Tainan City is attempting to open a novel conduit to facilitate global understanding. In keeping with Mayor William Lai’s vision to use English as a springboard toward becoming a world city, Tainan’s Office of English as the Second Official Language (OEASOL) and Civil Affairs Bureau (CAB) have teamed up to create a more welcoming atmosphere in the ancient capital’s temples. Tainan’s many temples draw tourists from around the globe and the English Friendly Temples project aims to afford them a deeper appreciation for Tainan’s religious traditions, even to the point of allowing them to participate in religious rituals themselves.
This spring, city officials began to collect and translate temple histories, floor plans, worship routes and basic ritualistic protocols in order to increase accessibility to temple life for those who have never before been exposed to traditional Taiwanese religious practices. “We are hoping to foster understanding and stimulate cross-cultural dialogue,” commented Tainan City’s Deputy Secretary-General Liu Shih-chung. “Many tourists and other visitors to Tainan’s famous temples are amazed by the architecture and artistry, but may find their religious underpinnings bewildering.” For foreign visitors who are interested in religious culture, the English Friendly project provides them with a means of approach. “We want to bridge that gap,” Mr. Liu concluded.
The English Friendly Temples project tailors translations to fit the needs of each temple. Representatives from OEASOL and CAB, which oversees the temple administration citywide, visit temples that are interested in joining the program in order to better assess their needs. “Many of the bilingual signs we provide can be recycled, but each temple has a unique history,” said Chris Caputo, the OEASOL’s foreign consultant. “Though it can be an enormous struggle to translate religious concepts, participating in this project has allowed me a perspective into Taiwanese society very few foreigners get to see.”
Working together, OEASOL and CAB provide English and Chinese signs that explain everything from the history of the temple and the principal gods and goddesses inside, to the correct way to enter and exit the temple, to the blessing of talismans and why worshippers burn joss paper. There are even detailed instructions on how to throw poe (bwabwe) in order to divine your fortune. Tiangong Temple has gone so far as to translate a complete set of fortunes into English and Japanese.
Recent English-speaking visitors to Tiangong were delighted to reveal their fortunes by directly participating in the ceremony themselves. Temples taking part in the English Friendly program also receive placards explaining how to present offerings and prayers to gods. In the spirit of creating an atmosphere that is truly friendly to foreign visitors, there are signs at the entrance to each temple designed to protect visitors from committing potentially embarrassing taboos such as stepping on the doorsill or entering through the center door.
Tiangong, Guan Gong and Tainan Grand Matsu Temples have successfully completed the requirements and earned “English-Friendly” status. Six other temples, including the Tainan City God and Beiji Temples, have begun the process and expect to be certified before the end of October this year.