Today my family and I started our further Hong Kong explorations on Lantau Island, home to the former “world’s largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha statue”. We met our guide at the pier N°.6 in Hong Kong early in the morning, and were delighted to hear that nobody else had signed up for this day’s tour – meaning we would have an individual tour around the island! We took the ferry to Lantau, and then went on with the bus to visit one of the old fisher villages of the island.
The village, Tai O, reminded me of my time in Guanzhou, China. This was obviously a very poor place, and our guide told us that the inhabitants mainly lived of their fish processing, like the production of dry fish and fish marmalade. The whole village smelled very badly, and cats with cut tails were seen everywhere around. Our guide explained, that it is widely believed in China that cats don’t run away if their tails are cut, as they thereby loose their ability to balance. “No idea, if that is true, but the Chinese can be weird, can’t they?” We also saw the many stilt houses on the water. The huts were built upon large wet wooden stakes, and ladders led down into the water, where old fisher boats with fading colors waited, gently rocking on the waves. Old people sat on their porches, the houses all open – we could see kitchens with tons of cats on the furniture, living rooms with stacks of beer bottles next to the family shrine and even the bed rooms with unmade beds. The village was really a good representative of Hong Kong poverty. Alone the fact, that everything was wide open, prove, that there was nothing to steal here – the fire in 2000, that destroyed several of the stilt houses likely only added to this poverty.
What my brother and I found both particulary fascinating and repulsing was the fish processing: We watched an old man hack a gigantic fish on the middle of the street, blood and silver scales splattering in all directions. My brother, one of the biggest shark-protectors and -lovers I know, was however even more shocked when he discovered the skin and fins of a shark in a shop, hanging clearly exposed to the people walking by. This was surely an unusual sight to all of us!
After wandering around the village and visiting the local fishermen’s gods’ temple, our guide took us onto the bus that brought us to the 34 meter tall Giant “Tian Tan” Buddha on the top of one of the island’s mountains, part of the Po Lin Monastery. Many tourists were occupying the place, and hawkers had set up their stands, selling all sorts of fake Chinese souvenirs, fishermen hats and colorful fans. To get all the way up to the Buddha, you have to climb more than 260 steps to the top of the hill it is built upon. The bronze Buddha sits on the petals of a lotus flower, one of his hands raised forwards, the other one lying gently in his lap. His ears are very long, as for all Buddhas, symbolizing a long life. “That’s why many Chinese women wear specially heavy earrings,” our guide explained to me, “so that they have long ears and a long life!”
Around the Buddha, there are several smaller buddhistic figures kneeling in front of him, praising the giant Tian Tan Buddha and offering him gifts. The stone stairs around the Buddha reminded me a lot of the Temple of Heaven in Bejing, China, that I had visited in last years project week, and so did the whole architecture of the Po Lin Monastery. Our guide said, that this temple was practically copied to a large extend from the Temple of Heaven – even the “center point of the world”, originally in Beijing, had been duplicated in the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong!
Everywhere there were old people holding three smoking incentives – one for the past, one for the present and one for the future, waving them into all directions of the sky. “Now, right before the Chinese New Year, many people come to the temples. They ask for wealth, luck and health in the new year, or inquire fortune tellers about their future”, our guide explained. Right before we left for the vegetarian lunch in the monastery (Buddhists don’t eat meat because of reincarnation), we saw one of the monks ringing one of the bells of the monastery. He closed his eyes and the full, calming tone echoed between the temple pillars… it was a mesmerizing and relaxing sound.
To end our trip, we took the Ngong Ping 360°, a cable car service all across Lantau to the MTR station next to the Airport. The gondola took around half an hour to bring us to the MTR, and we could see the beautiful, dark green landscape underneath us, with hiking trails winding their way through the hills. The last part of the railway took us over the blue harbor of the airport island. We had a fantastic view.
This was a wonderful day. Unfortunately I had never made it to Lantau before, so it was great to see this different side of Hong Kong. I can’t wait to explore more together with my family – tomorrow is the big New Year’s parade and I really look forward to it, because I missed it last year.