Our first leg of our Taiwan tour begins in Kaohsiung, a city lining the southwest beach of the island.  Near our hotel is a large park surrounding the cultural center where groups of people gather to practice tai chi, ballroom dancing and group exercise of several kinds.  This morning I leave the hotel early in the morning to photograph some of the massive statues that surround the park.  After circling the park twice, I'm drenched in sweat and look for a place to rest for a moment.  


Near the entrance to the library, I find a bench beneath a canopied concrete area.  I sit down next to a man who is watching a group of mainly older women gathered a few feet away sitting on plastic stools, their heads bowed in unison in prayer.  I introduce myself and learn that his name is Jeffery (well his English name) and he works for a financial company in a nearby city.  I ask him what is happening, and he explains to me as best as he can the buddhist prayer service we are witnessing.  Jeffery tells me the names of each of the three statues that sit on the folding table in front of the women praying.  One of these gods is "Ahmetoefuin" (sp???) which is also what the women chant repeatedly.  It is also a greeting akin to "peace be with you".  Jeffery tells me to say it to the women at the end of the service to be polite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The women begin to chant, and as they do, a slow rain begins to fall.  The chanting continues and the rain progressively gets louder and louder until it is an outright downpour.  Something in the repetition of the simple mantra "Ah-me-toe-fuin" and the lulling rhythm of the rain add weight to my eyes, and soon I'm in a state of meditation.  Thinking of how I am in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, doing and experiencing exactly the right things.  And then as suddenly as it began, the rain slows and the chants can be heard clearly again, giving me a feeling of continuity of faith despite changes in our own worlds.  When the chanting eventually ends, the prevailing silence has a peaceful power that seems to echo across the entire park.   

Later in the service, the woman all rise and walk hands pressed together in a circle around their seats.  Jeffery explains that this part of the service is called "surrounding the Buddha," a practice used "to call the Buddha".  One lady who has driven to the service in a motorized cart is helped by friends to join the circle.  As the woman pass by Jeffery and I, they glance my way with curious kindness.  I notice that some of the woman create a triangle with their fingers in front of their foreheads as they pray.  Jeffery says this is similar to the Christian idea of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Soon the service comes to an end, and Jeffery informs me that one of the ladies will most likely bring me a flower from the alter.  This is "to bring the Buddha to you," he explains.  And just as he predicted, a few woman approach me after the service and place a fragrant white flower bud in my palm.  The flower permeates my hands and lasts for the remainder of the day, a silent reminder of the peace I experienced that morning.