Saffron Monk

Cities & Streets

Saffron Monk

Saffron Monk. 2018.

“Ing-GUH”, says a perfect soft-spoken female voice over the speakers on the train, announcing the arrival at the Yingge Station. Cobbled streets and fantastical contrasts everywhere greet you as you walk toward Yingge Old Town.

It’s touristy, and usually the sort of place I would avoid on solo trips, but it’s also the heart and soul of the Chinese tea tradition. More specifically: in Yingge, you will find tea paraphernalia to make you dizzy. Tea shops, tea cup shops, tea cups, tea cups in clay, tea cups in metal, tea cups with dragons in them, tea cups in all colours; mass produced tea cups; hand-painted, sculpted, expensive tea cups; tea trays; mats for tea cups; cloths for wiping up spilt tea; tools for measuring tea; pots for brewing tea and pots for discarded tea; tea that’s been fermenting for a 100 years; tea ceremonies, tea masters, and everything in between.

I didn’t know where to look. There was so much to see. It was so overwhelming. I feared I would leave there with not enough of all the wonderful tea-related offerings this little corner of Taipei contains. I couldn’t bear to go home without at least one complete tea set, which in that moment seemed the most essential thing I had ever known.

I was tea-totalled.

And then, turning a corner of one of the cobblestone streets, there stood a monk in saffron robes. His humble demeanour in complete contrast to the flamboyant tea frenzy around him. He stood there, chanting, occasionally banging the singing bowl gently, while people walked past, hurrying to the next thing.

There are no beggars in Taiwan. None but the Buddhist monks you encounter here and there. But the way people avoided him, standing there with his bowl, head down among the commercial madness, reminded me so much of how homeless people are treated in South Africa – sidestepped, avoided on the street. He looked so very out of place, and I did a rude thing and stared at this scene in front of me; moved by his presence.

I captured this image because it was a moment that stood out for me, contrasting with the rest of the day so vividly. In that moment, I felt not only compassion for the monk, but also a little envy for his present-mindedness.

The moment allowed me to gather myself; come back to presence myself.