Gold Buddha in Former Porno Theater
New York, New York
The Mahayana Buddhist Temple provides a tranquil refuge from the hustle, bustle and chaotic sidewalk marketplace (fish heads, knock-off designer handbags) that is NYC's Chinatown. Located next door to one of Chinatown's other major pilgrimage sites, The Fung Wah Bus ticket office, the temple is housed in a boxy building that formerly hosted The Rosemary, a porno theater that ended its racy run in the mid '90s. Today, a pair of carved lions guard the entrance, keeping baser instincts at bay.
The temple's centerpiece is an enormous 16-foot-tall golden Buddha statue. The blessed behemoth dominates a large room where services are often held, But throughout most of the day, there is a constant ebb and flow of tourists and worshippers alike. Devout Buddhists kneel, bow, and pray before an altar that overflows with fruit and flower offerings, while tired travelers sit and chatter on about the best way to get to Nolita, ignoring the nearby "Noble Silence" sign.
(There are also bilingual "Not responsible for personal property" notices, which made us wonder if closing your eyes during meditation is a good idea.)
Plexiglass flames and a blue neon halo frame the statue's face. The room is elaborately decorated with dragon reliefs, gongs, towers of light, and a trio of wedding-hall-style chandeliers.
The walls are lined with 32 prints explaining the life of the Buddha. Those of differing faiths may be surprised by the number of topless ladies featured in this pictorial rendering of an inspiring religious tale. Beauty is all around, although the acoustic tile ceiling and window bars are a bit off-putting.
For a modest donation of $1, you can pick out a rolled-up, rubber-banded fortune. On your way out, don't miss the gift shop upstairs. We think the $3 laughing faux stone Buddhas (available in your choice of pastel hues) are a best buy. Also for sale: tea pots, books, CDs, foot reflexology charts and more fake jade and ivory than you can shake an incense stick at.