Updated: Nov 1, 2021
The other day, after watching a report on the state of Hong Kong after the new laws on “sedition” were introduced, I was hit with the realisation that my trip there in 2017 was certainly my last to a “free” Hong Kong. Whenever I go back, if I go back, the atmosphere will never be the same as it was when I visited. With this in mind, I have decided to publish the parts of my diary concerned with Hong Kong here, that anyone who failed to visit before the bell tolled might catch a glimpse of how it was.
I’m sorry OK I’ve had busy days and I don’t have a lot of free time to write in here so just chill I’ll flesh it out later, on the plane if I have to!
Fucking Christ more Mariah Carey I’m so sick of this song it’s like a Black Mirror episode.
Right everyone’s pussy-footing around whether or not to go out tonight, so actually that stuff I said up there about being busy is kind of moot for now. Today
Turns out I was right the first time, so let me try again. Yesterday Jenny, Nat, and I left in the morning to find somewhere called ‘10,000 Buddhas’, supposedly a temple up in Sha Tin. I confess I spent most of the time whilst travelling there thinking up different jokes surrounding the punchline of ‘Sha Tin’, but none of them were good enough to vocalise. I passed on my role of ‘person who pretends to know where they’re going’ to Nat, who led us up what was supposed to be the temple. We could see statues of buddhas at the top, so why would we assume otherwise? Initially it didn’t look too bad either; a little arch, a pond half-filled (literally as there was a wall that divided it in two), with a whole lot of terrapins on the wrong side of the water. No one seemed to care. It wouldn’t be the last time I was sad after seeing the condition of animals here.
Anyway, we kept climbing up the stairs (‘there should only be 2,000 steps’, Jenny assured us) and as we did, we got a good idea of what Chinese cemeteries are like. I’m very unfamiliar with Chinese practices relating to death and remembrance, but from what I observed it looks a lot like ancestor worship? Or, if not, it certainly looked like there is a stress on the remembrance of dead family members. People, sometimes as groups and sometimes as individuals, would stand in front of a plaque with a picture of the deceased with an epitaph underneath, and offered food or a silent prayer, all supplemented with liberal amounts on incense. Dear Lord, the incense. If it had been anything else the fire department would have been called, there was so much smoke. Flakes of it were falling onto the steps in front of us and hanging baskets groaned under the weight of the ash inside. How much incense do you think is burnt in China each day? It’s absolutely everywhere. It’s even in the little shrines in the corridor outside the hostel!
We carried on walking up, not entirely bowled over by the architecture/ art on display, nor the presentation. Gold paint was flaking off the statues, and a woman talked loudly on the phone behind a desk in the statue chamber. So my reaction when we found out we were not in fact at the 10,000 buddhas was somewhere between outright laughter at the situation, and a kindled hope for something better. Plus, there were monkeys squabbling over an orange, so that was cool. Fortunately, the trip back down the hundreds of stairs was much quicker than the way up.
In our defence, the actual entrance to was pushed off to the very end of the street and looked very much like a disused alleyway. You know, with the broken metal fence leaning in and all the old plastic bottles with faded labels on the other side in of it the leafy grass? Like that. There was also a cage for catching monkeys on that side of the fence, which was a little unexpected. But there we were, the long walk up the actual hill with actually 10,000 buddhas on the way. And, unfortunately, the buddha statues on the way up were nowhere close to 10,000. Turns out they’re donations from different companies and individuals to the temple. So as you walk up the path, you’re flanked by weirdly characterised version of buddhas, all with different faces and fairly unique poses, and all painted gold. I’m afraid to say it all looked rather cheap. It was vaguely reminiscent of the plastic statues you might find at carnivals or tyre shops promoting discounts (if you wanted to get really specific, it reminded me of the guy they have standing outside of the We Fit Auto Centre on Mill Lane in Alton. Christ, who’s gonna get that reference? Even I only half-remembered it). The point was they weren’t very good. The only kind of impressive thing about them was how many there were, and the only one I enjoyed was one with a very worried expression holding something long, thick, and suspiciously shaped. It seemed too on-the-nose to be unintentional.
It took a little while climb up the rest of the way, and again I was rather underwhelmed by the reward. You’ll notice a pattern here. It honestly felt like a fairground. It didn’t feel like a temple at all to me, which is a terrible thing to say about anywhere of serious religious concern. The red paint on the wood had faded, the gold paint was flaking here too, and it all generally looked very cheap. Inside the main room of the temple was something close to 10,000 Buddhas (over 12,000 in fact) which were definitely cooler to look at. It kind of looked like 3D wallpaper. The founder of the site was encased in gold and set inside a glass case for worship. Dead, obviously. In life, he’d burnt off the third and fourth finger on his left hand and cut a hand-sized hole in his chest to show his dedication to Buddhism. ‘Dedication’ is certainly one way to describe it. The path carried on up, so we kept going, and eventually reached the very top. The reward for all that climbing was an overlarge white figure of the Buddha (I think) against a waterless waterfall and beside a glade filled with more of those garish gold statues. It was incredibly disappointing. And as the icing on the cake, when we got back down, a little way on from that monkey trap was a dead cat upside down with its legs straight in the air and its eyes and mouth wide open in shock. All this by 1:30.
I tried not to sleep on the sofa when we got back to the hostel, but I was slipping and eventually removed myself to the bed. But I felt bad about leaving everyone so I came out after about an hour and together with a few other people, led by the Taiwanese lady trying to convince me Tajikistan is the best place to be investing in right now, we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Guess what? It wasn’t that great. Fish skins? Whyy. Plus, the food I ordered wasn’t as advertised, and neither was the replacement order. If the fancy food I’d had for lunch earlier with Jenny and Nat hadn’t been more palatable then I’d’ve had a pretty uninspiring day. Surprised I’ve managed to write as much as I have on it.
Then today, Jenny, Aiden, Philip, and I travelled to Lamma, an island off the South-West of Hong Kong. Finally, I got to get out of the city for a bit and enjoy some fresh air. I can’t remember if I said I preferred Hong Kong to anywhere else yet, but my current view is that it’s not really for me. It’s all the things about a city I don’t really care for. The saving grace for me is its proximity to nature. The mountains and forest and islands are the appealing parts for me of this place. Does that say more about me or the city? I’ve met other people who love Hong Kong so I guess life continues to be subjective. Shocking, I know.
Might have to finish this tomorrow when I can. Got a breakfast date with Nicole, a Filipino girl we met today on the way to the island, and a lunch date with Athena at Causeway Bay. Then packing, then maybe a little nap before heading to the airport. Ugh. All so busy at the end.