Sunday, February 17, 2013 – Day 19
Going back in time 10 days ago, after gaining some confidence from my solo trip to Lotus Pond, I got all wild. The goal was to visit Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung, which is the headquarters to one of the largest Buddhist organizations. I thought, if I get lost, I’ll haul my ass back home on a taxi using the address and drawing on a paper hand-written by my aunt.
Planning the Trip to Fo Guang Shan Monastery
Plan A: Leave home by 8:30 am and leisurely walk to the bus stop to catch the 9:00 am 8010 or 8011 Kaohsiung Bus.
Plan B: In the ‘unusual’ scenario that I miss the 9:00 am bus… Frantically, rush out of the house at 11:15 am to catch the 11:30 am 8010 or 8011 Kaohsiung Bus and pray that the bus stop is super easy to spot.
Plan C: If both buses are missed, wait outside the house like a sad, abandoned puppy. I am key-less so it’s basically balls to the wall.
I now have my solid plan A, B, and C. I checked the bus stop location on the trusty Google Maps site, and the bus stop appears to be just a block away from the house. The bus ride should last an hour so I should be to Fo Guang Shan in no time.
NOTE: Kaohsiung Bus is known as “kbus” in the area. So if you find yourself asking where is the Kaohsiung bus stop, just say “kbus.” Also, here are some links that might be useful:
Don’t Trust Strangers, Unless…
If you know me well enough, you know that Punctuality is my middle name, NOT.
Plan B was in full force.
There I am frantically rushing out of the house, intentionally locking myself out, and trying to find that stupid bus stop that was supposed to be EASY to spot. I am stopping by every shop open asking where is the bus stop. Most people don’t know English but they know “bus” so I point at my paper that says 8010 bus. Some people point to the right, then to the left, others point across the street. I am like a lost dog wondering up the street.
At a cell phone shop I stopped by to ask for help, there was a man in his late 30’s with his 9-10 year old daughter. He knew more English than most and tried to help me when the girl behind the counter didn’t know what I was asking. I obediently followed his instructions to go back to the street I just came from. As I’m about to ask a mechanic working on a car for help, the man from the cell phone shop rides up to me on his motorcycle (not a moped) with his daughter riding in front of him.
I’m wondering what is he doing coming up to me.
He points to the back of his motorcycle, then points toward the street, and says something that sounded to me like, “Hi, you little lost girl. You need a ride to the bus stop? Hop on my black motorcycle. Look, I have my little cute smiling daughter as proof that I’m no pervert or a rapist. You can trust me because I am taking an effort to help you find your bus stop. Plus, you either take the ride, or you will miss your bus and will have to resort to Plan C.”
I trust my gut instinct, smile, say xie xie, and hop on the motorcycle.
I know not to trust strangers. But you have to experience Taiwanese culture to see how kind and genuinely helpful people are in here (at least from my experience in Kaohsiung). Also, my gut wasn’t blaring red sirens. You’re probably thinking, well something “could” have happened. Just like anything could happen any day. And on this day, nothing bad happened… *knock on wood*
The bus stop was half a mile down the street from where I was! The kind father dropped me to the bus stop and I felt so grateful for his help. Without his help, I would have never found this stupid bus stop.
Bus Ride to Fo Guang Shan Monastery
I got to the bus stop at exactly 11:30 am. A couple of nice girls said that the bus didn’t come yet. Shortly after the two girls left, an older lady is talking to me in Chinese. I body-language to her telling her I don’t speak Chinese, but she keeps talking to me nonetheless.
15 minutes pass by…
30 minutes pass by…
45 minutes pass by…
Now the adrenaline rush of thinking that I made it on time, wore off.
I’m now feeling sad that I missed the 11:30 am bus and the next bus won’t come until ANOTHER 45 minutes. So at this point I’m weighing my options: (1) hop on the MRT to Lotus Pond to see the other half of it; (2) haul a cab to Fo Guang Shan Monastery; (3) Plan C; (4) wait 45 minutes and see as much as I can of the monastery within 2 hours.
Then lo and behold, after five minutes of indecisiveness, I see this big ol’ bus hauling ass with 8010 flashing on top! WHOOPEE! I wanted to jump around in joy that it’s arrived! Mind you, 50 minutes LATE!
