Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Big Buddha

Today we went on a "journey of enlightenment" (as advertised profusely in the MTR/subway and beyond). We visited the huge bronze Buddha on Lantau Island. We learned a little about Buddhism and a lot about patience. We did not reach any state of enlightenment but it definitely was a journey of epic proportions for a family of five!

Most guide books rank the trip to the Buddha as a top five type of activity. Consequently, it has long been our list of things to do. And while it was a good interesting trip, I think the books might be a bit dated. Until recently the giant Buddha sat serenely on a hill with the South China sea behind and the Lo Pin Monastery in front and North Lantau country park lands all around. Within the last few months, a new series of interlinking cable cars has been added, greatly increasing the number of visitors to the hilltop. It was a bit much for us to stand in a line for over an hour on a week day, just to get a ticket and then to stand in another line to board the ride but we did it. The Ngong Ping 360 cable car takes people up on a 25 minute ride, overlooking the South China Sea, Hong Kong’s major airport and then the country park lands to near the base of the Buddha statue. It is all stunning; water and greenery. Amidst the greenery, you can make out ancient and not so ancient grave sites of village leaders and get just a slight sense of what it must of been like out here before it was connected to the tourism traffic.

While I think the Buddha could perhaps do with a little less foot traffic, I know it could definitely do without the new little strip mall at the top of the cable car ride. We popped out into cafes, ice cream shops, all sorts of stores and even a Starbucks. We went through the Monkey’s Tale Theatre, which showed a cartoon rendition of some of Buddha’s teachings, and through the accompanying gift shop. Finally, we left the new village and hit the old. Old side of the road stands selling corn on the cob and the like. We came to the Lo Pin monastery (which due to rain we did not enter) and proceeded directly to the Tian Tan Buddha.

Built in 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha is the largest seated outdoor Buddha in the world at 23 meters high. Legend has it that to receive good luck one must walk up the many flights of stairs to the Buddha without stopping. Tori and Adam jumped at this challenge but Royce was skeptical and demanded to be carried for most of the hike. At the base of the statue is a small museum with some briefing descriptions of Buddha’s life and teachings. Apparently, two holy relics from Buddha’s death some 2,500 years ago are housed in the museum but despite signs declaring their existence and Tori’s extreme curiosity we could not find them.

Our trip home started once again with a huge line of folks waiting to make the return cable car trip. But somehow this time we stumbled upon a loophole in the line system. We were able to bypass hundreds of people if we agree to only stand and not sit on our cable car ride home. With everyone packed into a cable car (each car holds 17 people) hours ahead of where we thought we would be (and Adam asleep in Phil’s arms), perhaps we did reach some level of true contentment after all.


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