Tag Archives: HK

Quiet Sanctuary in Hong Kong – Chi Lin Nunnery

An island of calm in the frenzied world of Hong Kong – Chi Lin Nunnery

 If you think that Hong Kong is only a concrete jungle filled with skyscrapers and shopping malls, there is a place you can escape to for a little peace. This quiet sanctuary away from the madding crowd is a relaxing respite from bustling Hong Kong.

 Tucked away just a short walk from Diamond Hill MTR (subway) station, Chi Lin Nunnery exudes Zen-like calmness. It has undergone many reincarnations since its inception a hundred years ago – from a wealthy merchant’s villa in the earlier century to a free community school, to a Buddhist school to a home for the elderly and finally, to the present day temple. Chen Qi, the original owner, was a devout Buddhist who had sold his mansion at a budget to 2 monks for the spread of Buddhism. This building certainly bears witness to the development history of Buddhism in Hong Kong.

 Modelled after China’s Tang Dynasty style architecture, its clean cut lines and neutral colours are unlike the usual Chinese temples’ often garish colours and outlandish designs. Built without using a single nail, this whole structure comprising 228,000 pieces of timber is held together using a complex interlocking system involving wooden dowels and brackets – a technique dating back to the ancient Tang Dynasty. This architecture wonder has soaring ceilings held up by 28 columns, measuring 18 feet each. The ceilings support roofs with traditionally-made clay tiles that weigh 176 tonnes.

 Besides artistic aspirations, the nunnery also had to meet stringent structural and safety requirements that include fire safety (especially given its wooden structure), the ability to withstand severe typhoon as well as protection against termites and insects. A perfect marriage of ancient technique and modern technology, this gem of Chinese monastic architecture also manifest the unity of structure and art.

 The overall layout is based on the Chinese philosophy of harmony between Heaven and Earth with an emphasis on nature. The spirit of Buddhism is reflected in its many structures – the seven-storey pagoda representing Buddhist teachings on moral values and the importance of repaying gratitude while the grand main hall and sutra room reminds one of Buddhist wisdom and practice.

 If you think that its touch of Zen reminds you of those temples in Japan, well you are not far off the mark. Buddhism reached the height of its influence in China during the Tang dynasty so it probably spread to Japan then along with its architectural design.

 The nunnery also incorporates classic Chinese courtyard-style influence into its design. Winding corridors and lotus ponds bear testaments to this. Naturally, no Chinese building is complete without the ancient art of ‘wind and water’ – the ubiquitous Feng Shui or geomancy. 

 In accordance to the principle of Feng Shui, the building faces south towards the sea with its back to the mountain. The facing is said to bring abundance and strong mountain backing ensures having a provider of strength and good energy. Besides having auspicious facing, the nunnery is also flanked by the Mountain of Compassionate Clouds on the left and the Lion Rock on the right.

 Covering a space of 30,000 square meters, it took 11 painstaking years and multi-million dollars to reconstruct the building which reopened in 2000. Yellow cedar wood was imported from Canada and carved in China by skilled artisans. They were then reconstructed in Hong Kong like a giant piece of jigsaw puzzle. The main hall was modeled after the Foguang Monastery in Shanxi Province, China while the double-eave Hall of Celestial Kings is designed after the 11-century Phoenix Hall outside Kyoto, Japan.

 Housing 16 Buddhist halls, Zen-style rock gardens and lotus ponds, landmarks include the magnificent Ten Thousand Buddhas pagoda as well as the pair of symmetrical Bell and Drum Tower at the entrance. Statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism some 2,500 years ago is suitably housed in the main hall. Statues of the Goddess of Mercy or Guanyin and the God of Medicine as well as other bodhisattvas are also present in the nunnery. They are beautifully crafted from gold, clay, wood and stone. Besides statues, the Patriarch Hall features many tablets with imprinted wisdom of many Chinese sages.

 This gem of a temple woos one with simple pleasures – wood exuding a hint of fragrance all round, pretty little bonsai trees, artful rockeries in landscaped gardens with manicured shrubs. Besides, its lotus ponds in full bloom are truly magnificent sights to behold.

