For those of you unable to try your luck in Las Vegas or Macau, Hunglodei (烘爐地) could be the next best alternative. The temple, located on the side of a mountain with spectacular views of Taipei City, is home to a large bronze vending machine-cum-slot machine in the shape of the Earth God (Tudigong, 土地公), its patron deity.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the temple, also known as Fudegong (福德宮), is a den of iniquity offering the possibility of an immediate payoff — the odds of a big windfall are probably even more remote than playing casino slots machines. On any day throughout the year, parents, children, celebrities and businesspeople line up, sometimes for more than an hour, to insert a minimum of NT$10 into a slot on the bronze statue. It then dispenses NT$1.
Not the kind of return one would ordinarily hope for, perhaps. But this “exchanging big money for small money” (大錢換小錢), as the temple dubs the transaction, attracts earnest devotees because they believe it “will bring peace and big fortune” (保平安賺大錢), a payoff that is thought to be particularly efficacious on the Earth God’s birthday, which falls on the second day of the second lunar month (Thursday next week).
“The NT$10 [coin] looks like silver and the NT$1 [coin] looks like gold,” a temple official surnamed Lu (呂) told the Taipei Times. “So it’s like changing silver into gold.”
The Earth God, usually depicted as a kindly old man with a beard, is one of the most common deities in Taiwan. In the past, only members of nearby village communities were invited to participate in the deity’s birthday celebrations, which were held to ensure good weather and bountiful crops.
What: Earth God’s Birthday
When: Thursday from 8am to 5pm
Where: Hunglodei (烘爐地), 160-1, Ln 399, Xingnan Rd Sec 2, New Taipei City (新北市興南路二段399巷160之一號), tel: (02) 2945-5366
Today, however, anyone wanting to worship at or visit an Earth God temple is pretty much free to do so. This has led to some temples, like Hunglodei, becoming fabulously popular, and wealthy.
On the Earth God’s birthday last year I stood, along with hundreds of others, in a slow-moving line for more than 40 minutes to plunk my NT$10 into the slot. After receiving NT$1, I spent another 30 minutes lining up to undergo a similar ritual at an altar displaying an older version of the statue.
But exchanging big money for small money is not the only way to boost your chances of the good life. Other services offered by the temple include stamping the surface of a pink egg (紅蛋) with one or several chops engraved with auspicious sayings, such as “one hundred years of glorious harmony” (百年好合). In this way, it becomes a “peace egg” (平安蛋), which devotees then peel and eat while making a vow to the Earth God.
Wulu Caishen (五路財神), or the Five Road Gods of Wealth, may also boost your luck. After lighting incense, worshippers can, if they choose, “happily donate money” (歡喜添香油金) to the Road Gods of Wealth and then proceed to cross a bridge to expel bad luck, ring a bell to welcome fortune and, finally, insert incense into an incense burner.
In addition to being perceived as an auspicious temple, Hunglodei’s popularity can also be attributed to its location. With several paths winding around the temple and incredible views of Taipei City, it is an ideal place for an afternoon hike.
Anyone heading to the temple on the Earth God’s birthday is advised to leave their car or scooter at home and take the temple’s shuttle bus, which runs every 20 minutes from 8am to 5pm from Nanshijiao MRT Station (南勢角捷運站), Exit 4.