Friday, December 21, 2007

Party crashing at Tin Hau Temple in Stanley

As we worked our way home from preschool last week with friends, we came across a lion dance in front of the Tin Hau Temple in Stanley. Last year it seemed to me that there were always lion dances and I had no idea why. This year I have a vague sense of Chinese holidays but this still did not help. Someone in the small crowd in front told me the lion dance was celebrating the completion of renovations inside the temple. With the omnipresent construction in Stanley (the small road we walk on to get to the temple has been under repair since the day we arrived), I did not even notice the temple renovations were underway. However, we were happy any part of Hong Kong reconstruction was done and very happy they chose to celebrate with a great lion dance, concluded on slits, with drums and confetti all around.

Our Tin Hau Temple in Stanley was founded in 1767. Apparently, the renovations returned many of the gold gilt pieces from the original construction to the altar place. The inside does look beautiful, though I can’t say I specifically notice any differences. I am usually too busy corralling kids and avoiding a cross-religions incident to examine the details. During World War II, villagers took shelter in the Stanley temple. A Japanese bomb fell on the temple but did not detonate.

There are over 60 Tin Hau temples throughout Hong Kong and many more world wide. Tin Hau is the goddess of the sea and the protector of seafarers, thus explaining her popularity here in Hong Kong. She is typically depicted in red gowns, staring out at the sea. Tin Hau herself was thought to be a girl born around 960 AD in China. Though her family were fishermen and she lived her whole life by the water, she apparently did not learn to swim until the age of 15. At this point, she quickly became a strong swimmer and earned some fame for her skills. In her early 20’s, Tin Hau’s brothers and fathers were lost at sea in a storm. The story has it that in a trance like state on shore, she pulled them out of the sea. The story concludes with either her drowning at sea or climbing a mountain and flying away to become a goddess. Either way, she has been worshipped ever since as a protector of people on the sea.

As the lion dance concluded, large tables full of food were pulled out. Some local politicians came out and waved and then the crowd of about 50 elderly Chinese joined the feast. The tables were piled high with all sorts of local food; fish, meat of all kinds, noodles of all kinds and lots of other things I could not even begin to classify. A few of the folks who seemed to be in charge very kindly invited us to join in. A politician invited us to join in. A little old lady pulled Adam to the table. We of course said yes. We sampled a few things, chatted a little, felt like citizens of Stanley and then promptly headed to the nearby McDonalds for another lunch.


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