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We get the guided tour of the Truc Lam Buddhist Temple, a formerly dilapidated Masonic lodge turned meeting place for the Vietnamese Buddhist community.


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The Buddha's birthday is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Or sometimes on the 15th day. Or on the second Sunday in May. Or on April 8. It all varies by country. So maybe Truc Lam Buddhist Temple is hedging its bets by keeping the "Happy Birthday Buddha" sign up year-round.

Or if you believe Nathan Buone, one of the children who was hanging out at the temple last week and serving as an unofficial tour guide, the temple administrators put the banner up and just forgot to take it down. "I'm sure they'll take care of it soon," he said.

Ten years ago, the building was a run-down former Masonic lodge. Now it's a gloriously well-kept temple catering to the Vietnamese Buddhist community. There's a restaurant-quality kitchen in the basement which, Nathan promised, turns out excellent vegetarian meals. The entire second floor is a meditation area with thick carpets, big enough for a hundred people. On Sundays, said Nathan's sister Tammy, the back hallway that's filled with altars to honor the dead is always jammed.

Everywhere, statues of the Buddha and photos of deceased monks smile benevolently down on offerings of fruit and flowers. "They stay for weeks," Nathan said. "But I don't know what happens to them after that."

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