Adventures in China’s New Territories 1: Ten Thousand Buddhas

On the path

Pam on the path

My sister Pam is a teacher for international schools. For the last three years she’s been located in the Hong Kong area. It’s a great place to visit: the languages are Cantonese and English, the transportation system is so simple that anyone can feel clever using it, and contrasts between modernity and tradition are everywhere you look.

Pam and her family live in the New Territories. This part of China is on the mainland north of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is the most densely and vertically populated city on the planet, the New Territories are still relatively quiet. The landscape consists of steep, lush jungle peaks that end in bays and inlets.

Hong Kong Island

The vertical density of Hong Kong

The view from my sister's apartment in China's New Territories

The view from their apartment near Sai Kung

The region is growing, and changing fast. On the bus from the apartment we pass villages on hillsides or tucked into hamlets and harbors. Several floating villages of traditional houseboats are minutes away. And then the high rises suddenly appear, row after row after row.

There are lots more that look just like these

There are lots more that look just like these

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So did you hear the one where the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest, and the Jewish rabbi enter a temple…

It’s not far to Man Fat Tsz, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. It was founded by the devout layman Venerable Yuexi (the Chinese月溪法師; pinyin: yuè xī). Building began in 1949 as Yuexi and his disciples carried everything up from the foot of the mountain. For eighteen years they constructed the buildings – and 12,800 Buddha statues.

IMG_6471You head up through a bamboo forest and statues line both sides of the path to the monastery. IMG_6442There are roughly 500 Arhan [1] statues in plastic, painted gold. Each one is unique. IMG_6462IMG_6445IMG_6464IMG_6465IMG_6449IMG_6461

Their expressions represent the experience of enlightenment. Other statues await once you reach the summit. (Click on any of the thumbnail photos for a closer look.)

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I felt like I was in a tacky Buddhist Disneyland until I got to the top and entered the main temple. Before the altar is a glass case, and it contains Venerable Yuexi’s preserved body! His body (still perfectly intact) was exhumed eight months after his April 24, 1965 death. Yuexi was next embalmed with Chinese lacquer, his head and face covered in gold leaf. The Diamond Indestructible Body of Yuexi’s robed corpse sits in the lotus position. I was oddly moved by his preserved body: with the sight, I had a glimpse of religious truth. [2]

IMG_6492IMG_6546IMG_6545IMG_6551That feeling became surreal as we headed back to the bus stop.

This pagoda appears on the HK$100 banknote

This pagoda appeared on Hong Kong’s $100 banknotes

IMG_6516IMG_6504We climbed down a different set of steps past my least favorite creatures: wild monkeys.

IMG_6574And from the meditative hillside of Ten Thousand Buddhas, we neared and then entered the shopping mall complex at Sha Tin.

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Sha Tin shopping mall

Sha Tin shopping mall

As I say, the New Territories has both the traditional and the modern. They all line the same path.

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NOTES: [1] To quote Wikipedia, “…in Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat (Sanskrit: अर्हत् arhat; Pali: arahant; “one who is worthy”) is a “perfected person” who has attained nirvana. In other Buddhist traditions the term has also been used for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment.”

[2] Taking pictures inside the temple is not allowed.

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the images. Uwe’s photos of our earlier trips to Hong Kong and mainland China and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

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15 thoughts on “Adventures in China’s New Territories 1: Ten Thousand Buddhas

    • Thanks, Barb! I will never understand why tourists think feral monkeys are cute. This monkey was with a troop in trees on the other side of a chain link fence. When one of them easily hopped the fence I knew it was time to move along….

  1. Jadi, Love this post! I want to see these when I get there in November. I added on Guilin and Hong Kong to the Viking River Cruise, and now I can’t wait to get there. Of course, I have to get thru Boston and Cape Cod, then Iceland and Norway first! I don’t suppose there is any hope that you would be visiting Pammy toward the middle of November, is there? —Diana

    • Hi Travel Buddy! I just got home, so once I’m settled back in I’ll write you a long email about what you have to see. (To do that, it really will be a long email!) Great to see your comment here.

  2. Mind-boggling. Both the Buddhas (I like your Disneyland comment), and the vertical living arrangements. I know it’s necessary, but it’s unimaginable.
    I recently saw a program about the Shanghai Tower, a “vertical city.”

    • They were building it when we were in Shanghai a couple years ago. All the high rise apartment buildings in Hong Kong are intense, while the new sky scrapers in Shanghai are in a class of their own… PS: Your message reminds me I want to write a post about the World Expo 2010 we visited in Shanghai!

    • Hi! My two and a half weeks exploring the New Territories were a perfect storm of festivals (the birthday of Tin Hau, the Goddess of the Sea), discovering beautiful sites (a temple to the God of Medicine), terrific meals (the Hong Kong area has amazing restaurants) and the modern and traditional banging up against one another everywhere you look. I’ve already written 6 (!) blog posts about my trip! The above-mentioned topics will be showing up on this blog. Please come back again to visit as all of these posts have been scheduled. PS: Your blog is wonderful. I’m now following it!

  3. Fascinating post. I’ve hardly traveled at all. I loved the photos–all the expressions on the (somewhat tacky) statues were amazing. That monkey reminds me of the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. Yikes!

  4. Thank you for this great post. I was fully entertained by your experience traveling to this part of the world.

    • Hi Lynn, I had a blast. Even the 95% humidity was okay (I sweated off all my winter weight). My sister and I had so much fun! I already have 4 more posts written so watch this space for more to come. Glad you’re being entertained! 🙂

  5. Fascinating post…. I knew the New Territories fifty years ago ! They were empty, peaceful and beautiful then. I used to go to Sha-tin to buy coloured beach towels from a factory there, and then walk for miles along deserted pristine beaches.
    The nearest high rises were in Kowloon, and the noise inside was deafening with the un-ending sounds and hum of humanity

    • Valerie, it must have really been something to see fifty years ago. The beaches are still surprisingly empty but buildings are going up fast. Sha Tin is now a huge settlement with a series of mega-malls. I got lost in them trying to find my way to an exit for the local history museum. The New Territories is of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited!

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