Religion
Monks Hitchhike and Nuns Use WhatsApp

Monks Hitchhike and Nuns Use WhatsApp

From the middle of the winding dirt road, we heard an engine roar in the distance. Bryan, the Canadian, and Sunnim, the Chinese monk from my Korean class, stopped in their tracks. “Was that the bus?” Bryan asked, with a wrinkle forming on his forehead. I sheepishly looked at Bryan, knowing it was my fault...
A peek inside a Buddhist sculpture studio

A peek inside a Buddhist sculpture studio

Over the past few years, I’ve attended an array of lantern parades and festivals throughout Asia, filled with skillfully-crafted floats and lanterns. I snapped the photo above at the Buddha’s birthday lantern parade in 2009, and ever since, I’ve been curious as to how these massive, fragile works of art are created. Surprisingly, I happened...
Prayers and fortune telling at a Taoist temple

Prayers and fortune telling at a Taoist temple

“Before we eat dinner at the night market, we’re going to pray,” Olivia’s mom said as we stopped in front of a Taoist temple in Taichung. My Taiwanese friend Olivia turned to me, “We’re only doing this because you’re here. We rarely go to the temple.” I smiled, thinking about all the times my parents...
Notes from the covert world of Korean shamanism

Notes from the covert world of Korean shamanism

CELINE CROSSED HER LEGS and took a long drag of her cigarette. “The shaman told me my grandmother’s hometown. She pointed to it on a map,” she recounted in her thick French accent. “Later, the adoption agency gave me the exact same information.” A couple other exchange students and I sat on perpendicular wooden benches...
Rising before dawn in the mountains: a Buddhist templestay at Geumsansa

Rising before dawn in the mountains: a Buddhist templestay at Geumsansa

Geumsansa, one of the largest Buddhist temple complexes in Korea, lies in the quiet, western foothills of Moak Mountain, located in North Jeolla province. “Moaksan, the so-called ‘Mother Mountain’, is the cradle of many different indigenous religions. The mountain’s shape looks like a mother cradling her baby, just as Moaksan embraces Geumsansa,” says the Templestay program. The...
Holy... Jesus boats!

Holy… Jesus boats!

It’s no surprise that Catholicism has seeped into Filipino culture since the beginning of Spanish colonization, but–I wasn’t quite expecting every mode of transportation– from taxis to tricycles to jeepneys to boats– to bear scripture, prayers, and bold names like “Holy Infant I, II, III and IX.” Taken off the coast of Alona Beach on...
Unfolding my fate in the Saju cafe

Unfolding my fate in the Saju cafe

THIS WAS NOT MISS CLEO. There were no middle-aged females wearing robes, sitting in small curtained rooms and chanting with heavily mascara-ed eyes. No, the place did not smell of incense. It was an ordinary looking café, located in downtown Seoul, with a few tables, accompanying chairs and a counter where you order your drinks....
Observations on a Korean Buddhist Templestay

Observations on a Korean Buddhist Templestay

It’s 4:15 AM. I enter a building within the temple complex for morning chanting, carefully removing my shoes and leaving them at the foot of the entryway. The entire room is silent and illuminated with a warm golden glow cast by the adorned Buddha and Bodhisattvas in the front. Monks with shaved heads in flowing...
A Traditional Japanese Wedding Ceremony at Meiji Jingu

A Traditional Japanese Wedding Ceremony at Meiji Jingu

On a mild February day in Tokyo, I set out to see the elaborate costumes and anime character look-a-likes that Harajuku has to offer. I wanted to verify what Gwen Stefani raved about in her song, “Harajuku Girls.” Although I saw many elaborately dressed young females with stage make-up caked on their faces, I spontaneously...
Photo Essay: Koya-san, Japan

Photo Essay: Koya-san, Japan

Recently, I visited Koya-san (Mt. Koya) in Japan, located about 50 kilometers south of Osaka. The Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi founded a temple on Koya-san in the early ninth century, and ever since, the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism has thrived on this sacred mountain. An array of monasteries, temples, pagodas and burial grounds are...