Crash Course in Taoism

After making plans to spend Chinese New Year’s Eve strolling around Binondo, Manila’s famous Chinatown, my uncle Joeboy told me about his personal experience there during last year’s celebrations. He jokingly likened the congested streets of Binondo to a war zone, where firecrackers would set off in the middle of the roads and sidestreets while passersby cautiously dodged the explosions.

That story was enough to scare my travel buddies and me. We opted for an alternative suggested by a Chinese friend who lives in Binondo. To avoid the annual New Year’s Eve chaos in Chinatown, our friend Charize and her family would head to the Temple of Taoism in Malate, Manila, for a smaller and tamer revelry. We did the same.

We arrived in Malate at around 8 p.m. on January 22, and Chinese dragon parades had already begun. It wasn’t as grand as I expected, especially since CNN coverages of Chinese New Year festivities all over the globe hyped up the image in my head. But it was enough to get me—dressed in a cliché red dress and all—into the spirit of CNY.

We strolled around Malate and enjoyed the bohemian vibe that makes this neighborhood famous. Dinner was at the famous Café Adriatico, where we spotted Carlos Celdran of Walk This Way meeting some friends for food and drinks. Dessert was in Caffeina Coffee at Pearl Garden Hotel.

At 11 p.m. we headed to the Temple of Taoism, where hundreds gathered to celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Water Dragon. The faithful lighted incense sticks. Others rolled red, gold, and white paper lanterns called “kim,” which they later offered to the altars of the deities. Many others gathered round fruits and tikoy, also known as nian gao, a sticky Chinese rice cake that is considered lucky to receive and consume during Chinese New Year.

I watched as a dizzying array of traditions took place in the temple. Charize’s aunt graciously explained the rituals and invited us to partake in some of them.

My crash course in basic Taoism:

1. The lighting of incense brings forth good fortune, but you are NOT allowed to light any incense under the following circumstances:
a. When you have visited a mother who had just given birth within the last 30 days.
b. When you have seen a corpse or dead body within the last 49 days.
c. When you are menstruating.

2. The proper procedure for incense lighting is as follows:
a. Cleanse or wash your hands first.
b. Get 3 incense sticks from the incense box.
c. Light the sticks. Make sure all three incense sticks are properly lighted.
d. Proceed to altar #1 and kneel down. Say the saint’s name, your name and/or the persons you wish to pray for, your address, then pray and make a wish for yourself and/or the people you wish to pray for.
e. Place the three sticks into the respective incense burner.
f. Kneel and bow three times and repeat this three times.
g. Repeat procedures A-F for altar #2 and the succeeding altars until you get to the last altar.

3. On New Year’s Eve, temple guests may ask for a cup or bowl of noodle soup from the kitchen. Eating the long noodles will bring good luck and long life.

4. Receiving round-shaped fruits such as apples and oranges, as well as a box of fresh tikoy will bring good luck to your household.

5. Believers may hold their wallets above the smoke coming out of the incense altars. Fan the wallet in circular motions in the smoky air three times for good fortune.

I couldn’t join the incense ritual, so I just watched and took photographs (pardon the eager tourist). It was a long and tedious ritual that left us basking in incense scent until our next shower.

We ended the night with a cup of warm sotanghon soup from the temple volunteers, and smoked up our wallets in hopes of channeling good fortune in this revered Year of the Water Dragon.

And since Feng Shui masters have predicted that people born on the year of the rooster will have good luck throughout 2012, I believe I’m headed towards the right direction.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

The Temple of Taoism is located at 1818 Dr. A. Vasquez Street, Malate, Manila, Philippines

View Larger Map

January 26, 2012