Betting on Buddha

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I’M gambling with God. Dicing with Dharma. Betting on Buddha. This adventure unravels in the Taiwanese capital ofTaipei, in Long ShanTemple. And I’m essentially playing Taiwanese two-up but it’s not money I’m chasing, it’s love. Of all the temples inTaiwan, it’s here that people flock to seek answers to their lives. Want love? Money? Health? Success? Come to the Department of Deities. I’m lured into the temple by the peaceful hum of devout Buddhists.

Around me, people are playing some sort of interesting game involving two blocks of wood. And just when I think it’s all lost in translation, out of no where, a Californian Chinese woman whose name I later learn is Su Lin, shows me how it’s done.

“First you take a stick which has a number on it. Then, in your head, you tell Buddha your name, where you are from and what you are asking for (in my case: love),” Su Lin says.

“Then you take the two blocks of wood. If they both land face up, Buddha is still thinking about your request. If they both land face down, your request will not happen. If one lands face down and one lands face up, your request will come true.”

I nervously drop the blocks of wood. One lands face up and the other face down. Su Lin and I jump up and down like we’ve just won lotto. She takes the original number I selected and goes to a little cabinet from which she takes a corresponding piece of paper, all of it written in Chinese characters. She still doesn’t know my wish.

“Oh, you are very lucky,” she beams. “You will marry a man of honour.” I am then required to thank the Goddess of Mercy. Thank her? I could marry her myself for such good fortune.

This is a story of love and lanterns. At Hsinshu city, south ofTaipei, the 2013 Taiwan Lantern Festival is underway to celebrate the last day of Chinese New Year and the first day of the full moon. If you think you’ve seen lanterns, think again. Every conceivable object has been transformed into an object of art. Delta Energy has also constructed the world’s largest outdoor projection screen which is 100 percent recycled at a cost of US$2 million.

Yes, things are changing inTaiwanwhere’s it’s a spell-binding blend of old and new. Here, 2000 year old lantern festivals and traditional food from its diverse regions, combine with concepts like conservation. The yin and the yang. For more contemporary Taiwanese experiences, head to Kaohsiung MRT in the south-west, where its Dome of Light ceiling has earned it the title of the second most beautiful tube station in the world after Montreal. At the nearby Ten Drum Ciatou Creative Park, they’re calling it “A Revolution of Drum Art” where an enterprising group of Taiwanese drummers – who performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – are taking tourists on a new beat. If you’ve enjoyed the show, you can even take a drum class.

Back in the north, about an hour east ofTaipeiin the usually sleepyvillageofPingxi, the Sky Lantern Festival also takes place at this time of year. The traditional festival is held here, the home of waterfalls and mountains, as to have the smallest impact on the environment. Around 200,000 people congregate to write their wishes on a lantern and send it into the night sky. In my case, again, it’s love I shoot off to the stars.

According to Su Lin, the woman I met at theLongShanTemple, should I meet my love, I must return with him toTaiwanto thank Buddha for making my dreams come true. I’m writing out wedding invitations as we speak.

 

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