I continued the tour through various temples in the Shanghai area – this time to Longhua Temple, one of the larger temple complexes in Shanghai…

I don’t know what the laws are about begging or how they are enforced, but in lots of the areas I’ve been, there haven’t been that many people begging.  Sometimes on the subways, there will be someone with a cup, rattling it for a donation, but they’re really few and far between.  On my way to Longhua Temple, I was approached by a man with no legs walking on crutches and he had two well-worn prosthetics.  He, too, had a cup and I dug into my pocket to toss in a coin (there’s luck to be had at temples by tossing them into various places, so I came prepared).  The chime of my coin striking the others in his cup was like a dinner bell to the others that I had not yet seen.  It was a gauntlet of misfortune, those asking for money not too different from the first man I had donated to.  Already with a palm-full of coins, I couldn’t really say I had none, so I just kept moving, doing a walking pop-a-shot  with my coins into all the offered containers that suddenly lined my path – somehow I felt like I was getting more in karma by giving them a small bit to help than by donating it to monks that probably already had enough.  And I still did have coins for them, too, so all’s good, right?

I had really no idea what I was doing and I seriously hope it wasn’t blasphemous, but instead of just watching the faithful Buddhists with their incense, I decided I would add to the smoke filling the courtyard.  They hold it between their palms pressed together and pray, bowing to each of the four cardinal directions.  I didn’t really pray, but did just try to clear my mind and be in the moment.  Which was also difficult to do because I felt very self conscious about bowing, knowing that I was already being stared at for my height and for sure I was going to be called out for being an imposter…

Right next to the temple was something that I hadn’t expected.  I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but it had someone in uniform standing at attention at the gate.  I was a bit unnerved to walk through the gate, thinking maybe there was an entry fee or something, but nobody stopped me when I walked through.  Heads didn’t even turn.  Which actually unnerved me a bit more.  It was a large park, with a mirrored pyramid in the middle.  The site apparently used to be the location of a prison, where many of those viewed as patriots in Chinese recent history were held, executed, and buried.  The park is full of sculptures, the kind that evoked soviet communist kinds of imagery for me.  The pyramid was full of revolutionary history and historical items.  It was a fascinating trip, even though most of it was not in English.