air in taiwan

The air this morning smells like incense. Outside... inside... everywhere.
I got up a little earlier than usual this morning (yes, 8am is now earlier than usual. We don't go to bed until 1 or 2 since we work until 9pm or so) to go practice capoiera with my roomate at the university track and field. When I got back I was feeling feisty, so I took on some sit-ups. It was only then that I realized how out of shape I had become. I think I will be sore tomorrow. After that I snuck into our still dark room and turned off the alarm so I could crawl into bed and play the part myself. I got in right behind Adam and told him about my self-appointed role, to which he responded by swinging his hand back over his head, gently pushing down on the top of my head and saying, "snooze." It didn't work.
We got ready and ate, for the first time in a while, a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. Few things compare. I sent Adam off to work at about 10:20 and climbed the stairs designed for size 5 feet to do some laundry. Our laundry "room" is really more of a laundry balcony on the third floor. It sits outside, three floors up, and overlooks the tile courtyard and vacant lot behind our building.
As I was loading the darks, I could hear the chanting of a bai-bai calling faithful sinners to come seek the favor of the gods. There was a steady drum, something like a heavy cymbal or light gong, and a single voice amplified by either great acoustics or a microphone. The voice sung its prayer in the same note for about 10 silables, wavered, and then made the same sound again. They all blended together with the air and the traffic and the dryer in the way sounds blend together when you just wake up in the morning.
I couldn't help drifting downstairs and outside to go see how close I could get. I walked outside and around the block toward the entrance of the monestary. I went through the gate just a few steps and sat down on a curb on the edge of the courtyard and listened. I didn't see anyone except for a grandfather in slacks and a windbreaker being followed by a little boy who couldn't have been more than three. The latter was wearing a white sweater with teddy bear ears on top, and blue crocs. The grandfather walked down the steps from the temple, bowed to the altar, and then continued across the courtyard. The little boy made his way down the steps, brought his little hands together in front of him, bowed to the altar, then turned and bowed to the temple. Three, tops.
I sat and watched them for a while. The front of the temple is big and open with a shrine inside. There's a small table in front of the entrance where the figure of a red-faced god sits, and to whom offerings of yellow spirit money or baked goods are made. The sound was loud enough to fill up the air, but so serene that it was easy to notice a white-winged moth wobble through the breeze to make its way to one of the well-kept gardens on either side of the entrance.
The grandpa noticed me so I nodded where I sat. He smiled broadly. This was probably just due to the sight of a white person listening to bai-bai. A local friend told me that they have the idea here that all white people are Christian.) and then nodded deeply in return. Taiwan was a part of Japan a long time ago, so I wonder if that's where all the nodding and bowing comes from. Well, I stood up and excused myself. I knew even though my back was turned that Grandpa was watching me go, so I turned and bowed a little one more time. He did the same.


Chan said...

Rebeckah, I like this. It makes me pine for China. Of course, my experience involved very little religion, but I think somehow the atmosphere is similar. How are things, by the way? And are Honey Nut Cheerios easy to get your hands on in Taiwan? And real milk?

Sky said...

I really like from "I could hear the chanting . . ." onward because you direct my eyes out to CHINA.

iBo said...

Stuff like this always hits a note in my heart, and I don't know if it hits it in a painful way. It makes me pine for a culture that I'm techincally a part of but can never be. I'm always a stranger looking in.

Rebeckah said...

Milk is easy to get there, though it only comes in two varieties: whole and still chunky. We had Honey Nut Cheerios once. There is a Costco in Taipei, so when we went we bought some.