Temples in Asia fascinate me. Unlike our North American churches with their air of solemnity, hushed tones, and calm divinity, Asian temples are often a whirlwind of swirling incense smoke, banging drums, and merchants hawking offerings to the gods for the faithful who didn’t come prepared.

I feel uncomfortable entering churches. I don’t know why. I feel intrusive; like I don’t belong but might be mistaken for someone who does. I feel like an interloper; watching the faithful pray is like taking a peep through the curtains into someones private life. I feel noisy; as though every rustle of my coat is disturbing the peace that cloaks the pews.

Yet I don’t feel this way in temples. Perhaps it’s because so much of Asian life is lived in public; witnessing someone at the temple is no different than witnessing them read their paper on the front stoop, have a meal at a roadside stand, or chat with their scooter-mate at the stop light. I so obviously don’t belong that I don’t have to worry about being mistaken for someone who does and, with all the commotion going on, it’s unlikely that I will disturb anyone.

It is the incense that I love the most. The sweet, cloying, scent that drifts upward welcoming all those who enter. I love the great vats of it smouldering away and being added to constantly. In fact, whenever I smell incense, no matter where I am, I am instantly taken back to a temple like this one in Hanoi.