14 February 2015
The preparation for the Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, or Tet (in Vietnam) is in full swing in Hong Kong - a good thing, since the New Year celebrations begin at midnight on February 19!
An interesting note - we've seen images of goats and also sheep, and some of the local advertising refers to this as the Year of the Goat - but occasionally the Year of the Sheep. We asked one of our flatmates about this, since he's lived here a while, and has family in Hong Kong. (His father is from Hong Kong, while his mother is Irish, and he grew up in Ireland.) Anyway, in Chinese the word used in the zodiac means both (or either) sheep and/or goat. So the two are used interchangeably. Interesting, isn't it? We think of them as two totally different kinds of animals, with different fur or wool, different milk (which produces very different cheese), and having very different personalities. But in Chinese, the same word includes both animals. Just, interesting.
And of course there are more and more orange trees showing up all over the place. I've asked if people eat the oranges (which look more like tangerines to me), but everyone says no. Maybe you lose the good fortune if you eat them? No one says why the oranges aren't eaten, just that they aren't.
The rest are random photos of signs I liked: the lion dancer on a pillar near a tram stop; the mosaic indoor scene for an interior design store; the adorable pets waiting at the veterinary clinic; and scenes like the crazy city center building that looks something like a futuristic castle of chrome and glass. Or flowers that someone planted around a tree on the sidewalk. The little shrine at the entrance to a shop. The little things that make each place we visit unique and interesting, the sights we find as we explore each new neighborhood where we reside, however temporarily.
In search of interesting sights and things to do, we took the trip out to Lantau Island. Looking at the map, you can see that Lantau is right by the little island with the airport, off to the west of Hong Kong island. Hong Kong is the big island in the middle, the name of the major city (mostly on the north side of Hong Kong Island), and also the name of the entire territory, which includes Kowloon and the New Territories - Kowloon and the New Territories are on a large peninsula attached to China, on the mainland. I realize it's a little confusing, especially since Hong Kong isn't an independent nation in the usual sense. It's more like a semi-autonomous region of China, with a government that has limited powers since they answer to China. Maybe think of Hong Kong as almost a colony or territory owned by China, but given extra freedoms since it isn't really part of the main country.
Anyway, we went to Lantau. The easiest way was to just take the MTR, the metro system. The Wan Chai station is just a short walk from here, transfer to the Tung Cheung line at Central, and it goes straight out to Lantau. (The MTR actually has more lines off the island of Hong Kong than on!) It was a very easy trip, part underground, part underwater in a tunnel, and part above ground so we could see the beaches and the scenery of Lantau.
Arriving at the Tung Cheung station, we found that the most common way of getting to the Big Buddha, as he is known, is to take the cable cars. As in a gondola. Hanging from a wire. For who knows how far, and way way way high up. Too high for anyone with vertigo. Or anyone with acrophobia. Torture to the two of us.
We found the bus that winds around the hills and mountains of Lantau, and hopped on. For a measly $11 HKD (about $1.50 USD), we had a half hour or so ride around Lantau and arrived at the Big Buddha. His official name is the Tian Tan Buddha, and he resides at the Po Lin Monastery. And he truly dominates the skyline, sitting on the top of a hill.
We walked around the flat area, admiring views up the Buddha towering over the hills. There were a few lovely gates in white, with curly designs on the top, looking delicate and lacy against the rugged hills in the distance.
Then maybe a prayer wheel? It was a three-level round structure, just low walls and short posts, sort of like the lower half of a gazebo shaped like a wheel, with flags all over, fluttering in the breeze. There were four paths into the center of this wheel, and people would go to the center, face the Buddha, and pray for a bit before climbing the stairs to the Buddha statue.
Here's the information about the Buddha from the signage: "Located at the southwest of Po Lin Monastery, Giant Buddha covers an area of 6,547 square metres. It is the world's largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha statue. The 26 metres high statue is made of 202 separate bronze pieces and weighs 250 tonnes. It sits on a lotus throne on top of a three-platform altar inside which is an exhibition hall presenting invaluable Buddhist relics including Buddha's sarira. The Giant Buddha was honoured as one of the "Ten Engineering Wonders in Hong Kong" and was awarded the "Merit of Unique Artistic Features" by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers in 2000."
The height of the Buddha with the lotus pedestal is 34 meters tall. That's 115 feet tall, or so. Almost 38.5 yards. It's a BIG Buddha! It opened to the public in 1993, which explains why I didn't see it when I first visited Hong Kong in 1984.
This is also one of the few modern large Buddha statues. According to the Po Lin Monastery website, Buddhist sculptural art has been on the decline since the Ming and Qing dynasties. So this Buddha statue represents an attempt at resurrecting the tradition of large and outdoor Buddha monuments. You can find more information at their website: http://www.plm.org.hk/eng/buddha.php?mainnav=1/
I realize these are a lot of photos of the same statue, over and over again - but I want to give you the sense of climbing up all the stairs, all 268 steps. I think it was 13 flights of stairs, 13 having mystical attributes in Buddhism.
And I was there in mid afternoon, so the sun was somewhat overhead and in back of Buddha, so he's kind of backlit. Made for some interesting (if dark) photos.
So I climbed, and climbed, and periodically paused and caught my breath. Finally reached the top, and felt tiny and insignificant, the way hugely gigantic oversized statues tend to make one feel. Awestruck, amazed, and overpowered by the sheer size of this sculpture, and the ability of humans to create such works.
There were six Bodhisattvas around the base, not as big as Buddha but still larger than life. They were offering flowers, lamps, musical instruments, etc., symbols of attributes needed to enter into Nirvana.
I walked around the base, admiring the views of Buddha from different angles, with the play of sunlight on the metal and the gorgeous blue of the sky finally visible when not looking straight into the sun. The views from the top of the hill were wonderful as well, and I could see down to the ocean and the other outlying islands beyond Lantau.
And of course, when one starts back down the stairs, and looks back, it's almost as if Buddha is waving goodbye, farewell, have a good journey through life, and we'll see you next time you come through this way. Or next time around. Maybe in your next lifetime.
I'll admit, I arrived back on level ground with slightly wobbly legs - that was quite a walk up and then down again! Richard and I walked over to Ngong Ping Village, the little shopping and eating area near the Big Buddha. (There's also a hostel there, if you want to stay right by the Buddha.) There were cute little shops, places for hot and cold drinks, and spots to sit and rest those wobbly legs. (Yes, we had a nosh at Starbucks. How many times do you find a Starbucks by a monastery or temple? Okay, there was one in Kyoto, and it was lovely. This one was nice too.)
And since this was the place for the giant Big Buddha, we found the giant Lucky Cat. So of course I had to pose with him. Because he was just too cute, and it must be lucky, right? (You can tell it was lucky because both the cat and I look decent in the photo.)
We tried waiting for sunset, but left before. We weren't sure when the last bus went by, and we really didn't want to be stuck taking that hanging gondola down the mountain.
So while this might be one of those touristy spots, it really was worth visiting. We tend to stay away from places like this, preferring to find less well known, less popular spots. But the Big Buddha really is worth a visit.
Oh, a tip when visiting Hong Kong - buy an Octopus card at the MTR station. This is a pre-paid card that you use for the trains, ferries, even buses. If you're a senior, the cost of the card is reduced, and you pay less for the trains than if you buy a single senior ticket each time you travel. Just as an example, the one-way train to Lantau would have been $24 for an adult or $12 for a senior ticket; using our senior Octopus card, it was $2 to get there and $1.80 for the return trip. (These are Hong Kong dollars, so the $2 price is just over a quarter. Really!) We definitely recommend the Octopus cards!