Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 09 2013

Wanhua wander

“Where should we go today?” Chenbl asked me on the phone. I’d just finished a nice lunch at Sababa, helped by the fact that they’ve gone back to their crispy pitas, though the prevalence of cilantro was still disturbing. I had to have a slice of their delicious lemon pie to rid my mouth of the taste.

“I dunno, let’s go west somewhere…lessee, Banqiao?”

“How about Youth Park?”

“Ok.” I was walking up Hsinhai, to the Youbike stand where three girls hovered around the single bicycle left in the racks. They yielded to my onerous presence, and I pedaled up to Heping East Road, turning left and westwards into the sun, but on the shady south side of the street.

The ride, while nice, didn’t take long. Some of the shops on Nanhai Road seemed to be in the process of clearing out, and I wondered if the area is scheduled for demolition. I looked at the moldy old bags filled with the detritus of years of living, and wondered what kinds of stories they held.

Wandering back through more alleys, I passed old wooden two-story houses shrouded in vines, through early apartment blocks straight out of a Hong Kong movie, past old women and their Filipina caretakers. Chenbl showed up over an hour later, and the sun was low in the sky as we walked through the park, being warned by the Indonesian hairdressers on the sidewalk not to take their photos as they clipped the grey hair of old veterans. We walked through an ugly concrete community and out the other side, along a side street where a portly man in blue was repainting the statue of a goddess with real gold paint, past old buildings and new skyscraper apartments.

On our way back towards the park, we heard firecrackers and drums, and presently came upon a religious procession, with palanquins and tall god costumes with swinging arms, and devotees dressed in yellow and red. It was the birthday of one of the gods. We followed them into one of the old Hong Kong-style apartment buildings, to find a small temple in the courtyard. Piles of ghost money burned on the floor, and the palanquins were carried over the flames. A god medium, stripped to the waist, took various weapons from an assistant to brandish amid the firecrackers. I found myself between the palanquins, the medium and the alter, but when I tried to get out of the way, one of the men in red ushered me into the alter room, where the medium, in a trance, instructed the followers what he needed: some paper and ink to sign it. Then he read a woman’s fortune, all in a high falsetto that somehow didn’t contradict his bare-chested authority. “Do you want him to ask him anything?” Chenbl asked. I thought that perhaps one had to make an appointment or something, and demurred, but then I decided, why not?

“So…” I began, while the medium listened, ashes and other firecracker-related materials dusting his bare shoulders. A couple of days’s stubble adorned his face. I asked a few questions about a few things, and the response was cautiously positive.

“You should come with us down to Xinying,” the short man who had invited me into the alter room said, as the medium came out of his trance, collapsing into the arms of a burly assistant, seemingly chosen just for this duty. Back in the normal world, he seemed smaller, almost mousey.

Dinner took the form of vegetable rolls at the Southern Airport Night Market. Of course there hasn’t been an airport there since Japanese times, but the name persists, which I find rather cool. The old public housing persists as well, with winding stairways leading up from betelnut stands.

I’ve always liked Wanhua. It’s another world.

Temple medium

posted by Poagao at 11:16 am  

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