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When you are walking through the heart of Amsterdam, admiring the facades of its brick houses, its streets full of history, and its traditional churches, and you come across this building, you will hardly believe your eyes.
It is neither a restaurant Chinese, nor a theme park attraction. This is the He Hwa Buddhist temple, which belongs to the Taiwanese Fo Guang She order.
Its name, He Hwa, means lotus flower, which in China is considered a sacred plant. The temple’s history dates back a few years to when, in 1994, a group of Chinese businessmen who had settled in the Dutch capital applied to the city council to build a Buddhist temple.
The official opening took place with full honours in the year 2000 and was attended by Queen Beatrix of Holland, a fervent champion of Buddhism.
It is the largest Buddhist temple in Europe and was constructed in traditional Chinese style. The tiles on the roof and most of the ornaments were brought especially from China. The blue stairs lead to the prayer room, a colourful oratory where Buddhists may light a stick of incense or make an offering to Buddha.
The site of the He Hwa Temple, on the Zeedijk, was not chosen by coincidence. This zone is known as Amsterdam’s Chinatown, as many Chinese have settled here. The streets, in what in the seventeenth century was a respectable residential merchants’ area, are now full of Chinese restaurants, shops and supermarkets. The splendour of times gone by can still be discerned in some of the restored houses you will encounter along the way.
Although it is called Chinatown, different oriental communities have settled in the zone. Thais, Indonesians and Malaysians also have their own beauty salons and markets.
Tourists and locals queue up at the doors of the restaurants in search of a nice bowl of Pad Thai or hot soup. A walk around these narrow, recently-restored streets is well worth it, as the atmosphere is attractive and the walk surprising and entertaining.
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