After a great last dinner in Auckland with Kristin and Matt, we hopped a late flight to Hong Kong... and about twelve hours later, we got there.
Saturday, May 21
As we arrived fairly early in the morning, and the airport is on the same island as "The Big Buddha," we made use of the fabulous airport services (that include renting time in a private bathroom, complete with toilet, shower, mirror, and hair dryer), stored our luggage in the lockers and headed across Lantau Island. One short rip-off of a cab ride later, we found ourselves at the Ngong Ping 360 cable car station that would provide us with a ride to the home of the Tian Tan (aka, Big) Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, and Wisdom Path.
The ride lasted about twenty-five minutes, as we rose above Tung Chung Bay and drifted silently over the green hills.
Our first sighting of the Tian Tan Buddha. The statue's right hand is raised to represent the removal of affliction, the left resting in the lap. This statue symbolizes a harmonious relationship between nature and man, as well as people and religion. The Tian Tan Buddha is said to be the largest outdoor in the world, and is the only that faces north.
Once back on solid ground, we walked through a Disnified version of an old Chinese village, complete with souvenir shops and a Starbucks.
(Hey, 12 more hours on a plane with no air conditioning, stuck in our seats by a sleeping passenger is a good reason for some Frappuccino goodness if I've ever heard one!)
Above, the Wishing Tree, where visitors can write their wishes on scrolls to be hung among the branches.
As we made our way toward the Big Buddha, we walked up the Bodhi Path which was lined with statues of 'The Twelve Divine Generals.' These Generals serve as protectors of Buddhism, and each represent one of the Chinese Zodiac signs. For the record, if you were born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, or 2004, you'd be a Monkey like me. If you're a child from 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, or 2002, you're a Horse like Chris. Not that my personality really matches the Monkey's description, but a monkey I've always been :)
As a Monkey, my Divine General was General Andira who wields an intimidating mallet.
Chris' Horse General, on the other hand, wields a conch shell...this made me giggle. Please, no! Not the conch shell!
It was time to follow the signs and climb all 268 steps to the Big Buddha...with a couple breathing breaks. It looked so very, very far away, but these steps were conquered by people from toddlers to the elderly, many of whom stopped along the way to bow and chant prayers.
I've come to understand that there are many things that a photograph simply cannot capture. The enormity of this Buddha is one of those things.
Buddha says hey.
The views from atop the Buddha's platform were breathtaking, as we peered out across the mountainous spread of lush green. Regardless of your faith or beliefs, I think it would be difficult to stand here and not feel moved by something deeply serene. The air was hot and damp, but the breeze always seemed to find its way across the hills to cool our faces.
Resting upon its lotus throne, the Tian Tan Buddha is faced by The Six Devas, smaller bronze statues posed with offerings of music, fruit, ointment, a lamp, incense, and flowers to the Buddha. "These offerings symbolize charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana."
(Details taken from http://www.hongkongsunday.com/?p=81)
Like I said, young and old.
After our time with the Tian Tan Buddha, we descended the steps and found our way to the Wisdom Path, a short trek through the forest to an outdoor replica of the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is hundreds of years old and is one of the world's best-known prayers revered by not only Buddhists, but Confucians and Taoists, as well.
As we'd arrived early enough in the day to have beaten the inevitable busloads of tourists, we were able to enjoy the moments between the destinations, fully able to appreciate the quiet beauty that surrounded us.
The Heart Sutra words have been carved into wooden pillars, which stand tall in a figure eight to symbolize splendor and infinity. As we approached the site of this time-honored sutra, I couldn't help but take a moment to notice and appreciate its ferocious guards. Asleep equidistant from one another and the plaques that explained the Heart Sutra replica were two slumbering pups. They must've sensed the peace in our hearts and felt it acceptable to take a snooze. I saw a little bit of Heidi in this one, his white ears pointing out to catch anything of interest while he dozed. She was this kind of guard dog.
With the Tian Tan Buddha watching from afar, this faithful man lit his incense stick, reciting prayers to himself as we watched.
While some of the incense beds were plain, others were beautifully created to house the rising smoke of the faithful.
Outside of the Po Lin Monastery
Inside the Po Lin Monastery temple.
The three bronze statues within represent the Buddha's past, present, and future lives.
At such monasteries as this, there tends to be a place to get tea and something to eat, but it is always vegetarian. We had our first meal in Hong Kong at the small restaurant at the monastery, complete with noodles, dim sum, and hot tea.
After lunch, it was time to make our way back to the airport to collect our luggage and make our way to Kowloon Island to check into the hotel.
By the time we got to Kowloon, navigated the public transportation system and found the hotel, we were somewhat wiped out, so the rest of day one consisted of wandering the streets until we eventually settled on a casual restaurant where we could enjoy something yummy before conking out for the night. Armed with plastic chopsticks (actually everything was plastic), we eagerly put away some kind of soup, some kind of pork plate, and some kind of greens. Trust in a menu takes some time, but we've found in our travels that we often wind up with some of the best meals we've had when we're not sure what we're ordering.
Goodnight, Hong Kong. See you in the morning.