About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

06 March 2015

The Big Buddha

Built on top of the hill on Lantau Island, the Big Buddha is meant to be visible from afar, and at its base provide amazing views of Lantau. Unfortunately, today was a very cloudy day (it didn't start out that way, and the weather prediction was largely incorrect), and there was very poor visibility. So poor, that it was not possible to see the cable car in front, and only make out the shadows of the cable cars going in the opposite direction.

The hilltop is easiest to reach by the 5.7 Km cable car, which hints at some spectacular views on clear days. On the cloudy day such as today, it provided an eerie, horror film like atmosphere, with no land or cable visible.

The Buddha was built fairly recently (in the late 1980s IIRC), by the Po Lin Buddhist monastery located also on top of the hill. The cable car drops you off at the "village" which is basically a collection of tourist shops.

One of the things I find interesting about Chinese Buddhism is the amalgamation of Chinese and Indian aspects. This is quite well seen in the monastery itself, as well as then approach to the area involving a path guarded by the 12 Divine Generals, some of whom are also gods in Hinduism.

The big Buddha statue is a long walk up steps - and the platform on top features 6 statues of devotees, a small museum (with an amazing panel painting on the life of Buddha on the second floor) and the Buddha itself - surrounded by fog today.

The monastery is also interesting - the new Hall of 10 Thousand Buddhas puts mist rappers to shame on its bling, while there are amazing dragon carvings on the pillars outside the building.

The last part of the area is the "Path of Wisdom", where the Prajnaparamita (Perfect Wisdom) Sutra is engraved on massive logs arranged in the shape of infinity.

The Peak

The Peak is the premier tourist attraction of Hong Kong. The highest point on Hong Kong island, it offers amazing views of the island and Kowloon. There are also good hiking trails although I only did a small portion of the total set of trails.

There is an old funicular that seems to struggle up the hill. The popularity of The Peak means that queues are long - on my way back, there was a queue to join the queue to go down! There is an alien-head looking viewing tower at the top, but the Galleria shopping mall next to it offers almost similar views for free. Better still, walk in the 4km circular trail and get different angles of the skyscrapers below. The vegetation is very lush, and there are plenty of birds and squirrels to spot.

I had tried to time my visit to coincide with a brief patch of sunshine earlier this week, but I had not accounted for the queues. Nevertheless, the late afternoon trip and walk led to great views of the city in the evening, despite the fog.

05 March 2015

Lantern Festival

The 15th day of the first Lunar month is the Lantern Festival, and the Hong Kong Cultural centre had lanterns on display, as well as music and dance performances and a Chinese opera performance. I originally came to see the Symphony of Lights show, which was a bit of a squib given the weather and stumbled onto the festival.

Ping Shan Heritage Trail

I first came across this trail in a brochure for a cultural tour of the new territories at the airport. It didn't look that interesting , but since this was fairly close to the monastery I decided to give it a try. I am very glad I did, this was one of the most interesting tourist activities in Hong Kong.

A problem with the trail however, is that relying on Google maps or Lonely Planet is not going to work. Lonely Planet's description is paltry with no map, while Google map helpfully takes you to the middle of the trail, which requires a fair bit more walking (in doubling back).

The trail is organised around the historical buildings of the Tang clan, in the Ping Shan village (which is itself a collection of villages). Dating back over 800 years, the trail is a great juxtaposition of the modern and old. Many buildings are located within residential buildings, so  it gives a great view of real life. It is refreshingly different to the high rise concrete jungle of the rest of Hong Kong. 

I have organised the photos in the order I think this trail should be done, starting at the top of a small hill at the old Ping Shan police station, now the visitors centre. It also feature s a small museum including an overview of local customs and generation all history of the Tang clan (going back 2500 years!). The hilltop also offers great views of the surrounding area.

The Hung Shing Temple, a small temple dedicated to a deity worshipped by fishermen, is one of two temples in the trail.

The entrance hall of Shut Hing Study Hall is difficult to find, located within a small alleyway. It is ornately decorated, when compared to the other two study halls on the trail, but the entrance is all that remains of the hall.

The Kun Tung Study Hall and the adjacent Ching Shu Hin, have some amazing carvings and decorations - probably the best of the trail.

The Tang and Yu Kiu Ancestral halls are the central highlights of the trail. Built as shrines for ancestral worship as well as clan meetings and celebrations, the refurbished halls are quite impressive structures. The Yan Tun Kong study hall is accessible via the alleyways through the village.

The Yeung Hau temple and Old Well are probably the least well maintained and plain items on the trail. There are koi fish swimming in the well though.

The Sheung Cheung Wai is the old village wall, although it is only the wall and the gates that remain. It is fully functional residential area, so it remains functional.

The last stop is the only remaining ancient pagoda, Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda. It is quite smaller than what I was expecting - but still a cool end to the trail. It is also convenient as it is next to the train line back to Kowloon. On the way to the pagoda, there is a small Shrine of the Earth God.

Miu Fat Monastery

I had initially planned to go to Macau for the day, but decided to explore Hong Kong's "New Territories" instead. Hong Kong is a lot larger than I initially thought, and the greenery is quite a change from the city. The monastery is in Lam Tei, about 1 hour by bus from Kowloon.

There are actually two shrines - an older pagoda which is lavishly decorated in traditional style, and a newer glass and concrete shrine, which, while still shiny, is significantly less ornate.

The older shrine is protected by dragons, lions and six toothed elephants (or are they Oliphants from Lord of the Rings?) - and has murals of Buddha in various forms before a lavish display in the main shrine three stories up. The external shrine of Buddha in front of a koi pond is equally cool. The ceiling of the shrine is mostly obscured but features numerous panels, which seem to be the telling of Buddha's life story.

The newer shrine is not as interesting, although I understand it lights up at night. It also features a few different forms of buddha , and it seems like a larger capacity overall, but is rather plain.

04 March 2015

Man Mo Temple

Man Mo temple is the oldest temple on Hong Kong island, dedicated to the Taoist gods of literature (Man) and war (Mo). Perched towards the end of the steps of the appropriately named "Ladder Street", the temple is still dwarfed by the skyscrapers around it.

The temple is busier than the Pak Tai temple, with a heavy fog of burning incense. It is also more lavishly decorated with a spectacular row of lamps leading up to the shrine.

Soviet Pinups at Erata Galleries

Opposite the Man Mo temple, Erata Galleries is a global group focussed on the showcase of contemporary Russian art. The sculpture at the front was what drew me in, but the new show of Valery Barykin's "Soviet Pinups", which fuse old 50's American pinup posters with Soviet propaganda messages are simply stunning and very much worth seeing. Show is on until early May.

Pak Tai Temple

Pak Tai temple is a short walk up Wan Chai, passing through a market and small workshops, that I didn't think existed anymore in Hong Kong. I am not sure of the same significance of the deities, and was surprised at the lack of needing to take off shoes before entering the shrine. Although heavily promoted in the Lonely Planet guide, I wouldn't consider this to be a highlight stop.