Fieldwork 1: Wong Tai Sin Temple

Date: 18 February 2016
Time: 0900-1100
Recording Tools: In-built recording systems or sound recording applications in smartphones

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Entrance of Wong Tai Sin Temple

The Wong Tai Sin Temple, fully named Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, is a famous temple in Hong Kong located in Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon. It is 18000 meter square large and is maintained by Sik Sik Yuen, a non-profit organization. The temple was built in 1921 and was originally a private temple for monks and their families to worship. From 21 August 1956 onwards, the temple was opened to public by government approval.

The temple is a traditional Chinese temple. It is home to three religious, Buddhism, Confucianism, and mainly Daoism. Other than Wong Tai Sin, the main deity, the believers can do worships to many of the deities such as the Buddha, Confucius and Guanyin. Such religion diversity makes the temple very special. On May 2010, the temple was listed as one of the Grade I historic buildings in Hong Kong. Moreover, it is the first government accepted Daoism temple for religious weddings and issuing the marriage certificates. Eventually, the temple has become a tourist attraction, tourists from different countries, such as South Korea, France and America, would purposely spend time paying a visit to the temple and learn more about the culture.

Just outside the temple, there is an open-aired market with small stalls selling incense, Chinese windmill and decorations, which represent good fortune. There are sellers introducing their products and they would ask if the people need to buy anything like incense for worshipping. The keynotes are the traffic on the road next to the market and the birds chirping. Sound signals are the chatting of the sellers and also some coin sounds when there are people buying something. The soundmarks are the tinkling of the windmill when the wind blows, and also the shouting among the sellers. (Track 1-3 in playlist)IMG_1087

There were donation boxes around the temple. In the past, temples have oil lamps that should be lit up every day. To make sure that there were enough oil, worshipers donate oil to the temple. Nowadays oil lamps are not needed, worshipers can help the temple by donating money for maintenance. The sound signal is the sound of the coins being thrown into the box. (Track 4 in playlist)

AfIMG_1094ter some distance, there is an area where people can light up their incense so they can be ready for worshipping. Since the date of recording was just after Chinese New Year, there were still a lot of people going to the temple for services, and of course praying for good luck for the coming year. The place was packed, and many people were trying to find a place to light up their incense. The temple made two workers in the temple going on duty at that place to make announcements on reminding people to only bring and light up at most nine incenses. They also say that extra incense can be put in a box near the area for doing good. Sometimes the announcers would remind people that there are spaces for lighting up incense at a further place so they somehow can control the flow of people as well. The sound signal is the broadcast, conducted in both Cantonese and Mandarin. (Track 5-6 in playlist)

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Worshippers light up their incense here.

Next comes the most important part in the temple. People would worship and hope for good fortune. To foresee how their future would be, they can do “Kau Cim”, which is shaking fortune sticks. Some people would buy chicken or pork along, claiming that they are for the deities, so the deities will be happy and bless them with a nice fortune stick, and of course a nice future. There is a way of shaking fortune sticks properly – by firstly revolving the “Cim Bucket” three times to purify it, then shuffle the sticks in it before shaking the bucket until one stick falls out. That particular stick is said to be the future of the one who shake it or the target person in his or her mind. Worshippers can take the stick to the counters and there will be people explaining what the stick means. At that day, there were also people shaking fortune sticks just to mark down the number on the stick for buying Mark Six. The sound signals and soundmarks are shaking the sticks and the sound of the stick hitting the ground. At 10 o’clock, there was also a helper hitting a huge bell signaling the time. (Track 7-8 in playlist)

The time of recording was also around a week before Yuan Xiao, which is the Chinese Valentine’s Day. The temple has also set up an area for people to worship Yuelao, the Chinese Cupid. There are three golden statues, Yuelao in the middle, with a pair of couple on his sides. They were linked together with two red strings, which is a traditional Chinese myth that couples are exactly linked up like this by Yuelao. There was also a Peach Blossom tree in the area. Worshippers can pray there and tie a red string on the tree or on the red string among the three statues. There were birds chirping in the background, indicating that this is a quieter place of the temple. The sound signals are the conversation between staffs and tourists, and also the chatting sounds among the worshipers. The soundmarks are the sounds of the donation and murmuring of prayers. (Track 9 in playlist)

The temple is supposedly for people to calm themselves down and think of their lives and acts, not only for thanking deities and predicting their future. Sik Sik Yuen built a garden called Good Wish Garden at a corner of the temple for people to enjoy the nature

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Yuk Yik Fountain

and relax themselves. Outside the garden, there is a Yuk Yik Fountain, which also represents “Water” in the five geomantic elements in the temple. There are seven lotuses in the middle of the fountain, representing “Qi Bao”(七寶)in Daoism, the seven elements that a daoist should have. At the same time, there are some small fountains in the garden entrance. Further in the garden, there is a stream flowing from the falls. The sound signals of all the facilities above are water, but in different intensity and speed. At the other side of the garden, there is an arbor where people at take a rest at. It was originally a nice place to sit at, with nice plants around and birds chirping. However, there is a machine running maybe for the water flow system next to the arbor, so the overall scenery was not as good as expected. (Track 10-14 in playlist)

After the fieldwork, I realized that there is a huge difference between Chinese and Western religion. Roman Catholic, for example, would go to churches for worshipping. Unlike temples, people in the church should always remain silent or maintain their voice down unless they are going to mass or doing services. This is to show respect to the religion and the people there.  Wong Tai Sin Temple seems not to have such rules to be obeyed. Other than that, similar worshipping cultures are shown in different Chinese religion. Most of the time, giving incense and food to the deities are the most common way to do good in the temple. This also shows that the Chinese religions do not have clear cuts in between and can match together somehow. The original meaning of a temple, though, is not shown in Wong Tai Sin Temple. It is located in the middle of a city, with traffics and residents around, therefore clearly cannot be isolated from the busy area. Then, people cannot reflect themselves and be quiet even if there is so-called a garden, not to mention that there are also other distractions like machines in it. Overall, the trip is still worth it, showing both the Chinese religion culture seeping into the busy lifestyles in Hong Kong.

 

Reference:
1. Information of Wong Tai Sin Temple by Sik Sik Yuen
http://www1.siksikyuen.org.hk/zh-HK/%E9%BB%83%E5%A4%A7%E4%BB%99%E7%A5%A0%E6%A6%82%E8%A6%BD
2. Information of Wong Tai Sin Temple from the Government
http://www.discoverhongkong.com/tc/see-do/culture-heritage/chinese-temples/wong-tai-sin-temple.jsp

 

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