Ash in the Air
师傅领进门，修行在个人 Teachers open the door, but you must enter yourself.
Emerging from the metro, the frigid winter air was mixed with burning incense. My girlfriend and I immediately noticed the towering pagoda. It's ancient architecture stood out like a sore thumb amidst the square, uniform skyline. A memory of Shanghai past. Beyond the white walls of the temple, large plumes of smoke drifted into the air. Bringing with it flakes of ash.
We had arrived at Long Hua Temple (龙华寺). The largest temple in Shanghai, noted for it's iconic Song Dynasty Pagoda. Crowds of people filled the temple. Praying, burning incense, and prepping offerings. It is the Chinese Winter Solstice (冬至) which is probably why there were so many people at the temple today.
Navigating our way through the sea of people, we saw each shrine. Decorated in golds, reds, with murals on the walls telling stories that I do not know. The most striking shrine held a giant statue of Guan Yin in the middle surrounded by hundreds of smaller golden figures. The smaller golden figures were each unique, placed upon their own little cloud. All looking inwards towards the shrine and towards those who entered. The mural that sat behind these small golden figures made it look as if you were in the heavens being watched by all of these golden beings. It was one of the most unique shrines I've seen.
Sadly, it is considered disrespectful to take pictures of the shrines. So I only got pictures of the temple and it's courtyards.
Luohan Noodles - 罗汉面
After checking out each shrine, it was time to eat! We headed to the "Vegetarian Cafeteria" (龙华素面馆). Small plastic flaps covered the entryway. Pushing them aside revealed a room bustling with people. The smell of noodles and tea hit my nose. We stepped in line to grab our noodles. It was interesting, we didn't pay to get the noodles. You simply were trusted to pay for whatever you grabbed after eating. The noodles (罗汉面) were better than I expected. A mix of tofu, vegetables, black ear mushrooms and pickled veggies.
Buddhist Tea - 佛茶
After eating noodles, my search for affordable and delicious tea continued. I was happy to see a sign for "Long Hua Buddhist Tea House" (龙华佛茶馆). We cautiously entered the tea house to see a wonderfully lit room filled with chairs, tables, and benches. A few people sat down, quietly talking over tea, noodles, and snacks. The bright orange aprons of the server caught my eye.
"Would you like to sit?"
Their kind demeanor made it easy to reply. We told them we were looking for tea and tea ware. The bright orange server led us to a table scattered with tea, tea cakes, and some beautiful clay jars. With the help of my girlfriend's Chinese, we discussed the differences of the products. The flavors, type, and prices. My first impression was that the tea was going to be super expensive. It was being sold in a famous temple during a holiday after all. Everything was cheaper than the other tea shops we looked at. The honesty of the server was surprising. We asked about tea ware and she replied;
"We have them but they're all too expensive!"
One product in particular caught my eye. Two Large Pu'er tea cakes, Sheng and Shu Pu'er. Laid out in a bright blue box inlaid with intricate designs. I left the tea shop empty handed but the thought of that blue box brought me back. After buying the tea, they sat us down with some free snacks and tea. Waiting for them to bring us the cakes, we sipped on the hot tea from delicate cups seated on dark wooden plates.
Ending with Dumplings
With tea successfully bought, noodles eaten, and prayers had. We went back home to end our Winter Solstace. Apparently, in China it is a tradition to eat dumplings, tang yuan, and other traditional dishes during this day. That's what we did. My girlfriend ordered some delicious pork dumplings with fried pork and a side of tofu. Although the weather was cold enough to make your fingers numb, that didn't stop us from having warm and full bellies.
Hope you all have happy holidays.
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