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Topic: Tasting The Spice Of South East Asia Day 5

  1. #1
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    Default Tasting The Spice Of South East Asia Day 5

    I was awake for a bit in the middle of the night again, but after reading for a bit, I went back to sleep until just before 7. Graham was awake as well. We got up and ready. I checked again if there were any station closures that way affect us and also checked if there was any trouble to be expected. Since we had arrived, all the issues apart from some petty vandalism that may or may not have been linked to the protests, was concentrated on a university in Kowloon. This was still the case and it looked like this could come to an end as well. There was nothing in the MTR service updates or the news that concerned me. I quickly plotted our route and then we headed out.

    We did make a little detour. Where we were headed that day is about as rural as it gets in Hong Kong. I had spotted the day before that there were baskets containing bottles of mosquito repellent on the umbrellas by the pool for everyone to use. After I was feeding the local mosquito population on the Saturday, I had no intention becoming dinner again. We went down to the pool to spray some on all of our skin that was not covered by clothes. Then we headed to the bus stop. A bus was just leaving as we came down the hill. We sat down on a bench and noticed that there was mosquito repellent at the bus stop, too. Had we known this; we would have made that bus. Still, we were not on any timetable and the next bus arrived only about 5 minutes later.

    From this point onwards, everything worked like clockwork. We had to use 5 different MTR lines to get to our destination and we stayed on each of them only for a short while. The shortest stretch was one stop and the longest was 4 stops. The resort line pulled in as we came down the stairs to the platform and at all but the last interchange station either the connecting train was waiting for us or was just pulling in. We were also lucky that with the exception of the first and the last interchange, the platform was just opposite. When we made the last change, this was a bit of a hike changing from one of the underground MTR lines to the over ground East Rail Line. On the way, we had a quick bathroom stop. When we got to the new platform, we had about a 10-minute wait before our train pulled in. Even though we were only on that train for two stops, we covered the most distance on this stretch as the stations on the East Rail Line are further apart.

    Our destination that morning was Sha Tin in the New Territories. Sha Tin is the town with the highest population in the New Territories. Originally a market town, it is nowadays absolutely packed with shopping centres. Parts of this town are also famous for their street food. Sha Tin also made the news as this was one of the first places where the ongoing protests turned violent. The close proximity of a number of universities probably had something to do with this. Fortunately, all was quiet when we were there. Sha Tin had not seen any protests since the end of September and the next time things kicked off there was just before Christmas.

    We were not there for the shopping, the food or to look for trouble. We had a specific destination in mind - the 10000 Buddhas Monastery. Having said that, before we started our way up the mountain, we needed some food. There was a bakery at the station, and I decided to see if they had some pineapple buns. Pineapple buns do not contain pineapple. They are a plain sweet bun with a topping that is similar to the dough sugar cookies are made of. The way the topping looks on the finished product is said to resemble the outside of a pineapple. Personally, I dont really get this, but the topping is definitely looking very unique. In the bakery, they had buns that had this kind of topping, but they were bigger than the pineapple buns I had before and an oval shape rather than round. They also came with all kinds of different fillings. They were called Polo Buns. I got us a bun with a sweet coconut filling each and they were absolutely delicious. When I was on the train on the way back, I Googled Polo Buns and it turned out that I had got my wish to have a pineapple bun after all. Apparently, Polo is Cantonese for pineapple.

    I had read in a number of different places that the 10000 Buddhas Monastery is a bit of hidden gem and the photos I had seen while doing my research definitely looked tempting. We decided to check this out on this trip. Hidden is the operative word here. There are no signposts to the 10000 Buddhas Monastery anywhere in Sha Tin. The reason given for this varies. One version refers to a major landslide in 1997 in which one of the caretakers was killed when her house was completely covered by the mudslide. The 10000 Buddhas Monastery did not fully reopen until 2000. In 1998 the Department for Civil Engineering published to independent reports stating that the upkeep of the hillside overlooking the monastery was inadequate. Another version states that works started in 2007 to install signposts directing people to the 10000 Buddhas Monastery. This version states that this work was suspended when the building department asked the Hong Kong Tourism Board not to promote the monastery as they had concerns about some of the building work. I am sure the truth is a mix of those two theories. Fact is, they have done a good job. Unless you know where the 10000 Buddhas Monastery is or have good instructions on how to find it, you would never know it is there. Fortunately, I had access to the later. What does not help either is the fact that nearby are the Po Fook Hill Ancestral Halls. Po Fook Hill Ancestral Halls is Hong Kongs largest crematorium and cemetery. There are a number of temples, a pagoda, shrines and ponds within its grounds. By all accounts, this looks quite pretty, but apparently, they are getting a steady stream of people that are very disappointed that they cannot find the buddhas.

