From the industrial Kaoshuing we head north again to Fo Guang Shan--Light of Buddha Mountain--the center of Buddhism in southern Taiwan. The main god of worship here is Sakyamuni, who towers over the adjoining town, while statues of Amitaabha are placed on the left and right sides. More than 10,000 Kuanyin statues surround the temple.
Then on to Tainan, the seat of Buddhist scholarship and the oldest temples in the country. We zip around: The Koxinga Shrine, the Confucian Temple, the Dutch Fort Freelandia.
One memorable image was two young Englishmen right out of Merchant Ivory casting in proper linen duster coats, riding down main street on Victorian bicycles. They are laughing and smiling as they ride side by side—I imagine that they were doing research in at the Confucian center and got caught up in mystique of the old city. Taiwan has room for many fantasies.
From there we went to Taichung, the island’’s 3rd largest city—a highlight is the Bao Jue Buddhist temple, “unusual in that it is the only one in the city that also has a Shinto Shrine on its grounds (at left). It is most famous for the presence of a giant smiling Buddha that can easily be seen from the street despite the presence of a wall separating the grounds from the street"--and then headed inland to Toroko Gorge National Park, a place of stunning natural beauty.
Then on to the last leg of the motorcycle journey: Shih tou shan, Lion’s Head Mountain. Not far from the southwestern most part of Taipei’s megalopolis, it is a place of timeless isolation. The main monastery is the classic retreat on a mountaintop.
The last few days have been particularly filled with Buddhist and Shinto deities, and it feels fitting to end the trip in a deeply spiritual place.
We stay in a tatami guest room at the monastery. It is starkly authentic, while vegetarian food served in the dining hall is fabulous. At sunset we listen to the ritual beating of the drums and the clang of bells and gongs, then climb to the Moon Gazing Pavillion and to see the Evening Star in darkness that looks like a velvet painting. Later we sit in one of the pagodas listening to taped music we brought of classic forties pop songs.
And then Paramount Steps In . . .
The next day I am sitting by myself on the bottom level of the pavilion, overlooking the valley, writing postcards, when suddenly, a man appears. He’s wearing a blue Chinese quilted jacket and grey trousers, so he is not a monk. He didn’t speak English, but smiling, he takes from his pocket a Buddhist medallion necklace and gives it to me. And then he puts some Hong Kong coins into my hand.
At the time there was no exchange rate between Taiwan and Hong Kong, so unless he left the country he could not use this money.
Let’s recap: I’m in a monastery. On the top of a mountain. Outside of Taipei. And a man is giving me Hong Kong money. My destiny must lie in Hong Kong!
BFF agrees that the Universe spoke to me on the mountaintop, and so when we get back to the city, we take a day to organize, to buy plane tickets and book a hotel.
And now, without really trying, it has come true: we are in the Hope/Crosby Road picture, The Road to Hong Kong. And off we go.