Hungry Cyclist in Taiwan – Day 5

Rounding the horn of Taiwan where the Pacific meats the South China Sea, the road north hugs the tropical coastline, providing plenty of opportunities to unwind in the warm water. After a reviving swim on the pristine beaches of Kenting National Park it was time to head north.

An international container port and the second largest city on the island, the industrial powerhouse of Kaosiung, may not sound like an ideal place for cycling but it is also home to Taiwan’s largest Buddhist monastery, Fo Gaung Shan. Built on a once barren mountainside, the monastery ‘s magnificent buildings, spacious temples and tranquil Buddhist statues are in stark contrast to the smog covered city it overlooks. Away from smog and noise of the city, monks and disciples in this Buddhist shrine enjoy equality, calm, education and sustenance and after a day of cycling along Taiwan’s steamy tropical coast I arrived at the temple hungry tired, and only too happy to join them.

Invited to an evening meal at Fo Gaung Shan, I followed the multitude of grey-robed monks marching on the temples dinning hall. In this huge room, lined with tables, 800 monks are fed in silence three times a day and quietly I took my place at one of the hundreds of seats. In front of me a simple meal comprising a bowl of white rice, soup, a banana and a dish holding greens, tofu waited for me.

After an opening prayer, the silent room filled with the gentle clink-clink of chopsticks on ceramics and 800 bald-heads bowed over their bowls. To order more, you simply pushed your bowl forward, and within a moment a black masked monk with a silver bucket provided your seconds. This was spiritual feasting with military precision and as I scooped up my supper, hungry after hours of cycling I studied the fivefold meal contemplation on the card in front of me. First, how precious this meal was. Second, was I deserving of it? Third, that I should abstain from greed. Fourth that I must acknowledge this meal as medicine, and fifth that this special meal would give me strength for spiritual contemplation. In the knowledge that I was heading for the night markets of Kaohsiung later that evening, the greed element was going to be the week point of my contemplating, but after a long days cycling, enjoying this special meal in this most special of places was sustenance indeed.

Where to stay. Fo Guang Shan Monastery: Stay in simple rooms of the pilgrim’s lodge at the Buddhist temple in Taiwan, and your stay can include meditation classes and silent feasts.