By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com
DAVIE, Fla., Jan. 27, 2017
The destination was only about five miles from home. It could have been halfway around the world.
That’s how it felt at the Tu Vien Huong Hai Buddhist monastery in the unlikely setting of Davie, Fla., on the first night of the 2017 Lunar New Year.
A recent experience watching a group of touring Tibetan monks demonstrating their enchanting mandala art form sparked an interest in learning more about Buddhism.
A search revealed a number of temples in South Florida. Tu Vien Huong Hai is a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, quite different than the Tibetans, but their hospitality was similar.
Fran made contact through the temple’s Facebook page and received this reply: “The Temple is open, you can come anytime. There is always somebody there. If not, they might be in the kitchen or meditating. You can come. This week, Friday, they have the Lunar New Year Celebration. You can come and celebrate.”
Davie is known as a horse town, where you are never out of style in a Stetson and cowboy boots. But there, in Broward County’s version of the Wild West, we found a flourishing enclave of the Far East.
An advantage to living in a culturally diverse region — and the Fort Lauderdale area leads Florida in that regard, according to a 2015 study — is you can take a trip outside your realm without traveling far.
That seems especially appropriate at a time when so many in the country are circling the wagons around their own comfortable ethnicities.
A slow traverse on a bumpy dirt road on a moonless night was like a trip through a portal into a cultural oasis. The temple was brightly illuminated in the spirit of celebration, people converging in holiday dress.
Like the Chinese, they were preparing to usher in the Year of the Rooster. The Vietnamese refer to it as Tet, an occasion to express respect and remembrance for ancestors as well as welcoming the New Year in company of family members.
Yes, as an outsider at a Vietnamese temple, there is no way to avoid thinking of the war that divided our own nation and shattered so many lives in this country and in Southeast Asia. It was at the same time in 1968 that North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive, which was a turning point in the conflict.
That was a much different time in a faraway place. As always happens, bypass politics and you are reminded that people are pretty much the same, though their customs vary.
Although we stood apart as outsiders at this gathering, we were welcomed warmly, encouraged to join in the service if we wished and share in the traditional food. The pho soup was spicy and satisfying.
We watched from outside the main room of the temple where the worshippers knelt and bowed to the monk’s melodic chanting. More serene was the setting outside where people paused to pay respects at the KwanYin shrine.
Meanwhile, in the main courtyard the crowd grew in anticipation of festivities to usher in the Year of the Rooster. Although the traditions and imagery were unfamiliar, the feeling of anticipation and hope was unmistakable as we prepared to welcome the New Year for the second time in a month.