Highway to Heaven: what an ideal name for a road where every building is a church, temple, mosque, synagogue or religious educational school. But then, not so surprising because Vancouver's Richmond is a melting pot of multi-cultural diversity. In the late 1880s, the Japanese came to fish; the Chinese came to work on the Pacific Rail Line. Everyone stayed.
More Asians arrived after the 1986 Expo and the British handover of Hong Kong. Today Richmond is 65 percent Asian with over 200 Asian eateries, 300 shops and Hong-Kong-inspired malls selling everything from designer purses to Chinese back scratchers.
I peer out the taxi window looking at the signs: Cornerstone Christian Academy, Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, Vedic Cultural Center, Evangelical Church, Islamic Central, Indian Temple, Jewish Day School, Buddhist Temple, Chinese International School. I am looking for Kuan Yin Temple of the International Buddhist Society, a Chinese Buddhist temple where I plan to have my fortune read.
Kuan Yin Temple of the International Buddhist Society (Photos courtesy of Margie Goldsmith)
Rather than wait at the nearby Vancouver Airport in Richmond where I have a three-hour layover before my next flight, I've taken a taxi to the Highway of Heaven to see what the stars have lined up for me. Will it be palm reading or a Chinese astrological chart? I've been to China and know how important fortune telling is there. Many Chinese people won't make a business decision or get married without consulting their charts.
I've always found having my chart read or fortune told exciting. I loved shaking my Magic Eight Ball when I was a kid, and if my answer were OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD or MY SOURCES SAY NO, I'd shake till the answer read, DEFINITELY. In high school, I discovered the I Ching and almost nightly I'd throw three coins, plot the broken and unbroken lines into a hexagram, and study the lengthy and contemplative answer in the I Ching book.
The taxi driver pulls into the parking lot of the Buddhist Temple. "I'll be waiting for you here," he says. I walk towards Kuan Yin Temple, considered the most beautiful and authentic temple of traditional Chinese architecture in North America. The up-swept eves, golden porcelain roof tiles and Chinese-style buildings remind me of a mini-version of China's Forbidden Palace, but there is nothing minuscule about the 85-foot-long Seven Buddha Mural, the largest of its kind on the world, or the golden statue of the Ten Thousand Hand-Ten Thousand Eye Avalokitesvara Bodhisavita.
A small Chinese man in a gray jacket approaches. "Hello, I am interpreter, Mr. Lam. I help you?" He's difficult to understand, but he understands me when I tell him I want my fortune read. He smiles. "Oracle. Follow me," and leads me to a stone staircase where he stops and points to two bronze lions. "Same as Forbidden Palace," he says. I reach my fingers inside the lion's mouth to see if the ball rolls just as at the entrance to the Forbidden City. It does -- surely this is an auspicious sign and I will have an excellent fortune.
Smiling Buddha at Kuan Yin Temple
Mr. Lam leads me past a gold-leafed smiling Buddha surrounded by offerings of bowls of grapefruit, apples, oranges and many flowers. "Buddhism is most peaceful religion in the world," he says. "The Buddha -- he smile because he meditating. You let go your attachments and you can get to enlightenment like Buddha. He a perfect person."
We climb the staircase to a small room and Mr. Lam hands me a round tin of bamboo sticks shaped like flat pencils, each with a number and Chinese lettering. "This fortune," he says. "You take, you go down stairs, you say intention whole time, you bow three times to Buddha, you shake this till one stick comes out, then you come up stairs." I try to hide my disappointment. I paid a taxi to come all this way just to throw some Chinese fortune sticks?
I had planned on a fortune teller revealing my fortune, not me having to figure out an intention. As I descend the steps, I decide on, Am I on the right path? I bow to the gold-leafed Buddha three times, shake the tin until one stick drops out, and then return up the steps. Mr. Lam shakes his head. "No, no. Wrong Buddha. Other Buddha. You bow other Buddha. Do again."
I put the stick back inside the tin, go down the stairs, walk to the other Buddha and repeat, Am I on the right path? I shake out another stick, go back up the steps, and hand it to Mr. Lam. "Number 75. Oh that is very bad. VERY bad. Terrible." Shaking his head, he hands me a slip of paper from a small stack on which is written ORACLE 75. I read the English translation: "To climb a mountain with a tiger as your companion, you will shiver with fear every movement you make. Just as the man climbing a high mountain together with a tiger, you will be confronted with danger and hardship. There is nothing but pain to the end."
Mr. Lam looks at me sadly. "Ah, bad enough to go up mountain, but with a tiger, is worse. Very very bad."
I read my fortune again. This is ridiculous. I've climbed high mountains without quivering in fear and I've dealt with people much scarier than tigers. Besides, according to Buddha, the mind is everything. What you think, you become.
Fountain and gardens at Kuan Yin Temple
On my way back to the parking lot, I walk through the serene courtyard beneath towering pine and spruce trees. Everywhere are neatly trimmed bonsai bushes in a garden replicating the one where Buddha delivered his first sermon thousands of years ago. Streams of water trickle past the mouths of stone dragons into fountains and ponds surrounded by perfectly positioned boulders. Lotus flower pods float in pools of water. The sound of the gentle wind rustles through the pine branches. Directly in front of me is one perfect white and pink lotus flower in full bloom. Yes, I am on the right path.
Lotus Flower at Kuan Yin Temple