Hong Kong: "The Giant, The Peak, The Park"
April 16, 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
It's about an hour's ferry ride from Central Ferry Pier to Lantau Island, the largest of all of the Hong Kong islands. The ferry is filled with pilgrims to Tian Tan Buddha.
The impressive Giant Buddha, the world's largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha is 30m (98 ft) tall and weighs 250 tons. To reach the terraces surrounding the Buddha, there's a climb of 260 steps. And the stairs are crowded. Everyone and every group poses for a photo or two. Or three.
Equally photogenic are the large stone and bronze turtles near the Po Lin Monastery. All the kids take their turn.
Inside the Monastery, the monks are praying, so I only get a glimpse of the ornate interior décor and bronze statues. But the dragon carvings on the exterior walls are detailed and attractive.
A fifteen minute walk takes me to the foot of Lantau Mountain and the Wisdom Path. "The hilly path is designed in a figure eight to symbolize infinity. Standing tall along the path are thirty-eight slim wooden pillars, each bearing a portion of the centuries-old Heart Sutra in Chinese characters."* It's not so crowded here so I take my time to wander and just gaze at the mountains before I return to the Buddha, a vegetarian lunch at the monastery dining hall, and later, a bus back to the ferry.
At 392m (1286 ft.), the summit of Victoria Peak offers a climactic view of the city and the waterways below. The building complex on the peak is an airy shopping destination, a miniature Nathan Road. At an outdoor French café I relax with the best cup I have had so far.
Back at sea level, just off Nathan Road itself, quite impulsively, I climb a short stair to Kowloon Park. This penultimate stop of my Hong Kong journey is one of my favorite destinations. (The ultimate stop, it turned out, was City Rich Trading, a shoe emporium in the New World Centre adjacent to my hotel).
I am happy for my impulsive climb. My instinct is rewarded. In the midst of the jungle of skyscrapers lies a huge green open parkland. Which way to walk? My usual answer in these situations in to turn left and proceed clockwise. First, I stroll among a series of large outdoor sculptures. Soon I am confronted by a delightful gang of squirmy high school boys who are conducting a survey for an English project. Each chattering boy asks me a series of personal questions. Of course, they insist on a group photo.
Finally, the 5000 year old martial art of Kung Fu as demonstrated by two performers in the park. Chan Hap was practicing the aggressive fighting style of the Flying Phoenix Sword. His female partner danced the athletic, yet graceful Red Cloud Fan. When they saw me taking photos they stopped to chat with me. I gave them my card and promised that the photos would soon appear on my website. They were quite pleased.
Me too. Some of my most pleasing travel moments are when I stop and chat. Today it was with the boys in the park and the Kung Fu couple. A few days ago it was with a group of Philippine women, and the Aussie couple at the peak café, and the young couple at the pagoda. And the young man at the airport who was astonished that I qualified for an Elder card.
And when I first arrived at the Kowloon Renaissance, the Front Office Manager herself took a moment to welcome me to the hotel.
It seems there was a "systems error" she explained, that allowed me to book a "buy three nights - get three free" room rate. Of course, she said, she would honor my Internet booking. Don't you just love the Internet? I love it too, almost as much as I love to chat.
* "Frommer's Hong Kong." Beth Reiber. Wiley Publshing, Inc. Hoboken, NJ. 2007. pg 247.