Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 13 2023

Temple visit

After a nice long sleep (a rarer thing than it should be), I awoke on Sunday morning to the sound of drums and traditional instruments coming from outside my window. For a while I deliberated whether I should go out and investigate or just continue to lie in bed. Taiqi practice was cancelled due to rain, and I’d grown bored with the VR comedy stuff.

So, investigate it was. I grabbed my bag, cameras and umbrella and went downstairs to see a procession of young women wearing flowery regalia underneath transparent rain gear striding down the hill in front of my building. I circled down past a trio of straw-hatted men struggling to move ancient rusty tricycles bearing temple banners, past some curious tourists by the bridge, cameras aimed and ready, and then back up the hill to the temple, which I guessed would be the center of the activities.

I got there just as groups of men in face paint and temple regalia were just finishing up rushing around the courtyard with palanquins carrying various gods. It was now time for lunch, and everyone retreated to the piles of bento boxes awaiting them. I was photographing a woman putting a raincoat on her child by the stage facing the temple when my attention was caught by another child running around the stage among the aforementioned men in face paint and regalia. Occasionally one of the men would give him a sip from a brown bottle of whatever they were drinking, Whisbih or something. “Come on up!” one of them called to me.

So I went up, and spent the next hour or so chatting with them as they relaxed, ate from bento boxes, and fixed each other’s regalia. They were all from Kaohsiung, at the other end of Taiwan, a long way to travel. I said I hadn’t known there was going to be an event today. “Oh, nobody knows,” a man with a single tooth told me. “We just show up. By the way, do you know what the main god worshipped here is?”

Usually at such religious events, I’ve found that the performers often don’t want their photos taken when they’re not completely made up and posing, i.e. no pictures of them eating, smoking, chewing betelnet (“The dentist said I shouldn’t stop, my teeth are only held in place by the betelnut by this point,” one told me as he chewed), etc. But nobody here expressed any such concerns. A couple of them had even apparently heard of me, though I have no idea how.

“You’re that famous photographer!” one of them said.

“You’ve heard of me?”

“No,” the man said and pointed at his friend. “But he has.”

“I’m not a professional or anything; I just enjoy it,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” said the friend.

Everyone seemed to good spirits, even though their grass sandals were soaked from the rain, their red-and-white regalia full of holes. “From all the firecrackers, I guess,” I said, and they were surprised that I knew that. One of them, a huge man who could have been a professional wrestler, wanted me to cuss in Taiwanese for him. “This might not the most suitable place for that kind of thing,” I said, gesturing at the temple, and he nodded at what was apparently the right answer.

“So you know what’s up…not bad.” The men had apparently brought their families with them on the trek, and some of the kids had joined in the procession. They told me boys as young as three could participate. Apparently the Whisbih-sipping kid wasn’t quite of age. I spent a very long time refusing one of the extra bentos (they also ordered KFC), but in the end I accepted it because they just weren’t backing down. And I was hungry.

The procession trucks started up, igniting a flurry of activity as everyone donned their crowns and headdresses and other bits of regalia they’d taken off to eat. A minute later they were off again. I had practice with the Ramblers later, but part of me would have liked to have followed them as they continued on their way after lunch, braving the gravel trucks and buses as they marched in the rain up Ankeng Road to the next temple.

posted by Poagao at 12:01 pm