Sunday, May 13, 2012

Golden Week Day 4: Po Lin to Zhongshan

On Day 4, I got up bright and early and had some Chungking Mansions Pakistani food, along with some durian.  This was my first experience with durian – it’s a fascinating little fruit.  Actually it's a pretty big fruit.  When I opened up the package I’d gotten from the supermarket, the first thing I noticed was the smell: strong and not entirely pleasant.  Then I took a bite, and thought it tasted horrible.  Since I’d paid for it and didn’t want to throw anything that smelled that badly in a shared garbage can, I continued eating it.  After a couple of minutes, I started to like it.  A couple of hours after finishing it, I started wondering where I could get more.  I’ve heard that starting smoking is sort of like that…

After breakfast, I packed up my backpack, checked out of the hostel, and caught the subway out to Lantau Island to visit the Po Lin Monastery, home of the Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha.  From the Tung Ch ung station I took a bus that seemed to just keep climbing through heavily-forested mountains.  All of the green was pretty amazing after a couple of days of concrete jungle.  When we arrived at the monastery, it was very cloudy and misty.  All of the pictures I’d ever seen of Po Lin were taken on clear, sunny days; I’m actually not sure which is more typical.  While the mist made the sculpture difficult to appreciate from a distance, it helped to create more of an ethereal atmosphere than a sunny day would have.

 There were a couple of stairs.
 At this point you could finally see him.

 The Big Buddha statue is flanked by an entourage of Bodhisattvas.  Each one is holding something different.

Underneath the Tian Tan Buddha there’s a nice little mini-museum that has paintings with a timeline of the life of Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha).  There’s also a real Buddha relic that was apparently given to them by whatever organization is in charge of keeping track of such things.  Understandably, they didn’t want that photographed.  It was in some case thing that was so complicated that you couldn’t really get a look at it anyway.

 You can kind of see him through the clouds there.

After seeing the Big Buddha, I looked around at the actual monastery a little bit.  Although there were lots of tourists around, I liked that it had the atmosphere of a functioning monastery – it’s not something that exists for the sake of the tourists.  A big part of it was actually under construction.  There were also signs all over (which I lacked the foresight to photograph) reminding visitors that alcohol and meat were not to be consumed on the premises.

 You can sort of see the new building under construction (it's sort of grayish) in the background.

 There were a bunch of these things around -- that statue style is also very common in Japan, and it depicts a story where, immediately after being born, Siddhartha jumped up and started talking.  And was pretty ripped, if you look closely.  People were taking those little ladle things (near the pedestal) and using them to pour water over his head; I'm not sure what the significance of that was.

You can also get a vegetarian lunch at what appears to be the monastery cafeteria.  They also didn’t want you taking pictures there; I’m not sure why.

After lunch, I wanted to take the cable car back down to Tung Chung.  This required cutting though Ngong Ping Village, which is where all the tourist-trap stuff was.  My guess is that there was some kind of negotiated agreement where all of the kitsch (and meat and possibly alcohol for sale) was kept at a respectful distance from the actual monastery.  The one thing worth slowing down for in Ngong Ping was a pogo demonstration.  It was these three American guys who apparently tour around the world doing impressive stuff on pogo sticks.  It was way cooler than my pictures make it look.
 It finally cleared up a little as I was leaving.

The cable car ride down the mountain was an attraction all on its own.  You get really spectacular views of the mountains on the island, as well as the ocean and surrounding islands.  You also get an impressive view of the Hong Kong Airport, if you’re into that kind of thing.
 This would have been a better picture if I hadn't gotten so much of my own reflection in the window.

 The cable car mysteriously stopped for a minute or two while we were dangling over that water.
This poor kid just couldn't stay awake.  He and his dad (to the right) were visiting from Japan and seemed a little startled when I started talking to them in Japanese.

If I’d planned things out better, I could have caught a ferry directly to Zhongshan from Lantau Island.  Instead, I caught the MTR back to Kowloon, somehow located the China Ferry Terminal, and just barely made the ferry to Zhongshan, where I was going to visit my cousin Becca Rasmussen.  I was worried that I’d be up on the top deck of a ferry getting sunburned, but instead I was in an air-conditioned cabin with tinted windows where they brought us bottled water and snacks (I’d paid about $3.86 USD extra for the first-class seat).  They had a couple of TVs where they were showing what looked like a movie depicting the Long March.  I’d heard that there was a new Mao film in the works in China, but a few minutes of diligent googling didn’t produce anything (in English, at least).  The sound was turned off and there weren’t subtitles in any language, but it was certainly lit and staged in a way that made him look very saintly.  About what you’d expect, I suppose.

Becca and her roommate Rachel picked me up at the ferry terminal.  We rode around Zhongshan on a bunch of buses (they apparently don’t have a subway system yet), had dinner, visited the video store that hooks them up with bootlegged American rom-coms, etc.  In case her parents are reading this, her apartment is very nice and is in an extremely safe-looking neighborhood.  Honestly.  I didn’t do a very good job of taking pictures that evening, though.

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