Church, temple and childhood

(photo by Joyce Tay)Before I was 30, I never enjoyed entering a Taiwanese temple. The Gods looked weird, wearing strange clothes and hats, some of them were even very dark. They were frightening to me. They were not God. 
They were not kind like my God.

The burning incense in the temple was even worse. It made the whole temple smoky, the smell of the incense pushed me away from the whole religion. I didn’t understand why those people were holding the incense and talking to those wooden idols.


I thought everything about the temple was just stupid: the Gods were not real, incense smelled terrible, the people were ignorant. I didn’t even agree with the way Taiwanese offered the food to their idol God and their ancestors.

Every Sunday, since I was seven years old, I had gone to the Dadaocheng Christian church to worship my God. My sisters and I also went to the kindergarten in the same church. I remember the first thing I learned, on the first day in church was that the Christian God is the only true God, and that I should never worship any Gods in the temples – they were only idols, not true Gods.

Dadaocheng

My mother's family had lived in Dadaocheng since the 1920's. When I was 5 years old, my dad and mom, me and my sisters came to live there.

Christian church in Danshui (Tamsui), near Taipei, Taiwan (photo: Joyce Tay)May 13th was the City God's birthday. This was a very special event in Dadaocheng, every temple, every family, and every business would celebrate the God's birthday. Every family and business would invite all their family, friends, business partners from all over Taiwan to have lunch and dinner together.

All the Gods in the City God temple would parade around Dadaocheng. There would be puppet shows and Taiwanese opera performances to thank the Gods. People and Gods filled all the streets in Dadaocheng. There were so many visitors from all over the country. Lunch and dinner buffets were not only served at home, but also spread out onto the streets.

Adults were busy the whole week, and children were excited about the whole event, because we had so much to eat, to play, to watch, and the adults were ignoring us. We were having fun!

I looked at people worshiping the Gods when they were parading around, there was plenty of food on the table offered to the Gods. I couldn't understand why those people were so superstitious, those were not real Gods. Of course, I wouldn't eat some of that food like other people. I felt the food was cursed. I would be punished by my true God, if I had eaten it.

This is how I felt. This is who I was, until I was about 30 years old. Then my world began to expand.

Through my work, I began to meet many visitors, who often asked me about Taiwan. Teaching and explaining to others encouraged me to understand and face my own culture. This culture that I rejected is something very interesting to foreigners, and I needed to understand it very well myself to explain it to other people. I feel that in the process of learning the whole culture, I was almost like a foreigner. Teaching and explaining this helped me to define and understand what it is to be Taiwanese, the food and the culture. Maybe by talking to foreigners, I became more Taiwanese.

Now when I take my visitors and friends on a tour of Dadaocheng, I feel interested in those smoky old temples – now I understand them, and they are not frightening. I appreciate people's lives and their traditional way of doing things. This culture connects to me and my life and my family and my history. It made me who I am.














Photos by Joyce Tay

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