I only know the barest details of Buddhism, and I definitely don't understand how the fundamentals map to present day practices, but I highly approve of the temples. The large, old building is opulent but not flashy, sacred but congenial. Unlike the churches with which I'm more familiar, in their solemn and inspirational forms, these temples are more like a large family's living room - people stream in and out while children scamper about in a chaotic scene. If a Christian church were the equivalent of mail order, a Buddhist temple is the supermarket. The energy of the place isn't just within, it's all around. A large and somewhat gaudy altar is presided over by a golden Buddha, surrounded by electric candles and countless pots with smoking incense sticks. Flowers are scattered haphazardly around, thousand-Dong bills stuck between the stems and pedals according to some inscrutable pattern of ritual. Beneath the altar is a large square carpet, a thick red spongy thing that a baby scampers across - wearing his sandals - despite the best defensive attempts of his older sister. Everyone else carefully places their shoes aside and kneels on the mat for a diverse array of prayers. A man comes in from the street dressed in office-casual, slips off his shoes to pray for as many moments as he has toes, and then is back into the street without a look back. A woman fervently thumbs large beads in her hands, twisting them through her fingers, bobbing forward and back while chanting in a whisper to herself and beyond. A boy is dragged to the red floor and forced through a fixed series of movements, mimicking his mother while furtively glancing about for friends.
Perhaps the most unexpected components of the scene are the many people with what appear remarkably similar to coffee cans half-filled with chopsticks. A counter off to the side of the temple offers these cans to any who ask, and apparently the intent is to kneel on the mat and shake the can violently while bobbing and praying. When a stick or few inevitably flies out, I'm guessing how it lands divines something about the future. Thus, people apparently do this until they see what they want their future to contain, and then stop. Those with specific demands must spend a long time shaking and reading.