Sunday, May 18, 2008

Turtle Begging



I was recently invited by a friend to a high-end temple in Linkou for their "Turtle Begging" event.

Turtle Begging is Taoist tradition in Taiwan that takes place in the Spring. During this time people can come and "beg" for peace, luck, or fortune (monetary) in the following year. If they win turtles, they bring them home along with the implied fortunes.

The day has a typical prayer/chanting session as held every two weeks (1st and 15th of the Lunar Month). As typical, you can bring fruit and other food (at least 3 different types of food for each tray) for blessing. Atypically, today you are supposed to bring new clothing for blessing.
****Food for Blessing****

This is followed by an afternoon of gambling. Catholics and their Bingo can rest their hearts a little.

To Beg for Peace and Luck:
1. Select the Kind of Turtle you wish to beg for:
-1斤, 2斤, 3斤, 5斤, 10斤
-These are made of different food items, such as pastries and jello-like packages
2. Nab two red crescent-moon shaped wooden blocks (don't remember the actual name for these items):
-These are used often in Taoist temples for asking advice. If you have a question, you pose the question and drop the blocks. 1 face down and 1 face up mean "yes, I can answer", 2 down or 2 up means "nope, not ready to answer". If yes, take a stick with a number on it. Repeat the first steps to make sure that the number you have is the right one, then take a slip of paper with words of wisdom intended to answer your question. Finally, see the temple interpreter who knows what the saying actually means.
3. Introduce yourself to the Deity, name and location.
4. Pose your request:
-"I wish for peace in x斤" and make a promise "
-and I'll return x斤 by giving double what I take next year at this same event, otherwise you'll punish me with un-peacelike thoughts."
-Note: Helps if done in Chinese.
5. Drop your Crescent-Moon Blocks like in item 2
6. Search for the Turtle that calls to you (tastes the best).

7. Tape on your name and turn it around away from the deity to symbolize it's movement towards your home.

6. Take your turtle and sign your name and address so they can track you down for next year's donation.

This I played.

To Beg for Fortune in Business:
1. Pay $1500NT ($45US) to get on the Gambling List
2. Wait for your name to be called.
3. Kneel in front of the Deity.

4. Drop the Crescent-Moon Blocks (with an audience)

5. Get the most 1 up, 1 down sets in each heat.
6. Be declared the Turtle King or Turtle Queen and take home the coin turtles!

7. Take a Golden Snake/Turtle for 2nd-7th places.

8. Promise to give the temple about 三萬 ($1000USD) next year at the same event.

This I didn't play.

The day is capped off with a big dinner, where orphans from a nearby children's home pigged out (strict vegetarians inside the home, they ate a variety of meats this evening, but could not take anything back).
****One shy, one "too-grown-up-for-her-age"****

I tried to do some quick math (haha!). The orphanage had about 50 kids there. About 25 people participated in the high-stakes gambling, and some returned for a second round buy-in after losing, some a third, so I figure about 35 buy-ins at $1500NT a pop. That's $52,500NT (with a sucky US Dollar value these days, that's about $1,750). The dinner (12 courses or so) fed easily 300 people, probably costing about $600NT each, so $180,000NT or $3,000. At least 50 people had trays with new clothing to be blessed, and the same with food. Clothing and food averaging $300NT combined, that's $15,000NT or about $500USD.

Bill for Turtle Begging: $5,250.

What did the orphans get (besides the occaisional scolding by temple go-ers for throwing rocks at dogs or smelling up the Gambling Ring/Temple Doorway)? A meal that conflicts with what organized value system the orphanage can hope to instill (here vegetarianism) and a sugar rush from unlimited cocktail juice (12% juice avg).

Sure some of the money from the day goes to the kids dinner, and I'm sure the temple does other charitable events. But a fraction of the busy people there that afternoon spending half of the time (I put in 7 hours total) one-on-one with some of those kids, what a world of difference it'd be.

I'll repay the "Peace Turtle" I took this year, as required by my promise to myself, the god, and the temple bookies, but next year, I'm begging for some peace through action, by spending my afternoon volunteering at the orphanage.

****Note: this post is not meant to be critical of this temple, Taoism, or Taiwan in particular. Intentions are good all around, I am sure, and there are discrepancies between intention and action and result in every country with every religion****

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Turtle begging? Sounds like a Camp Christopher tradition!

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