scenes from the weekend: teo chew temple

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Early Sunday afternoon, Marcus returned from one of his epic 3-hour bike rides.

"So, I passed a temple on my ride today." He was dripping with sweat.

"Yeah?  What kind of temple?"

"Actually, Chinese," he said, passing me on his way to the shower.  "It was amazing -- really elaborate, right in the middle of nowhere.  You should go see it sometime."

Well, since it was Mother's Day, and I hadn't yet chosen how I wanted to spend the day, it was settled:  we decided to go out for a nice lunch, and then return to check out this temple Marcus had found.  

The Teo-Chew temple is really stunning.  Everything is red and gold, and clouds of incense cling to the air.  All along the walls of the temple were ornate statues of Chinese gods, with candles lit and incense burning and offerings (?) of various fruits.  Several people were standing in front of some of the statues, chanting and/or praying, and one woman was kneeling in front of one statue shaking what appeared to be a large box of unlit incense sticks, making a repetitive, percussive sound that echoed throughout the space.  The only staff member of the temple I could find was a kindly old gentleman at the entryway.  He didn't speak much English, but smiled as he handed us some flyers that briefly explained the Chinese gods represented by the temple statues, and he indicated that it was okay for me to take photographs.  We placed some money in the offertory box, and went in.

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It was truly a beautiful, sacred place, and I was so thrilled Marcus discovered it.  However, the flyer the gentleman handed us said very little about the actual temple, and when I got home, I had very little luck learning anything about the temple itself.  For example, I'm not entirely sure what faith is practiced there -- I suspect Taoism, but I also found a couple of references online that indicated it might be Buddhist, as well.  It's definitely Chinese, but there were lots of indications -- signs, written notes that were left on walls and in front of candles -- that it also caters to a strong Vietnamese following.  I didn't notice any postings about regular service schedules anywhere, but rather, it appeared to be fully open to the public for most of the day.  And nowhere was I able to find out how the temple came to be there in the first place:  who founded it, how old the structure was, or even if there were any clergy (if that's the proper word) who lived on or near the premises.

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So I'm turning to my local peeps here in Houston:  is there anyone out there who can shed some light on this amazing space?  Did any of my assumptions above seem profoundly inaccurate?

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I'm wildly curious about it now, especially because I'm so grateful to have visited it. 

UPDATE:  I did learn this about the Teo Chew people -- I'm assuming this is a big clue.

UPDATE #2:  I was reading the flyer that the elderly man at the temple gave us, and just realized it explains what the young woman was doing with the wooden box of sticks.  She was apparently praying in front of the statue of Tsai Shen:

"He is the God of Wealth and oversees the acquisition of money, the amounts to be allotted and to whom, etc.  Worshippers who are asking help in amassing a fortune visit him.  Oftentimes you may see followers trying to divine questions about finance by shaking a bamboo cup containing long bamboo sticks with numbers on them.  When one falls to the floor, the worshipper gives it to the temple priest.  The priest then gives the person a slip of paper matching the number.  That piece of paper contains the fortune."


UPDATE #3:  An explanation of the offering of incense, tea and fruits -- jingxiang.


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