A Different Temple for a Different Class

Two days ago I had the chance to visit the temple that gives the name to one of the most famous streets in Hong Kong – Temple Street. Until now it never crossed my mind that behind the fake ancient bricks there stands one of the oldest temples in the territory.

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Being someone who’s always lived on the ‘proper’ side of HK – i.e. the island side – I couldn’t help but compare the temple of my ‘parish’ to this one. On the outside they don’t seem to differ a lot. This one even looked grander, with steps leading up to the main hall and higher walls.

But upon entering I immediately sensed the difference. This one is more folkish, more working class. I can’t exactly say why – maybe it’s because of the presence of those soothe-sayers(喃無佬 or 喃巫). They were leading their client from alter to alter, mumbling spells or reading out prayers from a paper while the client offer fragrant sticks to the gods. I never saw this happen in the temple I frequent (Man Mo Temple). There worshippers are usually more middle-class, they take even religious matters to their own hands, and worshipping for them seems to be another task on the schedule that needs to be ticked off.

Isn’t it interesting to see how local temples can reflect the social strata of even a tiny place as Hong Kong?

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A soothe-sayer helps his client get her message across to the gods

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Prayers to the departed
impressed on skinny white flags;
The sun takes down the messages
one by one, to be carried by
the wind who scatters them.
On to the hungry land, where
lives have been waiting to come forth.

An Old Photo

大事不糊塗

大事不糊塗

Came across this old photo of a lady of the Qing Dynasty, probably of minor ethnicity. Love her composure, the composition, the setting and the reflection of the photographer in the mirror. The large words on the tapestry say “scrupulous in principle matters”