By Trista di Genova / The Wild East / Comedy
There’s a temple I frequent in East Taipei, but I won’t say exactly where it is for fear other people will come and ‘rush’ it. For when you hear how awesome my office-temple is, you will have the urge to check out this magical place and maybe hang out there yourself. However, you must find your own temple to enjoy. If you wish to find that perfect temple-office, you must find the temple that is just right for you. Besides, some might not care to hang out in a Taoist temple at all. Maybe you’d be more content at a 7-11, with ready access to food, wine, beer, or a fax machine or copier machine.
I scoped out this temple because it has the combination of everything I could possibly wish for in terms of an office. It’s got a plug, wireless Internet access (thanks to a neighbor), a bathroom, toilet tissue, a sink, a (cold) water fountain, a kitchen, a couple of stoves, woks, plates, glasses, and all kinds of stuff I don’t even need, but who knows? Then there are scads of chairs (maybe 30, enough for a large party), a long table to work at (or serve a feast), and the obligatory electric socket to plug in my computer. There are lights and plenty of them, lights that are already on all the time. You can smoke, no problem, there are even ashtrays and trash bins to clean up afterwards.
Most importantly, it’s quiet for the most part, and in the middle of the night it’s perfect for me to get online, listen to lectures, and get done any kind of work that needs to get done.
One thing my adopted temple-office doesn’t have is a bed. But that’s probably a good thing, or else I might be tempted to perhaps give up my apartment and try to live there.
I discovered this wondrous place this past summer. The other temples I checked out in the area didn’t have comfortable enough chairs, or lacked Internet access. One locked up the shrine area around midnight which had the only available plug so my laptop would wear down and I’d have to go home or to another temple that had a plug but no comfortable chairs; or a bathroom but no Internet access.
Over the summer I started spending a lot of nights there, getting acquainted with my new temple-office. People might come and pray and burn incense or ghost money in the oven provided for this function, but otherwise they’d let me alone after a brief greeting, if they were so inclined to engage in social intercourse. A kind of looney man tried to chat me up there once, tried to get my number and find out where I lived and so on. But fortunately he soon afterwards got a job as a security guard in Hsintien, or else I’d have to find myself a new temple-office.
I soon discovered that at about midnight, an old lady who lives next door checks on the temple, and also first thing in the morning at 5:15 a.m. The first time she saw me she grumbled a bit that I was using Internet, but since she couldn’t legitimately complain about surfing other people’s connections, she settled on insisting that I unplug my computer from the wall.
The second morning the old biddy encountered me at ‘her temple’ her grumbling was a bit more insistent – something about ‘every day you do this’ – even though I’d unplugged the computer when I saw her approaching.
The third and fourth times she saw me her grievance against me was (almost) loud and clear: “EVERY DAY YOU COME HERE! NO WAY!” (‘Tian-tian ni zai zheli! Bu xin-la!”) 天天你都在這裡！不行了!!
At first I was a bit miffed. After all, this is not ‘her’ temple, is it! This is anyone’s and everyone’s temple. And (this is definitely possible), what if the STUDY GOD, or one of the thousands of other Taoist gods worshipped here at this very temple, had instructed me, ordered me, to come here and spend all night working and getting stuff done? And especially if I make a donation to the temple for serving as my safe haven and fostering my intellectual and academic life, where is the wrong in that?
Truth to be told, this temple’s been a god-send, truly a boon in my working and creative life. I believe I was meant to go there and study and get lots of important sh** done when everyone else is fast asleep.
So now I only ‘open shop’ at this lovely little temple in between the hours of midnight and 5 in the morning. When it’s 5 a.m. I pack up my stuff and hit the road before the old bag comes and scolds me for being there.
Taiwan has the most number of temples per capita of anywhere in the world, and this is something really nice about being here. I’ve always had a beef with Catholic churches and other religious institutions because they lock their doors most of the time. For sure, they don’t want their sacred idols ripped off, or random people going in and wandering around, or maybe taking candles without paying, or praying. I have heard that in Taiwan, there is also an increase in incidents of people snagging the statues from the shrine; however, overall people seem to trust others not to deface or harm these omnipresent shrines. In my case, they have provided a haven — countless times, in fact — and I’m infinitely grateful to the proliferation of Taoist-Buddhist shrines and temples everywhere, within a stone’s throw, literally.