Hey, white guy on the bike! Come pray with us

After 17 months, Taiwan is still able to amaze me.

This morning I went for a bike ride. I rode through Taichung county from Cin Shuei to Shengang, taking the small country roads and narrow lanes. Those of you who have travelled those roads know that often you will suddenly come across a group of buildings among the rice fields and farms, like a small village.

It was on my return journey that I passed through such a village. A group of people was gathered at the side of the lane, in front of one of the houses. I was soon greeted with the all too familiar “Hello” with which the Taiwanese bombard foreigners. A woman motioned for me to stop. Oh great, I thought, you want to amaze your friends with your vast knowledge of the English language. As it turned out, my knowledge of the Chinese language is far greater than their knowledge of English. Unfortunately, my Chinese is limited to numbers and ordering milk tea, not at all helpful in this situation.

The woman who motioned for me to stop pointed to the house, pointed up, and said, “Bai bai. Bai bai.” I knew bai bai means prayer. Looking at all their smiling, hopeful, faces I hadn’t it in me to say no; although in truth I was hesitant as three hours on a bicycle tends to make me rather sweaty.

Having ascended the tall narrow stairway, I found myself on the on the top floor, where the bai bai was to take place. Upon the altar were offerings, inscence, candles, and statues of Buddha. Several stools for kneeling were set out before the altar.

The man officiating the service (whom I shall refer to hereafter as the priest) was dressed in a white robe. They asked me to write my name, which was then dutifully copied onto a sheet of rice paper with Chinese writing on it. This paper was then folded accordion-like and given to the priest.

It was time to begin. We all gathered around the altar. The priest knelt before the altar, on the front centre stool. The other men knelt upon the other stools. I stood at the back. The priest began praying. Hands were clasped, there was much kowtowing, standing and bowing, followed by more kowtowing; during which I was prompted several times to say my name. Then the rice paper bearing my name was burnt.

All the men stood up and bowed. The priest removed himself to the side of the altar, facing Buddha. Another man positioned himself in before the altar, and I was motioned to take the position he had vacated. The priest began praying again. Prayer, response, prayer, response. The man before the altar burnt inscence. More bowing, followed by kowtowing, followed by bowing, followed by kowtowing. Again, several times I was prompted to say my name. Finally everyone stood and bowed. Was the service over? Not quite.

Now it was my turn to kneel before the altar. I was given three sticks of inscense. A man invoked something, I burnt one stick. Same for the second stick, and the third. More kowtowing. The same man got my attention and pointed at his mouth. Ah, I thought, he wants me to repeat what he says. I did the best I could, considering the difficulty I have with tones, and a cold that makes p, b, n, and m all sound alike when I speak. More kowtowing.

The priest motioned for me to repeat what he was about to say. This dialogue was much longer and, it seemed, more difficult to pronounce. Then the priest stood on my right. He invoked something, and pressed his thumb to the top of my nose, between the eyes. He stood behind me, invoked something and made hand gestures around my head. Then he returned to his place at the side of the altar. Prayer, response, and more kowtowing. We all stood and bowed.

The men retired to a discreet distance, and the women held their service, sans priest. One of the women officiated, although she didn’t wear vestments. With the women’s service over, the stools were put away, candles extinguished, email addresses exchanged, and everyone adjourned to the main floor for lunch.

We had a very nice lunch of noodles, fish, tofu, vegetables, and soup. As others started to leave, I took my cue and finished my lunch, thanked my host (it was the priest’s house), and said good-bye. He got up to see me to the door; and smiling, took my hand and shook it vigorously. I hopped back on my bike and resumed my journey.

Back among the farms and rice fields I contemplated this chance meeting, and wondered if I had inadvertantly converted to Buddhism. Kending couldn’t possibly have been as interesting. Just when I begin to think I’ve gotten all I’m going to get out of Taiwan, it surprises me with something completely off the wall.

You just got married Hakka style! Congratulations! :beer:

I believe you will turn into a stinky tofu eating wolf on the next full moon.

[quote=“Stray Dog”]You just got married Hakka style! Congratulations! :beer:[/quote] :roflmao: :roflmao: :roflmao: :roflmao:

Taiwan’s version of the Moonies :bravo: :bravo:

Dear Dr. Zoidberg,

Wow, your story just made my day. What a cool experience. And so random too. You must have been flying high on your ride home. When I was in Taipei last year I was awed by the Temples. I am lucky enough to have friends that introduced me to the Temples and showed me how to get the incense and offer prayers and throw the incense in the cauldron. I was very moved by this day I had at both Guandu and Longshan Temples. Your story sounds invigorating. Thanks for sharing.