    The access to the 10000 Buddhas Monastery is rather strange. After following the main road for a while, you have to turn down a small road that just looks like a service road leading to a parking structure. When you get to the parking structure, you just seem to be at a dead end. I knew that the access to the 10000 Buddhas Monastery was to the left of this, but again, this is not at all obvious. We had to climb over a small wall and there seemed to be nothing there, but a jungle. My instructions had stated that once you were on the path, there would be signs directing you to the 10000 Buddhas Monastery. They seemed to have disappeared and we were not quite sure which way we needed to turn. I left Graham at the end of the path while I went to see if I could figure this out. My instincts had guided me in the right direction and within a few meters I saw signs warning people of fake monks begging in this area. I had read about these signs before so knew I was in the right place. I went back to get Graham. Just as soon as we were past those signs, we saw the first buddha statues. We started our trek up the mountain.

    It takes 431 stairs or very steep ramp to get up to the monastery. Fortunately, the stairs are quite shallow. The stairs are also lined with 500 gold buddha statues. Each of them is unique. Apparently, there are usually monkeys in the area, but unfortunately, we did not see any. At regular intervals on the way, there are benches to have a rest. Me made good use of those. It did not take too long to get to the lower terrace. There is a small gift shop on the left as soon as you enter the lower terrace and we both a bottle of water for Graham and a can of sugarcane juice for me. I was introduced to this on our first visit to Hong Kong and it will never cease to amaze me how refreshing this is. We found a bench in the shade and rehydrated. Then we had a look around the lower terrace.















  2. #2
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    The kind people of Hong Kong seem to have a real passion for giving things names that are not in the least bit accurate. The 10000 Buddhas Monastery is another example of this. The only monks that you can sometimes find at the 10000 Buddhas Monastery are the fake monks the signs warned us about. There were not even any fake monks that day. The complex is managed by laypeople, but they definitely seem to be very dedicated.

    The 10000 Buddhas Monastery was founded in 1951 by The Reverend Yuet Kai, a lyre player and poet from Kumming in Mainland China, who had dedicated his life to Buddhism from the age of 19. It took 6 years to complete. Although he died 1965 at the age of 87 years, he is still present at the temple today. No, I don’t mean this in the spiritual sense. He is actually physically present. He was buried for 8 months on the hillside, before his body was exhumed. It was completely intact, so according to his wishes, his followers embalmed the body with Chinese lacquer, covered it in gold leaf and robes and placed it in the lotus position.in a glass case in front of the main altar in the main hall of the temple with the very poetic Chinese title “Diamond Indestructible Body of Yuexi.” The English version does not have quite the same ring about it. His followers claimed that the fact his body was completely intact after 8 months is a result of the seated lotus position, he was buried in. The press claimed that he was embalmed before being buried. I had read about this before our visit and just shook my head. In the end it was not half as creepy as I had thought. Even though I was fully aware of what is in that glass case and the signage left no doubt about this either, it just looked like another statue.



    However, I am getting ahead of myself. Once we had finished our drinks, we had a look around the lower terrace. There was quite a bit of ongoing construction near the gift shop, but none near the pagoda. You can go up the stairs in the pagoda, but we passed. Instead we admired it from the outside and had the look around the terrace. There were some stunning views over the valley. Unfortunately, the position of the sun made taking photos impossible. Between the main hall and the Pagoda, dotted around the terrace, are 18 life-size states that represent Buddhas most important students.


















    Once we had finished, exploring the terrace, I went to check out the main hall. Graham decided to sit this out. The outside of the main hall is very plain. It is just a plain square building painted red with some gold Chinese characters and a couple of Chinese dragons decorating the outside. From the outside, this is the least impressive temple I have seen before and after. I think a lot of people just pass this by as it looks so unimpressive. If I had not known that this was the main hall, I think I would have bypassed this as well. That would have been a crying shame. The inside of the main hall is breathtakingly beautiful. The place is positively dripping with gold and has some very impressive crystal chandeliers. The main hall is also known as the 10000 Buddhas Hall. The walls of the hall are lined with 12800 buddha statues. The statues are 12 inches tall, ceramic covered in gold and supposedly each statue has a different pose and expression. I did not count them, nor did I have a close enough look to check if they are really all unique. However, the overall effect of all those statues is absolutely stunning. I was thinking that this is another example of something else that is named not very accurately, but apparently the Cantonese word for 10000 also has a secondary meaning of a very large number. I can definitely attest to the fact that there is a very large number of buddhas in that hall.








