February 27, 2007 - Hong Kong, China
A Return to Excess
Temple of Smoke
In the last post I mentioned excess.
Excesses in cars and apartments and restaurants and clothes. Unfortunately those excesses extend well beyond the obvious.
Tucked into the Mid-Level section of Hong Kong is the Man Mo Temple - dedicated to the God of Literature, Man Cheung, and the God of War, Kwan Yu. The Cantonese pronunciation of these deities leaves you with “man” and “mo.”
Now temples in China - in most countries for that matter - burn incense and offerings, most times small printed and foil-embossed pieces of paper that look like money. However it seems that at Man Mo it’s required. Maybe it’s the aforementioned affluence or a local tradition, but this idea fits Hong Kong. Excess.
Fifty meters from the temple you can smell smoky drifts of incense. Looking over the sloped tile roof a shimmering haze of heat rises lazily towards the vertical face of polished glass skyscrapers. Obscuring the front of the temple entrance is a gauntlet of tents selling bundles of incense and reams of prayer sheets, each person entering buying arm-loads.
Walking through the main archway you can almost feel the carpet of dense white smoke billowing out from under the eaves of the high-ceiling. Inside, a madhouse of feverish bowing, lit incense darting from corner to corner and prayer bells ringing. Looking up, the ceiling is covered with meter-wide coils of hanging incense, the rafters murky and obscured. One plus - you don’t need to speed along the crowds when the inner temple is asthma-inducing.
Each devotee poking and prodding clumps of incense into sand buckets. Burning piles of prayer paper. Clumps of 10 rods. 100 sheets. 30 rods. 500 sheets. 100 rods.
Each working to outdo the next.
And, almost oblivious to the melee, the temple caretakers. In masks and heavy fire-resistant gloves.
The outrageous stands of barely-lit incense are pulled from the sand and dumped - unceremoniously and unaware of the person praying - into large metal cans to make room for the next clump. Caretakers continuously ferrying garbage cans full of incense outside and towards a glorified incinerator.
The incinerator stands off to the side of the main entrance, doors wide-open and ablaze. A few ceramic dragons adorn the tile roof, trying to obscure the utilitarian purpose. Disposal of excess.
In America, the fattest envelope in the collection basket. Here? The biggest bundle of meter-high incense.
That’s right, I have a camera back in my happy little hands - and I’ve sworn to use it even more - check back for more photos.
I might even start taking requests.
Tumbleweeds... and no comments. How 'bout livening things up?