BUS RIDE TO FO GUANG SHAN MONASTERY: $65 NTD, or $2 USD
MAKING IT TO FO GUANG SHAN MONASTERY: PRICELESS
The bus ride from Fengshan to Fo Guang Shan was only 45 minutes long.
An honorary mention to another kind older man riding the same bus who helped me figure out where to get off to see the monastery. You can see a giant Buddha head statue on a hill from the bus.
If that wasn’t enough (i.e., motorcycle ride, girls at bus stop, man inside bus), an older lady that got off the same stop, locked arms with me and walked me into the monastery when I asked her if the entrance was on the left or on the right. Even though she knew I don’t know Chinese, she kept talking so I nodded and said the few phrases I know, like, “how pretty!” and “so big!” and “I eat.” She understood I was hungry and dropped me off at a vegetarian restaurant she said was very good. This little restaurant has a view of a beautiful giant lotus pond inside the monastery.
Fo Guang Shan Monastery – The Buddhist Version of Disneyland
I started my amazing visit to Fo Guang Shan Monastery at 1:45 pm after a hearty and enjoyable vegetarian lunch with a nice serene view of a giant lotus pond.
TIPS: What to Wear and What to Bring
- Wear comfortable shoes and be ready to do lots and lots and lots of walking (up the hill, down the hill, up the stairs, down the stairs)
- Wear and bring sunscreen
- Wear a cap or hat
- Wear appropriate attire, meaning not revealing your tatas, not wearing booty shorts.
- Bring a light jacket or long sleeve for night time
- Bring a fully charged camera with lots of memory space
- Can bring an umbrella for the sun
- Can bring a camera tripod for family pictures or night shots
- You don’t need to bring water or food/snacks, they have tons there (free and available for purchase).
- Don’t wear heels.
- Bring some cash, they have lots of little kiosks and stores to buy souvenirs and books.
- They have a complementary meal in one of the halls, but you have to ask where because I don’t remember where it’s located.
- If planning on staying after the bus stops making its routes, take a cab.
- Plan to spending 8-10 hours there to see everything. I was there from 1:45 pm until 9:00 pm, or about 7 hours, and still didn’t get to see everything!
- Don’t enter or exit a temple through the center door. Always use the side doors.
- Bow three times then place the incense in the big incense burner.
- I would recommend visiting the left side of the monastery first. Then, visit the Buddha Memorial Center by going through the new “Boulevard” added through the back, which connects the two.
Start Your Monastery Tour!
As soon as you walk in, you are welcomed by people handing you a map that tells you where to stop by. You get a stamp at each place that you stop by. You have to participate in order to get the stamp though… For example, you have to practice calligraphy at the Calligraphy Hall to get your stamp.
At the beginning is a statue with a bell. If you toss a coin and hit the bell then your wish will come true.
The monastery has a lot of osmanthus trees and it fills the air with a sweet and clean floral smell throughout the corridors! Smells so good…
Photos of the main entrance:
I first visited the temple located furthest from the main area… I’m glad I did because if I had to walk this far after walking around so much, I’d have probably skipped it.
From the outside, this building looked like a large store. But once you walk in, you are greeted by a sweet lady who ushers you inside. I never knew the Buddhist swastika was so similar to the Nazi swastika. Apparently, the word swastika is Sanskrit for “good charm” or “good fortune.” You can see a close-up shot of the symbol, which is found throughout the monastery.
Then, I walked over to the main hall. Absolutely stunning. The side halls are lined up with beautiful bonsai trees of all ages. There is a giant bell in front of the temple where visitors can ring three times with a giant piece of wood. Then, there is a monk chanting on a microphone that can be heard through out the garden. Once you enter the temple, you are welcomed by three enormous Buddhas. Remember – don’t enter or exit through the middle door. The walls inside the temple are ALL lined up with mini-Buddhas. This is probably the most stunning temple in the monastery.
DO NOT MISS the Calligraphy Hall! The Calligraphy Hall experience was one of my favorites because it was so peaceful and relaxing. There was a mantra chanting softly through the speakers. Everyone must take their shoes off. Then, you pick a number like a lottery ticket and get assigned a scroll to trace. Once you have your scroll on hand, you walk in to a large breezy room with a classroom setting. Then you sit anywhere and trace your scroll.
There was a museum with incredible artwork of all types of Buddhas. No photography is allowed inside but I have a picture of the outside. Somebody told me that this museum is open only during Chinese New Year!