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    Once I had finished looking around, I went to find Graham. We were considering for a moment or two if we should head to the upper terrace. It takes further 69 stairs to get there and those stairs were a lot steeper than the ones leading from Sha Tin to the monastery. We came to the conclusion that as we were here, we might as well. I think once upon the time, this was the more beautiful of the two terraces. However, when we visited there was not a great deal there. There were a couple of houses and the Amitabha Hall. Apart from this, there were just building fences and you could see some derelict buildings peeking out behind them. They are trying hard to fortify the hillside to prevent the buildings from sliding down the hill, but unfortunately, I think they are fighting a losing battle.







    The Amitabha Hall was again very impressive. There another huge amount of buddhas in this hall, but this time in the shape of gold plaques. This hall has two floors and centrepiece is a huge statue of the Amitabha Buddha. Although I preferred the Hall of the 10000 Buddhas, this was still very beautiful and there was a certain serenity in this place. I found out later that this was no ordinary temple, but a columbarium. It was this space that got the 10000 Buddhas Monastery into a lot of hot water in 2010. At that time, he 10000 Buddhas Monastery was one of 52 private columbarium operators to be involved in a dispute with the Government of Hong Kong, who implicated them of "violating planning rules and land leases”. They were in good company as Po Lin and a number of other high-profile temples were also caught up in this. The way this was handled makes me smile as this showed the kind of common-sense practicality that seems to be so common in Chinese culture. The Hong Kong government drew up a blacklist of the effected operators. Other than that, no action was taken. They did not even stop them marketing their columbarium. I suppose they knew full well that although they were illegal and in breach of all kinds of regulations, they are actually solving a major headache for the government.





    Even though I did really like the Amitabha Hall, I did not really feel this warranted the effort climbing 69 very steep stairs. I did however soon change my mind when I came across an amazing view. As I came down the stairs, the pagoda was framed between some ancient looking trees and a group of Buddhas. It also had some mountains in the background. The resulting photo was worth the climb.



    When we got back to the lower terrace, me made our way back to Sha Tin. This was a lot quicker and easier than I had expected. Around the halfway mark, Graham asked if I wanted a rest, but I was fine, and we pushed on. There was an ulterior motive behind that decision. There is a branch of Heytea at the local shopping mall. Heytea is something we came across at Disneytown at Shanghai Disneyland in 2018. There is a lot of hype around this chain. They specialise in cheese tea. I know this does not sound particularly appetising, but curiosity got the better of me and I had to find out what all the fuss was about. Well, I was absolutely blown away by this. I had chosen a Jasmine green tea as my base, which was topped with a mix of cream cheese, milk and just a sprinkling of salt to balance the flavours. The topping reminded me of cheesecake and the richness of this was balanced perfectly with the fragrant and refreshing tea. I was instantly hooked. I was delighted when I realised that I could combine our visit to the 10000 Buddhas Monastery with getting a cup of cheese tea.

    Unfortunately, even the best plans do not always work out. The shopping mall we were looking for, New Town Plaza, consists of multiple phases. This was the first little irritation. Just after turning back into the main road through Sha Tin, we saw a building that had the New Town Plaza logo on it. We headed inside. I knew that Heytea is located in phase one of New Town Plaza but had no clue as to the layout. Graham went to the bathroom and I went to the information desk. I found out that phase one was a completely different building that was not linked to the building we were in. I was advised to head back to the station and look for exit A, which would then take me to the right building. As soon as we were on the station concourse, I saw the familiar Heytea logo on some windows. The access to phase one of New Town Plaza was actually inside the station. This shopping mall is a complete rabbit warren with multiple levels and all kinds of twists and turns. There was also no sign of a store directory either in paper format or on screens. I had absolutely no idea where we needed to go. Fortunately, they have a great website and I noticed that we were on the right level and just around the corner from where we wanted to be. Unfortunately, when we got there, all we found was closed shutters. I quickly double-checked the unit number and we were definitely in the right place. I was not going to get my cheese tea that day.





