I walk from the crowded main route across the temple complex through an open door on my right. I wonder if visitors are supposed to be here, the corridor I walk through is deserted – and not yet ready for tourists it seems: the dried dusty-red paint on the walls is slowly coming off. At the other end I walk out into another small inner square, lined by a white wall and with another temple hall. The noise of the crowds on the other side has fallen away. I am alone, apart from a woman who is sweeping the square with an old-fashioned broom made of twigs. Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. The pattern of sound becomes almost the only thing I can hear. Beyond the regular sweeps there are some birds singing. Beyond that, some soft Chinese chatter of people on the other side of the hall.
I walk around the building to yet another corridor leading to yet another square surrounded by buildings in the style of this temple. Again, I feel as if I’m not supposed to be here – when I spot one or two others who clearly aren’t part of the scene in front of me I walk on. Here, I discover the source of the chatter I heard on the other side. In front of me, on the steps leading to one of the buildings are two monks, quietly chatting away. They are watching a game of table tennis that is happening in the middle of the square. Two more monks are playing against each other. The game looks friendly and relaxed, with laughter and short conversations between them and the third man standing next to them watching them play.
Another temple: a nunnery. I walk in cautiously, and as I come closer to the main temple hall I hear the sound of nuns chanting. Walking closer, I realize there is a ceremony happening in the temple: the hall is filled with at least 40 women in their traditional yellow Buddhist robes. The sound is hypnotizing, the low-sounding chant goes on and on and on. It repeats again and again. A cat is curled up on one of the benches in front of the altar. Quiet, unmoving, almost invisible. I take his example, sit down quietly, and take in the sound.