I’m sorry to be a party pooper here, but I feel I should point out that, for various reasons, it is a bad idea to participate in any kind of religious ceremony unless you:
a) Have an understanding of the background religious tradition
b) Know something about the leaders of that particular group
c) Are prepared to uphold any commitments you may enter into by participating

That’s no ordinary Hakka wedding man, that’s a Hakka ghost wedding. You’re screwed!


I hope the dead girl they married you to was at least a good looker.

Did you happen to have an unusually vivid wet dream last night?

It’s a great story, and it’s the kind of thing that makes all the other PIA things about living here worthwhile.
I mentioned your adventure to my wife this morning, and she thinks that the people you ran into were possibly White Lotus Sect, which like Taoism, is another Chinese folk religion. They’re always very eager to have other people come pray with them, and also eager for converts, and some even go on missions to other countries. I guess you could say that they are the evangelical Chinese folk religion. Perhaps you were simply a guest for prayers, but then again, maybe you were converted?

dear joesax - the “party pooper”,

thats a bunch of horse feathers. you sound like my art teacher in high school who also happened to be a devout christian.

incidentally, he led a group of students on a field trip to florida. at some point during the trip he led a prayer group for his fellow christian students. he told us that if we werent christian we should avoid praying because our words would get in the way of the real christians prayers. i was offended.

i was raised catholic but i do not participate in that religion anymore. for the past 10 years or 15 years i have been interested in the teachings of Buddhism. it is a religion that makes more sense to me.

when i was in taipei i was honored to be invited by my friend and her mother to 2 temples in taipei. my friend showed me how they participate in the rituals here. i was happy to learn this process because i am interested in the religion. i learned a lot that day.

your notion is not very condusive to people exploring new religions and new ways of thinking and living.

live and let live,


Yeah, JohnMoss, but you knew what religion you were participating in.
As a devoit athiest I think it doesn’t matter (unless he accidently married the old man’s daughter) but if you have any thoughts that there may be any spirit world at all you would have to be wary about that which you don’t know.

John Moss, don’t listen to these ignorant folk. They are a horse’s ass, and some who cannot even spell devout correctly.

It is perfectly alright to go to temples out of respect for each other’s culture and religion. It’s a lot better than terrorizing them or burning them down. Only God in heaven can judge what is in your heart. I think it’s great that you’re reaching out and learning something new. It’s not as if you’re hurting these people’s feelings by not being genuinely of their faith. Just stay away from the Mormons. Those creepy little boys in their tie and shirt and bicycles pretending they are really friendly, asking you how your day is, how they hope you have a wonderful week. What is up with that?

Although supposedly there is a Daoist ritual where they open your 3rd eye so that you can see all the wandering ghosts around us. I personally wouldn’t play with that shit, even if I don’t believe in it. You might go psycho.

[quote=“JOHN MOSS”]dear joesax - the “party pooper”…[/quote]Hi John, sorry if I offended you.

I think you misunderstood my post. I’m not a Christian but I have a lot of respect for Christians as well as followers of all the main religious traditions. I have studied a number of religions from the academic perspective, and more than one from the “participant-observer” perspective.

I have to go out now and don’t have time to elaborate on the “various reasons” I mentioned, but if you are interested PM me.

Best wishes,


Good story!

I think you should be able to pray any damn place you please, to any belief system that you may have.

And I’m a little bit superstitious, but you should be careful about praying in other languages. Words can carry a lot of power. So can ritual.

Well, I’m no ta complete athiest, anyway.

Only if you’re white or Taiwanese.

Here’s a joke for you…how can you tell there’s a Mormon on your MRT car?

Because he’s the only one ignoring the black person.

And on that note, I bid adieu until after lunch.

:bravo: :bravo: Amen to that.

Here’s a joke for you…how can you tell there’s a Mormon on your MRT car?

Because he’s the only one ignoring the black person.
:bravo: :bravo: Amen to that.[/quote]

Here’s a joke for you…how can you tell there’s a Mormon on your MRT car?

Because he’s the only one ignoring the black person.
:bravo: :bravo: Amen to that.[/quote]

Fo’ Shizzle. Yea, Mormons aren’t too keen on black folk. :s But that’s off topic.

But the only mormon who has spoken to me the whole time I have been here was a black lady…

Words and rituals in and of themselves carry no power. Their power is derived from their meaning. For example, if you hurl the worst insults imaginable at me in a language I don’t understand what do you think my reaction would be? There would be no reaction because the words held no meaning for me.

I had no knowledge of the language or religion, and so it held no meaning for me, either.