Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Markets of Kowloon

Sunday, May 22 - continued

After spending the first half of the day with the Ten Thousand Buddhas on the northernmost part of Hong Kong, the only piece actually on mainland China, we headed back to our hometown for the next few days to check out the markets. Walking around Hong Kong Island, it's not difficult to see the British influence left over from the days before Hong Kong was self-governed, but Kowloon is something different. If Hong Kong Island is more uptown, skyscraper office buildings, and trendy bistros, Kowloon is more downtown, urban, no space unused, local hole-in-the-wall eateries and street food. Kowloon is also known for its markets, to include the Lady's Market, Jade Market, Bird Market, Fish Market, and the Temple Street Night Market.

Once back on our side of town, we took to the busy streets made narrower by the stalls of the Lady's Market. Though we didn't do much shopping, it was an entertaining stroll.

From novelty thong underwear to knock-off designer handbags, bobble-head everything to clothing, keychains and toys to leather-bound journals and teasets, it was all among these stalls.

From here, we wandered through the congested streets, peeking in windows and snapping pictures like a couple of tourists at every turn.

The Yuen Po Street Bird Garden sounded much more magical in writing. I imagined actual gardens, you know, with green stuff growing around. I imagined elderly bird-lovers with their old, bamboo cages sharing conversation about their common love whilst feeding the wild birds who stopped by for a visit.
To my disappointment, it looked more like an outdoor bird shop. Rows and rows of bird cages stacked atop one another, many packed full of birds, greeted us instead of a garden. People sat with their birds in cages playing cards, but still, but it felt more like they were just trying to make a buck rather than share in their collective joy over birds. Am I still so naive that this was a let-down? I suppose I am. Being there reminded me of why I don't like most zoos - there's something inherently sad about staring at caged animals, and there's something poetically devastating about it when it's a bird. Sure, you can come down to buy yourself a winged pet at the Bird Garden, but that's really about it.

The only free birds in the whole garden.

The Fish Market and Flower Market were equally lacking in whimsy, but are certainly good places to go if you're actually in the market for fish or flowers. 
The cat wasn't for sale, but when the store lady saw me smiling at her kitty she swiftly scooped him up and posed for a photo. What made Chris stop making fun of me was the fact that more people then stopped to take his photo, too :)
Something we saw over and over again around Hong Kong were outdoor relaxation and wellness parks, wherein people can sit on a bench and read, play a little game of hit the birdie across the courtyard, and even practice Tai Chi. The park we came across while market-walking had all of this going on, and it was crowded with people lunching and watching games, if they weren't involved somewhere. 

I'd really wanted to take Tai Chi in college, but it was always full. Next best thing - using Tai Chi machines in a public park in Hong Kong! The coolest part about it was the fact that people actually use them! The more time we spent in this great city, the more elderly people we saw exercising all over the place. It made us stop and wonder how old some of these people really were. Often, the lines on their faces and the movements of their bodies told two entirely different stories. 

Before long we found ourselves walking past the stalls of yet another market, this one of the produce variety. I'm pretty sure the yellow, spiky melons are durians, supposedly the king of fruits - if you can get past the horrendous stink of the flesh. We did not partake.
The dragon fruit, on the other hand, was delicious and mild, its flesh white and pear-like with black specks. 
Having seen loads of people walking around with milky-looking drinks with dark blobs in the bottom, we decided to check out this strange phenomenon. It's called Bubble Tea, and apparently it's become rather popular in some places in the States. Having never heard of these before, we bought one each. The thing about Bubble Tea is that the straw is super wide to allow the globs in the bottom to be sucked up into your mouth whilst you enjoy your beverage. These chewy balls of tapioca starch (we later learned) were novel at first, but once we were halfway through our milky teas, we wished we'd passed this stand by. Our stomachs became so full so quickly of these increasingly gross little globs, we threw half the tea out and groaned for the next half hour. This is a big business and the salesgirl was super nice, but Bubble Tea? Not for me.

Our last market of the night was the night market on Temple Street, appropriately named the Temple Street Night Market. The items for sale were all but the same as what we saw at the Lady's Market, but with more produce. There were also places along the street where tiny kitchens had set up plastic tables and chairs on which to serve their fare. Steaming trays of dim sum, barbecued pork and plenty of noodles waved hello at us as we walked by, the nightmare of Bubble Tea beginning to leave us, replaced by hunger.

