February 26, a date that rings of some historical importance in Japan (see February 26 Incident 二・二六事件), but here in Taiwan it's only the second day of an almost-four day weekend. Last night we received a call from one of my sisters-in-law in my wife's hometown of Siluo (Xīluó) 西螺 that they had finally succeeded in trapping our semi-feral black cat Happy in a cage (see this blog entry for the background info). So today we drove south for the hour-long drive into (pan-)green land to retrieve our elusive feline. The result, however, was the same as last time. Even though Happy was in a cage, he literally wouldn't budge, clinging to the bars...er, I mean sides with all his might. When Pamela at last succeeded in getting him to let go, he scratched her arm, which in turn caused her to release him, whereupon, in a flash, he shot out of the cage and ran under the same hiding place as before. And to the best of my knowledge he's still there. I'm beginning to think we should leave him there.
So we left home empty-handed, but not before my wife suggested we first stop at the Guǎngfú Temple 廣福宮 in Siluo to do a bit of praying. Pamela isn't the most devout of Taiwanese when it comes to religious and spiritual matters, and I probably know almost as much about the arcane rituals of Taoism (Dàojiào) 道教 as she does. However, there is a matter of great importance that needs to be brought to a favorable conclusion within the next several months, and my wife felt it important enough to beseech the gods. Whether it was successful or not will have to be seen.
Preparing the incense sticks (xiāng) 香
The main altar of the temple. Worshiping Taoist-style involves visiting the various altars located throughout the temple (three floors, in this case), praying to the different gods and leaving incense sticks all about.
The view from the top floor
Not all of the sub-altars were ornately decorated
Pamela prepares to toss a pair of throwing blocks. Called buă-buēi in the local Taiwanese dialect (Táiyǔ) 台語, their purpose is to interpret the gods' answer to a question asked of the worshiper. According to The Rough Guide to Taiwan:
If one (block) lands flat-side up and the other opposite, this is taken to be positive - this needs to happen three times in a row for the believer to be sure the deity is in agreement. If any other combination comes up before the third positive, the believer must start all over again. If both blocks fall round side up, this is taken as a negative, while both landing round side down is the "laughing" response, meaning that you must rephrase the question.
This explains why it took my wife a long time to complete the ritual. It also explains why Amber looks bored in the above photo. In the end, Pamela felt that the gods were not sure how to answer her question.
The front of the temple
Amber poses in front of a banyan tree outside the temple