A little out of place

So, Hefei has a walking street just as any big city should. Last Saturday, Aaron and I met there for pizza at Pizza Hut and boy was it yummy. Anyway, this walking street is typical of any walking street with all sorts of shops and eateries and of course tons of people out enjoying themselves. Well, this walking street has two things that seem a bit misplaced, but here’s the rub, they were obviously there first.

One is an old residence of a local official of the Qing Dynasty. It looks really cool and will be an upcoming adventure, but our first adventure was to the other destination that’s a little out of place on the walking street, the Mingjiao Temple. It is a small Buddhist temple that sits a few meters off street level as if it were floating over the street and looking down on it from a higher plane. Aaron and I saw it on Saturday and knew we wanted to go back and visit, so that’s what we did this week taking Melissa with us.

As I waited for the two of them to meet me at the temple, I couldn’t help but notice the ethereal sound of chanting or singing coming from the temple. It seemed even more out of place on this loud, bustling, commercial street. When we went up, we found the source of the singing and had a wonderful surprise awaiting us.

Before even paying our 10 Yuan entrance fee, we could see many worshipers seated all around the floor of the entrance hall in robes praying. We were intrigued. The entrance hall was similar to the entrance hall of the temple in Sanhe with the big Buddha statue in the middle and different colored guards on either side. Someday I’ll figure out who or what they are supposed to be. All around these, leaving only a small path for walking by them, were people praying or singing or chanting with someone we could only hear over a loud speaker leading them.

They all sat on their little cushions and most had robes. Some knew the recitations by heart while others read out of a book. We could quickly see that not just the entrance hall was full of people but there were people scattered everywhere around the temple, in the buildings, under the trees, out in the open, doing the same thing. We asked and were assured that photography was allowed but still felt a little uneasy with a worship service in progress.

We reverently walked around the courtyard where the large incense trough smoked letting off a sweet smell and where little red ribbons fluttered in the trees with prayers or hopes on them from the believers. We took a few pics and felt more comfortable as the people greeted us so warmly and smiled big when they saw us. Periodically, women would go around and hand out candies to these pilgrims. I don’t fully understand why, but it has something to do with giving to the poor. A couple of the ladies even gave us some handfuls of sweets.

The singing or praying was intermittent going in little chunks with breaks in between sets that the people used for personal prayers or just chatting. This went on for a while when we were there and then finally, they started singing for the last time that afternoon. During this last set there were times when they would stand or bow down.

After it was over, many of these parishioners, mostly older people and mostly women, bought incense to light. They would do a little prayer holding the incense at their forehead while turning to face all four directions then stick the incense in the trough. We wandered a little more and Melissa was coaxed into bowing a little to one of the Buddha statues and was almost coaxed into buying incense.

It was a bit surreal being there with all of these believers singing and chanting and praying. I always enjoy seeing people practicing what their faith. If they hadn’t been there it would have been just another beautiful, colorful Buddhist temple, but with them it was more than a building with a bunch of statues, it was a way of life for these people. I don’t know if they do this daily or weekly or only once a month, but I am glad we visited when it was happening.

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