My friends have stopped offering me cigarettes whenever we go out, since I always decline. I’m not a fan of how the smell clings, burr-like, to clothes. Instead I watch my friends light up in the corner, fingers flicking distractedly, and I envy them the contours of their faces, silhouetted in smoke.
Smoke is so lovely. Few things are as delicate as the tendrils that curl and taper off. Best are the moments when the air is very still and the plume is full and persistent and the particles hang implausibly, like a ballerina mid-jeté, until the wind comes to sweep everything away. Sometimes I wish the ground were pockmarked with fumaroles, so I could walk perpetually in a forest of white fumes.
I don’t know if anyone stands downwind of incense burners by intention, but on that day of visiting the temple, I did, letting the sweet, heavy smoke engulf me. I looked through it, at the people on the other side throwing their incense sticks into the pot. Slivers of faces peeking through the veil.
A flame that burns clean sheds pure light, but one that chokes up clouds of smoke teases glimpses of what it hides. That, I guess, is my aesthetic: soft and filtered, translucent, always seconds away from being dispelled by the wind.
Founded in 1738, the Longshan Temple is among the most well-known in Taiwan. The temple perpetually teems with visitors, locals and tourists alike, worshipping at the altars; it’s a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in a spiritual experience.
No. 211, Guangzhou St, Wanhua District, Taipei City
02 2302 5162