SHANGHAI : The Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple is a popular tourist destination in China. To cope with the influx of foreigners during the Olympic games, monks at the temple have been busy learning foreign languages.

Bilingual monks now have a new role in the temple. Besides chanting and praying, they also act as temple tour guides and ambassadors for the religion.

Ti Ting, a monk at the Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple, said: "Shanghai is an international city, a big city, and everyday (we have) many foreigners visiting our temple, so I think English is helpful for us..."

They started preparing for the tourist arrivals four years ago.

Yu Ping, another monk at the temple, said: "We know that China is hosting the Olympics from 8 August 2008, and Shanghai will be the site for the World Expo in 2010. Abbot Juexing has foresight and is open-minded, so he picked some monks from our temple to study at Shanghai International Studies University. This is also the first time that a secular university is cooperating with a temple."

Tourists visiting the temple during the Olympic season welcomed this initiative.

One tourist said: "I think it is very important because when tourists come, if we can actually hear about the monastery in the language we understand, then we feel we relate better to it, and especially if they live here, they can probably give us more information about their experiences than a tour guide."

Another added: "The monks can give us a better insight into Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, (compared to) a tour guide."

About 120 monks live at the monastery and plans are already underway to send the next batch of monks to the University to learn languages.

About 1,500 people visit the temple daily, and according to government statistics, there are now about 100 million Buddhists in the country.

Last year, China held its first World Buddhist Forum, signalling a revival of this religion.

And keeping up with changing appetites and development of the country, the temple also shows it is keeping up with progress. Monks at the temple offer visitors an understanding into the religion through better communication. - CNA/ms

By Channel NewsAsia's

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