We recently travelled down to Tainan to visit my homestay family, the Chens, who I stayed with from 1997 to 1998. It was only a fleeting visit, and the main purpose was to “gang eng”, or give thanks, for our baby boy.
Ah, Tainan. Every time I think of Tainan it brings back such happy memories of my time there. Tainan is a vibrant and interesting place. It is the cultural and historical ‘centre’ of Taiwan: it was the former capital during the Japanese era, and was also where the Dutch made their home during their 30 year occupation of Taiwan. It is also home to over 200 temples, so is THE place to go to see authentic (and ‘powerful’) Taiwanese temples. Temples elsewhere in Taiwan may well be grander or more elaborate, but the ones in Tainan are generally older and considered to be more effective (ling). They are also ubiquitous, and tend to pop up around almost street corner. I was constantly discovering new temples during my time there, and that is without getting to see all the ‘famous’ ones listed in guide books.
So it goes without saying that we needed go visit the Qinghuagong temple in Tainan to give thanks for our miraculous baby boy. Luckily for us, the Chens remembered where the temple was. We would never have found it as it is hidden in Tainan County. Qinghuagong is not an especially large or impressive temple, and architecturally its style is quite eclectic (e.g. neon coloured lights in a wooden panel dome supported by ornate carved jade columns). But it obviously does not need a grand exterior to attract adherents, if our experience is anything to go by. Qinghuagong principally worships the earth mother “Dimu”, in addition to other deities (including the ever-popular Matzu). I asked the Chens later how they knew how to find this temple. They said simply that they had been with their shifu so many years that of course they knew which temples were “effective”.
Our main purpose in visiting Qinghuagong was to deliver a red envelope of money, as Sam had made a promise (kang) to give a certain amount of money if the earth mother could assist us to have a child. After lighting incense and praying homage at each altar in the temple, we went to find out how to give our ‘red envelope’ to the temple. We found an elegantly dressed lady at the temple folding pieces of paper that would later be made up into paper lotuses (used for temple rites, and later burned). The Chens sat down and started folding pieces of paper with her (they are old hands at this, having been folding paper lotuses or similar shapes for many years). I had assumed the lady was part of the temple, but later learnt that she was in fact the mother of a very wealthy Taiwanese family. It seems that knowledge of the power of this particular temple gets around!
Eventually, we found someone to give the red envelope to. Sam was given a pile of ‘ghost money’, and was told to write details of our name and why we wanted to ‘gang eng’ on some paper. After praying with the ghost money, he then went and burnt it. I must say that for a short moment I thought that Sam was going to burn the red envelope and its contents as well!
After visiting the temple, we visited a small night market for a quick meal before going to meet the shifu to ‘gang eng’. Tainan is famous for its street food “xiao chi”. Although there is actually a formal night market area, most of the “xiao chi” tend to pop up in smaller, semi-informal night markets. It would be difficult to find most of them, let alone know about them, unless you were accompanied by a local. The night market that we went to, outside the Chaoxing temple, was a small night market that I think set up on weekends and only some week nights. It was very good, although we did not stay long. Definitely somewhere to come back to explore.
So, how did our latest meeting with the shifu go? Well, I won’t reveal all but he did tell Sam not to be so judgmental/argumentative (fan shi bu yong ji jiao), and to be sure of himself (yao kending ziji). And he said that Sam is a much better parent than I am, although he did acknowledge that I am capable (neng gan). Luckily, I have not taken the assessment of my inferior parenting skills to heart.