the short list of sights to see in Taipei. I saved it until a Sunday evening, because I had heard it’s very pretty at night, and there’s a big, famous night market right next to it. So, two birds, one stone and all that. What I didn’t realize was that I had picked the fourth day of a four-day religious festival honoring a deity named Qingshan Wang.
I could hardly get near the temple. Wriggling hordes of people crowded the square and entrance courtyard, pushing for a good place from which to see the dragon dances and parade. I’m getting pretty good at elbowing my way through a crowd now, so I managed to get a decent spot to see the costumed dancers on stilts. Amid firecrackers and a lot of high pitched, screechy music, they strode, one by one, into the clearing in front of the temple, did their ceremonial dance, and turned and stalked out.
They were going around performing the ceremony in front of all the temples in the area–and that is a LOT of temples. I followed the procession from temple to temple for a while, swept up in the festive atmosphere. My eardrums were not speaking to me for a few hours afterwards, though. Such a racket, you can’t imagine. I’d post a video, but I’d worry the sound would crack your computer screen and make your dog run away.
Inside Longshan Temple, worshippers crowded the holy shrines, smouldering joss sticks raised in front of their faces as they silently prayed, eyes closed, bowing three times when they finished. Monks and nuns tended the large candlestick holders, aflame with clusters of red candles that looked like cartoon bundles of dynamite.
Long tables of offerings to the gods overflowed with sweet buns, cookies, flowers and the occasional package of storebought digestive biscuits. Hey, even a god can get indigestion sometimes, especially after a throwdown like this.
The festival also draws “spirit mediums” who flagellate themselves to a literal bloody pulp, and act in ways that would cause you to cross the street if you saw them in San Francisco. I’ll spare you those photos.