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    We were ready for some lunch, but New Town Plaza is a rather upscale mall, and this is also reflected in the choice of dining options. We decided that we may as well push on to our next destination, Diamond Hill, which is a bit more down to earth. There is also a huge shopping mall called Plaza Hollywood right by the station and we hoped that this would have a food court. This decision turned out to be a tactical error. The trip back was very smooth and with only one change required to get to Diamond Hill, this did not take very long. Unfortunately, we initially took the wrong exit and landed in the middle of a building site. After backtracking, we found the right exit and the shopping mall Plaza Hollywood. In fact, there were escalators to the shopping mall before you even exited the station. What we never did find was a food court or much may the way of eating options for that matter. All we could find were a couple of kiosks selling popcorn and ice cream. We decided to give up.

    The reason we had come to Diamond Hill was to visit Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery. This had been one of the highlights of our visit to Hong Kong for me the previous year and I definitely wanted to go back. Graham’s knees had objected to all the stairs they had to climb in the morning and although Nan Lian Gardens are not too big, there was still a fairly substantial bit of walking involved. He decided to head back to the hotel. I was a little torn. Part of me wanted to go back with him, but part of me wanted to press on with the original plan. I knew that this would be my last chance to visit Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery this trip. With no clear plans on when we would return, I was afraid that I would regret if I had got so close and not visited. I said goodbye to Graham and headed up the short flight of stairs that leads up to Nan Lian Gardens.



    Hindsight is always a beautiful thing. With hindsight, I would probably have been better of going back to the hotel with Graham. I would have spared myself a big disappointment. The first warning sign should have been that as I entered, the area seemed to be completely empty. I could not see another soul anywhere. When we were there the previous year, it was not exactly overrun either. It is a bit of the beaten track and not well publicised. It did not take long for me to realise that all is not well. Paths were blocked off and detour signs were everywhere. The parts of the garden that were accessible where not an unmitigated joy either. Large parts of the gardens were hidden behind building fences. The moat by the golden pavilion had been drained as had the various ponds. The waterfalls and the mill had been turned off. At a careful estimate, only about one third of the gardens were accessible and most of that was still affected by the building work. There were only three areas that did not seem to be affected at all - the architectural museum by the entrance, the pavilion with changing exhibitions and ironically the gift shop.





    I had read a couple of days earlier that there is a tea house at Nan Lian Gardens. I am not sure how this escaped us the previous year especially as I had been bemoaning the fact that decent tea that does not come out of a tea bag is hard to come by in Hong Kong. My plan had always been to check out this tea house. Considering the state, the gardens were in on this visit, I was not optimistic that I would find this tea house and if I did, that it would be open. I was overjoyed when I saw a sign saying, “Access for customers of the tea house only”. I headed in that direction, but before I could get very far, I was intercepted by a security guard. She asked me if I was heading to the tea house, which I confirmed. She then asked me if I was planning on drinking tea. I found this a bit odd as surely that is what one does at a tea house. Again, I confirmed this. She then told me to wait. She headed off to speak to somebody with a clipboard, spoke to somebody else and then went back to the guy with the clipboard. I stood around there for about 10 minutes without anybody telling me what the issue was or me getting any closer to the tea house. I have to admit, at this stage I walked off in a huff. I had the distinct feeling that some racial profiling had been going on. I don’t think they could get their head around that a white woman may appreciate a good Chinese tea. Fact is that I probably drink as much Chinese tea as they do. I also have developed a taste for premium teas and tend to spend a good chunk of money on tea when I visit China or Hong Kong.

    I pushed on towards the bridge leading to Chi Lin Nunnery. There was more life there and this visit did not disappoint. I spent a good half an hour enjoying the courtyards and looking at the various halls. There are also plaques outside each hall explaining what you can see and what the purpose of everything is. I thoroughly enjoyed this visit.





    Once I had seen everything at Chi Lin Nunnery, I headed back to the station. There I finally got my tea. There was a kiosk selling milk tea just next to the entrance of the station. I chose a Jasmine milk tea and had the largest size they did. This hit the spot. Then I headed back to the hotel. The journey was very smooth again. When I checked my emails, I noticed that I had received an email prompting me to check in for our flight to Singapore. I did not need to be asked twice. I managed to snag to seats right at the back of the plane where there are only two seats by the window. I was very happy with this.

    When I changed onto the resort line, I suddenly realised that I had not taken any photos of the train. Fortunately, I realised this before I got off as this was the last time, I was leaving the Disney bubble before heading back to the airport. As the resort line only connects two stations and therefore does not take very long, by the time I had my photos it was time to get off. I wandered over to the coach station and waited a few minutes for my shuttle to arrive.



