Seek­ing sanc­tu­ary

ev­ery once in a while, it’s nec­es­sary to es­cape and seek a lit­tle refuge – even in stuff you know noth­ing about.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - De­light­ing in dead ends, Jac­que­line Pereira seeks un­ex­pected en­coun­ters to counter the out­moded. Find her on Face­book at Jac­que­linePereira-Writ­ing-on. by JAC­QUE­LINE PEREIRA

THE un­ob­tru­sive build­ing gave noth­ing away. Just sec­onds away, on a blus­tery win­ter’s day, from bustling Ox­ford Street, a steady stream of warmly wrapped-up Asians had been fil­ing in since 10.30am.

It was the first day of Chi­nese New Year. The her­itage-listed High Vic­to­rian build­ing looked like any other along Mar­garet Street, ex­cept for the red lanterns out­side.

The lion dance was about to be­gin, so we were asked to wait by the cor­ri­dor. Af­ter the per­for­mance, we ex­plored the four floors of the tem­ple that is one of 200 world­wide branches of the Fo Guang Shan Monastery, orig­i­nally founded in Tai­wan in 1967.

Lon­don’s Fo Guang Shan Tem­ple prop­a­gates the Dharma of Hu­man­is­tic Bud­dhism. The goal is to live the Bod­hisatva way, as en­er­getic and en­light­ened be­ings who strive to help us lib­er­ate our­selves. The tenet was not only in their brochure but seemed in­fused within the build­ing’s four walls, too.

A sim­i­lar aura em­anated from the so­lic­i­tous vol­un­teers and mind­ful devo­tees. Each per­son pass­ing through its doors ac­com­mo­dated oth­ers un­con­sciously. Lunch in sil­ver bowls was silently passed from hand to hand. In­clu­sive mantras were chanted, but prayers were kept pri­vate if peo­ple wished. Ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion was kind, gen­tle and con­sid­er­ate. It was hard to leave.

Sim­i­larly, more than re­li­gion is on of­fer at 850-year-old St Mary’s Church, with one of Bri­tain’s finest me­dieval spires. Lo­cated in the old town cen­tre of a Hert­ford­shire “new town”, the Nor­man church took 40 years to build and proudly pro­claims that the church is not just a build­ing, but rather a liv­ing com­mu­nity of peo­ple pro­fess­ing and liv­ing their faith.

Vestries, porches, win­dows and door­ways have been added, like parish­ioners and tomb­stones, through the cen­turies. The Friends of St Mary’s, a vol­un­tary as­so­ci­a­tion, was set up in 1980 as a char­i­ta­ble as­so­ci­a­tion of peo­ple wish­ing to pre­serve the beauty of the build­ing, while adapt­ing it to con­tem­po­rary wor­ship­pers. But the tomb­stones are a stark re­minder of the peo­ple be­fore us who passed through the doors of the same church seek­ing refuge.

Just like The Grand Ho­tel in East­bourne, built in 1875 and in very good shape af­ter sur­viv­ing two wars.

Ma­jes­ti­cally dom­i­nat­ing the western prom­e­nade of the sea­side town more known for pen­sion­ers than par­ties, to­day, the grand old dame stands proud. With­stand­ing the el­e­ments of win­ter winds and rough seas, it of­fers its se­lect guests an olde-world es­cape from con­tem­po­rary life with its elab­o­rate ex­te­rior and lav­ish, Vic­to­rian in­te­ri­ors. Or­nate chan­de­liers, log fires and tra­di­tional af­ter­noon tea re­main.

The ho­tel in its time has hosted fa­mous visi­tors such as French com­poser De­bussy and Thai­land’s King and Queen. En­sconced in its clois­tered con­fines of thick, draped cur­tains and hard-backed arm­chairs, oak-smoked had­dock, real ladies’ cloak­rooms and un­par­al­leled ser­vice, you es­cape into another world.

So take the path less trav­elled. Seek out an un­known cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence. Go to an out-of-the-way place. Visit a venue you have driven past many times. Some­times, your sanc­tu­ary lies in the most un­ex­pected of places, if only to serve as a re­minder why we need to get away in the first place.

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