By Joe Anuta
A new Daoist temple in College Point gives visitors a taste of Taiwanese religious life and is so authentic most of it was actually shipped over from the island in pieces.
It would be hard to miss the New York Hua Lian Tsu Hui Temple, at the corner of 121st Street and 22nd Avenue. While the skeleton of the building was made in the United States, all the intricate decorations and the numerous god statues were floated over from Taiwan.
“You have to,” said Sam Chang, a Long Island-based real estate mogul who donated significant portions of the temple. “There is nobody [who] knows how to build those decorations here.”
Chang and others helped put the temple on the map by donating stately red columns, ornate stone lions that guard the entrance or some of the many larger-than-life statues representing many gods in the Daoist and Buddhist traditions.
Daoism is an ancient Chinese religion based on the writings of a philosopher named Laozi.
The red-tiled roof, which pitches upward at the four corners, is immediately recognizable and intricately carved stone dragons coil around columns near the entrance.
The temple staff and volunteers dressed in blue take care of the grounds.
The story of how it came about is filled with as many religious overtones as the decorative temple itself. When temple head Yenho Chun’s son fell ill in Flushing about two decades ago, he made a pilgrimage to a small city in Taiwan before returning to start a small temple in a Roosevelt Avenue basement.
The temple then moved to College Point Boulevard before settling in the new digs over the summer.
Luis Santos, a trilingual Queens resident who volunteers at the temple, can walk any unfamiliar temple-goer through the basics of what goes on in the building.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, he grabbed several sticks of incense and explained the meaning behind some of the roughly 60 gold-colored idols lined along a wall on the second floor, an eerie audience of 120 eyes watching anyone who ventures up to pay their respects. Santos explained the roles of many of the deities on the three floors, some of which were the subject of a recent celebration.
Santos has been learning Mandarin and practicing Daoism since the 1970s. He acts as a cheery volunteer and can nimbly hop between English, Chinese and Spanish.
The house of worship serves as an important tie with Taiwan for many in the community, according Chun.
“It’s a big deal,” she said through a translator. “But the temple is not just for Taiwanese people, it is open to everybody.”
Santos said a man of Greek heritage recently came and wanted to do something in remembrance of a relative who had died of cerebral palsy. An ornate candle now burns for the man’s relative on an altar in the temple.
“The faithful are growing among the non-Chinese community, which is a good thing,” Santos said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.