    When I got back to the hotel, I noticed that Graham had used a luggage tag tied to the door handle to let me know he was by the pool. I had enough heat for the day. I stretched out on the bed for a while and rehydrated using the free water in the room. I checked in on Facebook and then read for a while. When there was still no sign of Graham an hour later, I decided to head down to the pool. Graham had turned into a sun worshiper and seemed to be very happy on a lounger. I found myself a lounger further along in the shade and settled down. I only moved again when the local mosquito population decided it was dinner time and I was it.






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    We went back to our room and Graham had a nap. I decided to read for a bit. I had noticed earlier in the day that Paint the Night was scheduled that evening at 19:30. This was the first time it had run since we arrived in Hong Kong. I had a park day planned for the next day. However, there was no guarantee that this would run again the next day. I also have become a lightweight when it comes to theme parks. I am usually ready to throw in the towel by about 16:00. I decided to go that evening. I was planning to be the park by 18:00, grab a bite to eat and maybe do a couple of rides before watching Paint the Night. I was a little chilly, so I crawled under the covers. The next thing I knew was that I woke up just after 18:00 hugging my iPad. Still, things worked out. Between some speedy legwork, the bus turning up just as I approached the bus stop and nobody waiting at bag check or the turnstiles, I was inside the park by 18:30.



    I headed over to Tomorrowland. There are two restaurants there. Comet Plaza is serving various Chinese, Korean and Japanese dishes. This would have been my first choice. There is also Starliner Diner, which serves more typical theme park food like burgers and chicken nuggets. Unfortunately, both of them were closed. I did not fancy my chances that anything in the other lands would be open. I headed over to Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle! instead. This was a walk on. I did this once and then I decided to go and find a spot for the parade.

    On previous visits, I had watched Paint the Night from either the hub or the top of Main Street. This time round I decided to get a spot as close to Town Square as I could manage. I managed to get a kerbside spot at the bottom of Main Street in front of the Emporium. I could not believe my luck. The drawback with that location is that it takes a while until the parade gets there. The advantage is that you can make a very swift exit afterwards and can get ahead of the crowd for the buses.



    I killed some time getting caught up on Facebook and posted some photos from the day. It did not seem to take too long until the lights in our area were dimmed and the music started. I have seen this parade quite a lot between Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, but I still had some tears in my eyes when I heard the familiar music. I thoroughly enjoyed this again. They had tweaked a few elements since last year. It was nice that they keep this fresh.











    [url=https://flic.kr/p/2i3UdpS][/url
















    When the parade finished, I had a clear path to the exit. I was held up very briefly at the turnstiles, but soon I was on my way to the bus station. Even though I had a head start, there were already a lot of people at the bus stop for my hotel. I thought I would have to wait for the next bus. The bus arrived shortly afterwards and to my surprise, I did not only manage to get on, but even got a seat. I was back in the room by 20:30. Graham was still fast asleep. I got ready for bed, posted the photo of the day and then I settled down for the night, too.





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    Wow, what a full and up-and-down day!! The 10000 Buddhas Monastery seems quite extraordinary, but then some of your other adventures were quite the opposite! Amazing not to be able to find good tea, too And that performance with the staff at Nan Lian gardens was absolutely baffling. Why wouldn't they want you to try the tea house?? But a very fitting finale with the Parade, and a spectacular one, too

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    What an amazing day. I doubt I could have done those stairs though. Some fantastic photos too. Cheese tea? Well I can't get my head around that but I love cheese and tea so maybe I would like it!
    What strange antics from the staff at the gardens because you wanted to go and have some tea.
    A great finish with the parade, shame you couldn't find anything to eat.

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    The monastery and Pain't the night both sounded and looked excellent, the rest of your day doesn't sound as good.

    Did I miss it, or did you not actually get to eat at all that day?
    5 Trips to Florida, Christmas in LA, Disneyland Paris twice and odd days here and there.

    All my trip reports are now HERE.


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    What a day! So many ups, so many downs, but ultimately it sounded like you got a lot out of the day.

    I had to look up the pineapple buns, and I agree, I don't really see a pineapple in that, but they do look yummy! I'm intrigued by the sugarcane juice, too.

    What an incredible experience, with the gold Buddahs. This is something we wouldn't want to miss if we went to Hong Kong. What a gem!

    When I was writing the first edition of The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, Prince (sometimes called King) Min of Qi really captured my imagination. It's cool to see him there on the ends of the rooftops, guarded by animals.

    Baffling about the tea house, though. I think I would have thought there was no one to serve, and they were trying to rustle up an employee, which would have been a turn-off for me, anyway. I'd have left, too.












    Midlife: when the Universe grabs your shoulders and tells you Im not messing around, use the gifts you were given.

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