Fortune-teller row, call it the Psychic Market, where people said they could see your future through use of everything from the lines on your palms to tea leaves to birds. I was really tempted, but ended up not stopping in to take a peek at my future. It was time to find some food and head back to the hotel to crash after a very long day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

Sunday, May 22
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

Day two was looking to be a wet one, as the sky continuously emptied itself over our heads. But what can you do but grab a couple of umbrellas and accept you're going to get wet?

Thanks to some detailed directions found online, we took the appropriate trains and walked along and behind the IKEA to find the base of the walking path that would challenge our step-counting skills once again, and lead us to this famous monastery hidden in the bamboo forest of Shatin.

Contrary to what the looks of the path may first have you believe, the ten thousand Buddhas for which the monastery is named are all located within the temple, not along the path. The gilded life-sized Arhan statues number more than 500, and are with you every step (of the 431) of the way. On this rainy day, we decided to take full advantage of their presence along our squishy hike.

It was like being cheered on by the happiest, silliest pals.

A high-five to begin our journey!

Why not stop for a song?

As many of the Arhan statues were cute, little, old men, I was kind of in heaven :) My Papa Little is responsible for instilling in me the appreciation and adoration of even the grumpiest, old men. They all look like grandpas to me. (Diane, you would have loved it!)

Chris and the woodwind guy having a disagreement over the inclement weather as we made our way up, up, up to the top.

Almost's just over that way.

Clearly, we didn't take pictures of every single statue, but they were all different in posture and expression.

What's aaaaaaaaapppppppppp! You made it!

Welcome to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. May I look into your soul?

The front of the monastery that houses the Ten Thousand Buddhas. In front is a courtyard with a nine-story pagoda lined with more golden Buddhas, the Kwun Yam Pavilion, and many more statues. 

From the covered veranda of the temple, we took it in.

This is where over 13,000 unique Buddha statues rest, each in a different pose and with a different facial expression. A tiny plaque is affixed to each base with the name of the person who donated it to the temple.
Talk about feeling overwhelmed.

The preserved corpse of the monastery's founder Reverend Yuet Kai on display before the alter inside

Taking cover during a particularly hard burst of rain

To the left, the pagoda lined with golden Buddha statues looking out over the courtyard and forest below.                     To the right, the Kwun Yam Pavilion.

From within the pagoda, where each level has a centrally seated Buddha and several outward facing ones lining the walls and spiral stairs that take you to the top.

 Back out on the rain-soaked terrace, the statues were varied and intricate. 

Oops! Don't want to get any wetter!

Time for another vegetaria monastery lunch - out of the rain.

A little timid about how to proceed, we shook out our umbrellas and watched the other patrons of this little room lined with modest tables and plastic stools. Not sure we'd find a menu in English, we seated ourselves and hoped for the best. A woman soon approached, dropped plastic cups and spoons at our table, filling our cups with hot water from the tea kettle (to wash our utensils we would later learn). Without meaning to, we ended up ordering some spring rolls and enough soup to feed the room, but it was a nice break from the weather. 

After a while, we were ready to walk the rest of the monastery grounds, which consisted of several more temples on the upper level. Some of these temples contain ancestral tablets, while others house the ashes of the deceased. 

There were some renovations going on, so we tip-toed
around and got peeks where we could.
One of my favorite things about this part of our trip was finding incredible stillness in the midst of a very crowded and busy place. It was something we came across again and again as the days went on, and each time I felt compelled to stop for a moment and breathe. It was a nice reminder.

Past the far end of the upper level veranda was this amazingly bright statue of Kwum Yam, accompanied by a bunch more golden statues perched upon the nearby rocks.
I couldn't resist getting a close-up of my bearded friend looking rather Scottish on the rocks.

After our visit felt complete, we trudged down the wet steps back into the world below, but not before coming across a Buddhist worship service going on in a small neighborhood temple perched along a modest stream. We listened to their prayers, chanted in unison, and tried not to linger as the people said their goodbyes and drizzled out onto the narrow streets.
We finally reached the back of the IKEA again and began making our way back to Kowloon to check out some markets there, ready with camera in hand to continue the attempt to capture the spirit of this amazing place.