We decided to take further advantage of Hong Kong’s excellent Metro system and visit some temples. Most fortunately the station a few metres from our doorstep is where two lines meet and this makes it even easier for us. I really wanted to visit the Wong Tai Sin temple, and a nunnery that I’d seen a picture of in our guide. And they were only a few stations away – no more than about 15 minutes on the metro.
We went first to Wong Tai Sin temple, conveniently located opposite Wong Tai Sin station. Wong Tai Sin is a Taoist temple and is the primary temple for marriage ceremonies. However, no one was getting married when we visited and fair enough – who would want to be getting married in heat like this?
The temple itself was quite large, and clearly very popular. As we entered – with a good number of others – we were greeted by lines of red and yellow lanterns strung above the courtyard before the temple proper. People milled around buying and lighting incense sticks, congregating before the temple to pray. Worshippers mingled with voyeurs carrying umbrellas while John and I tried our best to avoid being stabbed in the face by said umbrellas. I’ve never known people to take so little care with their umbrellas. Seriously, in Hong Kong they are dangerous and should be categorised as deadly weapons.
The temple was, as usual, mostly decorated in gold and red. Statues of lions and dragons and birds guarded the entrance, along with human security on the sides to prevent unauthorised access. The heat of the day mixed with the smoky scent of sandalwood and the sickly sweet smell of sweat. The sun shone down harshly in the courtyard, and we made a reasonably quick exit to the side. A smaller chapel was there with a couple praying before it.
An archway bore a sign indicating a garden awaited beyond, and we took a left there. A few steps up and we were greeted with an unbelievably peaceful scene – an artificial lake, with bridges leading to a small pagoda and shady trees. The water bore lilies as well as a few small fountains, and piles of turtles again seemed to all be fighting over the few pieces of dry land. Signs practically everywhere warned of fines and possible imprisonment for releasing fish or terrapins into the water; we’ve seen so many of these it seems that Hong Kong must have a serious problem with pet turtle abandonment.
Behind the gardens and the artificial waterfall loomed more apartment buildings, and while we’re getting used to the contrast it still seems bizarre that such a serene place can exist in the midst of a densely populated concrete jungle. Pathways led to different parts of the garden and, enjoying the shade and the respite from the craziness of the city we explored each one.
Back onto the metro, we went a whole stop further to Diamond Hill station from where it’s a short walk to a fairly new Buddhist nunnery. Chu Lin Nunnery was renovated in 199o in Tang Dynasty style, and while constructed entirely of wood apparently no nails were used. We had to enter from above ground level, and upon stepping through the open doors we were met with yet another bizarrely tranquil and strangely silent scene. Walls enclose a square courtyard filled with orderly rows of bonsai trees, all around a metre tall and beautifully manicured. They contrast wonderfully with the darkly painted wood and sharply angled design of the building, with their rounded bulbs of leaves.
Centred in each side, facing a cardinal direction, was a shrine with various Buddha statues in various guises, with bodhisattvas and offerings of fruit. No photographs were allowed to disrupt the sanctity of the space. We virtually tiptoed around, speaking only in whispers. The nunnery was almost devoid of visitors at the time, with only a few people praying before two of the shrines. And once again, behind the nunnery apartment buildings sat as if in a painting.
Across the walkway, steps lead down to the beautiful Nan Lian Gardens. This was where the picture in the guidebook had been taken. In the middle of a circular pond sits a lone golden pagoda, which apparently symbolises perfection. On the north and south sides, an arched bridge lead from the path to the temple, but both were closed off to visitors. The gardens around boast tall, leafy trees and make the pagoda appear as an oasis, beyond the reach of the ordinary.
We’d been given a small minion from Despicable Me by a friend [apparently the minion’s name is Stuart – I haven’t seen the movie] and had brought him with us on this day. Stuart of course also had to pose – surprisingly difficult as the damn thing has absolutely no balance – for a few photos here.
We explored the gardens for some time, watching as a fine mist seeps out from the rocks. Music wafts through the garden from poorly-hidden speakers, and the atmosphere is one of tranquility. I’m starting to get used to the surprisingly peaceful nature of Hong Kong’s manicured parks and gardens, and can appreciate how important they are in a city of Hong Kong’s small physical size and incredibly dense population.
After meandering through the gardens, we went back to the metro station to head to Kowloon Bay. There’s nothing of interest there, however John wanted a photo with the sign as apparently in Call of Duty there’s a map called Kowloon Bay. Of course, we forgot to actually take the photo!