 So the next time you are in Hong Kong and wish for a spot of peace, don’t forget to head to this charming little oasis. Best of all, admission is free.

Note: First published on buzzle.com on 12 August 2008

Link: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/quiet-sanctuary-in-hong-kong-chi-lin-nunnery.html

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Infernal “Cha Chan Ting”

I remember this café in Hong Kong which was frequented by renovation contractors. And another which was overrun by gangster-looking men. One half expected to see a Tony Leung lookalike mole ala Infernal Affairs to walk in.

 Initially, I had thought they were construction workers – burly men in work clothes covered in cement, dragging their sand-dusted boots. Then, I realized most had the contractible tape measure clipped onto their waist, giving their trade away. Nowhere were we near any blue-collar area but smacked right in the middle of the swanky tourist district of Tsimshatsui. Imagine my surprise when these brawny men began descending in droves into this humble café, known affectionately as “Cha Chan Teng” in Hong Kong. (“Café” in the Cantonese dialect.) This little enclave appears to be a hub of sorts for construction workers, at least in this area.

 Having worked their butts off for the morning, they fervently tucked into hearty meals of mainly rice dishes and other Cha Chan Teng staples. Many with mobile phones clinging onto their ears, busy returning calls to potential and existing clients – giving updates of work done or firing away quotations. Taking a much needed breather, most took a drag on their cigarettes while sipping hot, Hong Kong style milk tea – a thick brew of Ceylon tea with generous amount of evaporated milk and sugar.

 Brute they were not, with impeccable manners; they were careful not to encroach upon your personal space when you share a table with them. (It is common for customers at a “cha chan teng” to share a table during the packed, peak-hours.) Beneath the rough surface, these guys have a charm of their own. Some were even roguishly handsome exuding a dangerous air about them. No wonder some were seen to be whispering sweet nothings into their mobile phones – I’m sure these guys are not short of girl friends.

 The camaraderie among them were obvious, greeting each other with a slap on the back, bantering away and trading the latest prices of tiles, water pipes and other materials. Exchanging trade tips among them, they sneak in an occasional gossip here and there – yes, men do gossip. Seeing these men at play allows one to get a glimpse of another side of these oft misunderstood workers.

 On another fine afternoon, I walked into a café in search of Hong Kong’s famed egg custard tart and milk tea only to find myself walking straight into what seemed like a den for gangsters and informers.  Perhaps plainclothes policemen were among them too.

 Tough looking guys in …huddled together speaking in undertones while throwing occasional sidelong glances at anyone passing by. Exchanging knowing nods at alliances, they sit down to place their regular orders. The air of conspiracy is unmistakable. 

This may look like any Hong Kong café that you and I patronize but lurking among them could be a mole planted by both sides – the police and the triads. As it is, it wasn’t easy to tell the cops from the triads. Is the guy with the flashy tattoo always the bad guy?

 “Yao mo liu do ah?”

 The line between the two worlds seemingly blur as a plainclothes policeman asked his usual informant for news in colloquial Cantonese.  It is akin to the arms of law dipping into the murky waters of crime in an attempt to bring justice to those who deserve it.

 The practice is often seen as a necessary evil in the industry. After all relying on solid investigation is only half the battle. What better way to get information than from the fringes of society?  

 Unfortunately, I did not hear any other more intriguing conversation. Either that or they were all speaking in codes. Besides the air of conspiracy, the café looks surprisingly ‘normal’, unlike the smoke-filled rooms that one often sees in movies.

 Would I return to that café? You bet! I have yet to witness a shoot-out or even a police chase. But first I must be able to locate the café on my next visit for I had stumbled upon it by chance and couldn’t quite recall its exact location. Pray do let me find it again 😛

 It makes one wonder what would happen to policemen should their informers disappear overnight? And do cops need crooks for their existence? If there were no crooks do we still need laws? Is it a demand and supply question? Or one of prevention?

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