One of the many highlights of visiting the Fo Guang Shan Monastery is seeing the Amitabha Buddha and the Great Hero Hall! You can see this giant 36-meter, or 118 feet, statue from down the highway! It is on the highest point of the monastery and you can get a 270 degree view of the area. The Buddha is lined up with smaller statues, each one is different! Then there is the Great Hero Hall which all identical statues lining up the garden in front of the Buddha statue.
DO NOT MISS going inside the temple under the Amitabha Buddha statue! You will see four Buddhas, facing West, East, North, and South. Each Buddha focuses on a different aspect so you pray to the one that fits you most and ask a question. Then, you place your hand inside the wooden box in front of the statue and it should be the answer to your question! Mine was so accurate… So strange… I asked for Buddha to help me find my passion in life to fulfill the career aspect of my life. My answer was: Work hard and I will get what I’m asking for. Whhatt? I mean, really, out of all things, right? You have to try it and make sure to donate : )
The grandaddy of Fo Guang Shan Monastery is the Buddha Memorial Center. I got there close to sunset and didn’t get a chance to visit all of the towers lining up the hall to the Buddha statue at the very end. However, I did get to eat a crazy-good waffle (or maybe I was starving) that I dropped while taking a picture! I was so sad… I went back in line to get a second one! But going back to the memorial center… It’s sooooo beautiful! It’s soooo big. When I first saw the size of this place, I wanted to get on a bike or something. But walking through the front garden, getting closer and closer to the giant Buddha, made me forget how tired my feet were…
I was originally planning on leaving by 4:30 pm so I can be back home before sunset. I kept postponing my departure time until finally leaving the monastery until 9:30 pm! I ended up staying that late because I didn’t know until later during the day that the monastery was having a Lantern Festival for Chinese New Year. I was expecting lanterns to be lit up and fly into the sky like hot air balloons. Little did I know, it was fireworks instead!
Chinese New Year Lantern Festival
I wasn’t sure where the big event was going to take place so I started asking workers. A nice bystander overheard I was looking for the “lantern fire” and she started walking me to the spot. I felt so bad because it was such a long walk… And I didn’t know how to tell her that I don’t want her to go out of her way so she and her friend ended up walking me all the way.
The process leading up to the fireworks is a highly organized ritual. It all took almost an hour to lead up to the grand finale of five minutes of fireworks.
It was the one of the most beautiful display of fireworks I’ve ever experienced. Not so much because of the fireworks but rather because of the setting. I don’t know why I can’t upload videos from my cell phone to the laptop so I’m going to post a video of the fireworks later on when I have wifi…
Where is the Bus?
After an emotional and overwhelming lantern festival experience, everyone started heading back home. It was 9 pm. I had some hope that the bus was still en route so I walked all the way to the dark and scary bus stop and noticed that the last bus left at 7:40 pm.
I went to the closest shop and asked the cashier for a taxi. The cashier smiled and immediately called a taxi. Then all six lady workers joined forces to help decipher my address! After 15 minutes of debating my address, my soon-to-be taxi driver bursted out laughing when he read that my aunt had written her phone number next to “kuku” (in Chinese – Auntie). He immediately called my aunt and everyone was relieved.
TAXI CAB RIDE FROM FO GUANG SHAN TO FENGSHAN: $500 NTD, or $17 USD
GRATITUDE TO TAXI DRIVER FOR GETTING ME BACK HOME: $200 NTD, OR $7 USD
EXPERIENCING THE LANTERN FESTIVAL AT FO GUANG SHAN MONASTERY: PRICELESS
The ride back home was only 30 minutes. The driver was so talkative, again, knowing I don’t understand Chinese. He was such a gregarious man, it was hard not to like him. Except for his incessant belching.
Moral of the Day
I’m not kidding when I say that Taiwanese hospitality is second to none.
I am so thankful to so many people who helped me and made this day an unforgettable experience.
PS: Here is the Fo Guang Shan Monastery’s website for more information:
PPS: Sorry, no timely updates. I am writing this post from Guangdong, China. I’m going to be in China until March 1st. I’ll update about my trip to Taipei, trip to Hong Kong, and trip to Guangdong hopefully by March 1st!
PPPS: This post is super long, took me three days to complete it! And there are 40 pictures for your enjoyment. Hope you enjoyed it and almost feel as if you were there with me : )