Bai Bai

Jen Bowmast, BAI BAI tomorrow, 2019, photographic print, 900 x 600mm, Taitung Art Museum, Taiwan

Jen Bowmast, BAI BAI today, 2019, photographic print, 900 x 600mm, Taitung Art Museum, Taiwan

Jen Bowmast, BAI BAI yesterday, 2019, photographic print, 900 x 600mm, Taitung Art Museum, Taiwan

The project was completed during the Taitung County Artists Exchange Programme, Taiwan 2019.  The below writing accompanies the 3 images as a parallel text.

Your Higher Self is Growing Impatient by Heyling Ching

They say your higher self is the one that has witnessed every incarnation you went through. They are the players behind the game. You, on the other hand, are the characters inside the game. If you manage to connect with your higher self, they will teach you a thing or two. My psychic friends have paid 100,000 NTD for the full spiritual package1 and were now having paranormal experiences here and there. At least that’s what they told me.

The shaman frowned, and said he did not believe in such a thing, that it was unproductive to divide the self into parts, “because, who would be the real you in that case?  And who should you listen to? Isn’t that the same as schizophrenia? These kind of people are the ones that get kundalini psychosis.” Hearing this, I was reminded of a piece of experience that both of my friends had. They would hear a menacing voice scream “a brick is gonna drop and kill you!” while walking down the street; this they attributed to evil spirits. It does sound eerily similar to a psychotic symptom, only they do not seem crazy to me.

The dàochǎng (道場) was on the 13th floor of a building near the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station. I was in a bit of a hurry because their service ended at one p.m. and it was already twelve forty-five. A lady in a long dress answered the door. I said I came to seek help from the Indonesian ghosts that have been following me around since I came back from my tour in West Java, something that my psychic friend warned me about twelve days ago. My friend advised that I make peace with my karmic creditors first because it was they who had ushered the ghosts. I supposed that supernatural problems require supernatural solutions. As I spoke, loud burps emerged from the people in the back, a sign that they’ve come into contact with something alien. My psychic friend also burped profusely the night he visited me. It was quite unnerving.

I took off my shoes and stepped onto the wooden floor. It was bright and warm inside. Good vibes are essential to any dàochǎng. An assembly line of peace-making with karmic creditors was going on2: people were sitting on the floor behind rows of low wooden tables, calling out names and the lunar calendar birthdays attached to these names which were sent in via the internet by their bearers who, one way or another, found it necessary. Another person was intuiting the crimes that these names have committed in their past lives and scribbling them down on long thin pieces of paper – these are official documents that will be burnt and delivered to the Wénshū Púsà (文殊菩薩), also known as Mañjuśrī, who is the main god of this dàochǎng and whose statue remain seated in the middle of the wooden altar at the end of the room. The crimes will then be reviewed by the Púsà.

Taoism is very bureaucratic, because it is modeled upon the administrative divisions of ancient Chinese dynasties. This is not something particular to Taoism though; most religions mirror their local political systems, one way or another. This includes Christianity, though Christianity has a more centralized system compared to Taoism, with its thousands of gods whose duties often overlap each other. Is Taoism less efficient, in that case? Depends what you want to do, replied the shaman, in terms of exorcism, Taoism is extremely efficient, “In the movies you always see them commanding the devil to show themselves, and the possessed struggling for half an hour. Taoism is simpler. The shaman just asks the spirit to leave and they leave.”

I spoke of that one time my psychic friend bumped into his client’s grandma’s ghost lying in the bathtub while he was working as a house cleaner. She wanted her eldest son to chāodù (超渡) her, to send her down to the next life because she was tired of waiting. This often happens with Christian households, who do not host rituals to fast forward the dead to their next incarnation; dead relatives often end up having to wait around the house until God knows when. The shaman agreed that that is often the case, “Christians believe that God has a plan for everything. So it’s really up to chance or fate.”   

The dàochǎng members sat me down on a wooden chair, a guy in a pony tail and a mǎguà jacket motioned me to extend the palms of my feet on the ground. Then he placed one finger on the top of my head and another on my forehead to rekindle the energetic flame on my forehead. People that had a turn of bad lack usually have reduced flames. Afterwards the finger on my forehead moved to form a palm and suspended in front of my chest to clear my heart chakra. Then with one finger still on my head, the other hand started to ricochet between my shoulders and my head to rekindle the two flames on my shoulders. The emphasis on the forehead, chest and shoulders is not unlike the Catholic prayer when they draw the sign of the cross.

My mind was wandering when a female voice came from behind me, “her chi isn’t going down.” The lady I met at the door showed up by my side. I revealed that I had surgery on my cervix eleven days ago, carcinoma in situ. The mind sort of stops above the belly button, scarred. The lady gave some inaudible orders to the guy in the mǎguà. After a while my spine realigned itself with a crack. As soon as that happened, the lady said affirmatively, “okay her chi went down.”

A couple of days later, I went to my friend D’s place. My psychic friend J lived there too. When we met he started burping again. I didn’t ask him whether my Indoneisan friends were still there because if he opened his third eye to check they would sense his presence (if they were still there). So I averted my gaze. After a prolonged burping session, he suddenly charged towards me and said, “alright, I’ll tell you!” I was puzzled.

“Maybe it’s not you who wants to know, it’s your higher self,” he said, “the Wénshū Púsà, was it not? the Púsà offered a deal with your karmic creditors to stop hounding you and follow him instead, and half of them did. But of course, there are some that won’t leave so easily. Your karmic debt has been reduced, by a lot, for sure, but that’s just your debt.” I grinned at the thought of lighter debt.