‘One court, three yards, and three doors’

Our third day in Hong Kong saw us heading towards the mainland of China aboard the Tsuen Wan train rumbling under the harbour towards the grittier, more urban district of Hong Kong, known as ‘Kowloon’. It would be a day of monasteries, temples and markets away from many popular tourist traps, spent instead seeking out some of the real Hong Kong.

Chin Lin Nunnery (Tang Dynasty style) and not a nail in sight.

With Diamond Hill as our destination and a map in hand we were dead eager to reach our goal. Our goal being the Chin Lin Nunnery, its said of the nunnery that not a single nail had been used in its construction, also that it is a perfect reproduction of Tang Dynasty style architecture. 95,000 pieces of timber amazingly were used in its construction, and it follows the rules of feng shui to the letter. Upon arrival we quickly discovered that we were not going to be disappointed by this amazing place!

The old and the new (the Nunnery sits against a backdrop of skyscrapers).

The nunnery which opened its doors in 2000 became a reality thanks in main to donations from wealthy local Hong Kong families who (in return) would have their names inscribed under the roof tiles when it came to be built. The building as a result is a fine example of Middle Kingdom architecture and is a real rarity. The main buildings of the complex face the sea and back onto mountains in a style known as “one court, three yards, and three doors” which follows a classic feng shui template. The halls are adorned with flamboyant images of the Buddha all set off against a backdrop of beautiful gardens consisting of bonsai trees and perfect deep green manicured lawns.

Lotus ponds and bonsai trees abound in the courtyards of Chin Lin.

We quietly entered the first yard of the nunnery with its large lotus ponds and various bonsai plants all laid out to pattern. The area appeared so peaceful and so incredibly serene. The nunnery’s gardeners stood by trimming the bonsai trees and tending to the grass, the scene was oh so picture perfect. Walking along the colonnaded corridors we approached the second door which leads to the Hall of Celestial Kings which has an image of Maitreya Buddha, a saviour of humanity no less. Maitreya sits surrounded by various images of kings holding spears, staffs swords and various weaponry to defend him.

Collanaded corridors abound linking areas of the nunnery.

At the end of the next yard sits the magnificent Main Hall. This is by far the largest and most impressive building in the structure and here are some of the reasons why – 28 columns of cedar support 28,000 tiles which weigh in excess of 160 tons and not a nail holds any of this in place, instead an ancient and elaborate bracketing system transfers the load gradually across all the columns.

As I stood underneath this immensely heavy structure I trusted to the centuries old traditions of Chinese craftsmanship, looking up as I was at its mighty eaves way above me, feeling oh so small and oh so fragile at the same time. If you can forget you own frail construction for a moment inside the Main Hall once again there is an impressive golden image of the Buddha in all his pomp, very typical I understand of the Tang period which this whole complex was built so beautifully to portray.

We stood silently and gazed longingly at the architectural wonders that were on display all around us and realised just how lucky we were to be able to see this with our own eyes.

Next door to the nunnery is the amazing Nan Lian Garden a beautifully landscaped area of bridges, rock pools, cascading waterfalls and wooden pavilions. We exited the nunnery and wandered around this maze of immaculately kept stone pathways encountering hidden gems of landscape gardening at each and every turn.

Luckily (and thankfully for it was not the weekend), the so-called ‘garden ambassadors’ who shall we say can be – over attentive –  especially on crowded days and have a tendency to usher you around at break neck speeds helping you to miss the finer aspects of the garden were not in attendance for our visit, so, we were able to wander at will. We wandered and gazed at the giant carp in the ponds and sniffed the radiant flora completely unhindered and un-ushered, much to our delight.

The centrepiece Golden Pagoda in the Nan Lian Gardens.
Chilling, unhurried and un-ushered amidst the beautiful gardens.

Nan Lians serenity  was in great contrast to our next destination though, the famous and maybe infamous Wong Tai Sin Temple!

You want to see crazy mister? You want to see mad? These two questions echoed in my head in a dodgy mock Hong Kong accent as I headed onto the MTR for the all together grittier destination of Wong Tai.

Crowds, incense, burning prayers and Bamboo fortune sticks, the Wong Tai temple experience.

Wong Tai Temple is totally devoted to money, more importantly though the resident deity has the unique ability to grant wishes for money! As with anything to do with money, (especially in Hong Kong) this makes it a very popular destination indeed. Wong himself sits in judgement in the main temple building under a canopy of bright yellow tiles ready and waiting to grant your wish.

We bumped and barged our way through the madding crowds in the general direction of the plaza and a spot in front of the main hall. We were then funnelled along involuntarily by the mob, our feet hardly touching the ground, eventually we had to give in and let ourselves be swept up in the frenzy that was all around us. In time we found ourselves deposited in the stone plaza area surrounded by what appeared to be fruit sellers.

However, after a second and closer inspection they instead turned out to be devotees of Wong himself, all eager and wanton to offer their wares to him. Their wares consisted of Yakult bio drinks, bruised melons assorted grapefruits and the occasional cheesy Ritz type biscuit! Whether these were indeed for Wong himself, or for the monks who attend the temple I could not rightly discern, either way it is a varied diet to say the least!

A constant stream of devotees offer praise to Wong.

Amidst the din of rattling chim sticks we found a less crowded corner and stood for a while soaking in the cacophony and madness that was all around us. The fortune-telling booths that aligned the arcade just a few steps below us were all eager to predict our fortunes based upon which bamboo stick we had cast onto the ground in the plaza to our right.

Alas, we would have to give the fortune tellers a miss, as the last thing we could get near was the table selling fortune sticks. It looked as if my fortune would be to stay in poverty as I neither came with offerings for Wong or initiated a fortune being told by purchasing bamboo sticks, (is it me or do you always have to part with money to find out whether you are going to get wealthy or not!) and does that not somehow defeat the whole object in the first place?

Wong, or the monks, like to keep their stomachs regular judging by the Yakult.

Finally unable to take anymore and escaping the din and total madness of the temple we exited stage left via the quieter temple gardens and assorted terrapin pools to the more sedate surrounds of the street of all places. With heads thumping to the sound of rattling chim sticks we disappeared back down into the warren of tunnels that is the MTR.

Mistakenly for me at this point if I had thought that I had seen enough madness for one day then I was gravely mistaken. My better looking half had already decided on a quick diversion for us both via the ubiquitous Ladies Market in Mong Kok district, so it would take several hours and several knock backs by myself at bad attempts to sell me real fake Rolex’s or Armani gear before I reached the relative sanity of my hotel room.

The busy gridlocked streets around the start of The Ladies Market in Mong Kok.

Tomorrow I decided we would try to find something less manic to do in Hong Kong, we needed a getaway from our getaway so to speak, hmm … but what to do? Then it came to me, We shall escape to another island!!!! to be continued ………

Check out more photos of our amazing trip to Hong Kong over at: http://www.fluidr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets


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