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Keelung’s Spiritual Journeys: Temple Prayers and Urban Exploration

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Spiritual Journeys: Praying in theTemple

We were all standing in a hesitant horizontal line as the smoke rose to the filigree-decorated ceiling of the Keeling temple, flowing in and out of recognizable shapes before disappearing as breath does on a cold day. The bandana-ed coworker next to me and I were desperately trying to figure out how many and in which basins each of our 11 allocated incense sticks were meant to be placed, while still maintaining an air of auspicious silence. We moved from each side of the temple and back, walking in confused lines until we were back to the beginning.

Her and I having one stick remaining each, whereas everyone else had none and began to prostrate.

We wordlessly both agreed to put them in the central urn we had put 3 in at the beginning, not knowing we had missed a basin in the eastern wing, leaving us with extra. We then got down on our knees, and bowed before the golden emperor before us, praying in ways unfamiliar.

Spiritual Journeys

Adventurous & Spiritual Journeys in Keelung

From North Carolina to Keelung

I arrived in Keelung the day before. I had been studying in the United States for the four years previous with the express purpose of leaving. I chose Computer Science and Chinese as my degrees to have the best chance of sustainable travel in the future, working silently towards a life that I wanted lighter than air. Arriving in Taiwan was the culmination of this. I had not left North Carolina (where my school was) in those 4 years, and I hadn’t been to Taiwan in 5.

An Unexpected Journey

I had my absurdly terrible flight and the cheapest Taipei hostel I could find booked for the night that I arrived, and nothing else. In the distinctive lack of plans that I had, Keelung was non-existent. I had no idea where it was or even that it existed. I loved Taiwan, and was desperate to learn as much in coming here as I could, but I had very little idea of what I didn’t know. Keelung happened as I wanted somewhere to work for a time to offset costs and could stay for longer. This was how I found Keelung For A Walk and Keelung as a whole.

Exploring Weight and Lightness through a Book

I had started and finished a book I’d always wanted to read just after coming to Taiwan, it was about the contrast of lightness and weight in our lives; lightness being a sort of freedom but lack of roots, and weight having the heaviness of connections weighing down on us, a lot of the book exploring which one was ‘good’ and which one was ‘bad.’ I decided to read it now, and so quickly, because I met another traveler and I wanted to give her the book as she had always wanted to read it, so I decided to finish it and pass it on, as one does.

It was very fresh on my mind as I walked through Keelung the first few hours and days I was here, and I began noticing it around me.


A City of Weight and Lightness

To me Keelung is a city with weight. I can see it in the persistent, overcast skies, the tall, imposing buildings straddling mildly cramped alleyways, and in the elderly people smiling while speaking to me in line for a cabbage bun at a night market. To me Keelung has weight because the people allow it to. I got the feeling that it was a city that people loved as what defined ‘Keelung’ wasn’t necessary the municipality of where Keelung is, or the word, but rather the amalgamation of everything.

Spiritually, As a Keelung Encounter…

I am not from Keelung and I don’t consider myself to be a Keelunger, but I feel that my presence in this or that night market, my walking through the 2am fish market observing, my being here makes me a part of Keelung in some unforeseen way. Keelung is a city of weight, because being here you feel a heaviness, because it feels a part of everything.

It’s a heaviness that the young typically don’t enjoy yet, and, when weighted, tend to be pushed – which is why I feel I’ve seen a lot of younger people move over to Taipei from here, which is a light city, light as a feather because of the youth in the city you can feel.

Definition of Keelung

I’ve felt that Keelung is an older city, by the age of those you typically meet. It’s unknown how long it will take, if perhaps ever, that those who left for Taipei or other places will return, but those that remain here are what defines Keelung as Keelung, and a part of what gives the city its weight. Keelung is an older city, but not a lonely city. When I think about older generations I think about my hometown first, a small rural area in the United States and I think about how lonely people must feel as they’re so far away from one another.

an old street view of Keelung

An Old But Heavy City

My grandparents live in a house in a neighborhood, and its very rare that either of them leaves, sees anyone but each other. I tend to associate age with loneliness. Keelung again feels different. Its an older city, but its a heavy city, weighted with the connections you see just through walking.

Rarely are people alone. You see people outside of the buildings they live, sitting together at pop-up restaurants, you see people smoking together and washing dishes. There is a weight to these connections, and its what keeps people in Keelung. Weight doesn’t need to be oppressive, it can be comforting, and the weight you feel around you here is different, not unlike a thick and heavy raincoat just as it begins to drizzle.


Editor: Kuan-Hsuan

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