China Chronicles – Last Installment

30 June 2006, Day 16: An Early Canada Day in Hong Kong

After a long night on the bus with the driver leaning on his horn 50% of the time, I decided to rest and recuperate on Lamma for much of the day. But that evening despite my fatigue we hopped the ferry to Hong Kong Island where there was a party that two Canadians could not miss – Canada Day (a day early). Yup, it’s true, each year the Canadian Camber of Commerce throws a Canada Day party in Hong Kong. Between the neon lights of Lan Kwai Fong huge Canada flags flutter above hordes of people wearing Canada flag tattoos and T-shirts and ridiculous hats (that look more Texan than Canadian). They dance in the street and drink Chinese, Dutch and Japanese beer bought from the 7-11. It is slightly surreal but I’m glad I experienced it.

1 July 2006, Day 17: Temples in New Kowloon and Kindergarten Graduation

Back in Hong Kong I decided to check out a few more temples. I had noticed in China that the temples seemed more like tourist attractions than places of worship and wanted to compare again with temples in Hong Kong. I started in the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple and found the air thick with sandalwood incense from hundreds of worshippers. The Taoist temple was packed and nearly everyone was Chinese. People bowed and placed incense sticks in overflowing urns and then knelt and tried to divine their futures with bamboo sticks shaken from a box and later interpreted by a fortune teller. Then a gong sounded and a procession of monks entered the main temple and began chanting. There was a slightly circus feel, but it was definitely not a tourist attraction, rather an exuberant display of devotion. My next destination was the Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery. In contrast to the Wong Tai Sin Temple, Chi Lin was subdued and serene. The minute I stepped over the threshold I felt peaceful. I wandered through the dark wood complex, past Buddha statues and beautiful lotus ponds truly feeling a harmony between humans and nature. Though very different, the air of worship at Chi Lin felt every bit as real as at Wong Tai Sin, and at the Po Lin and 10,000 Buddhas monasteries that I had visited earlier in my trip. What has caused the difference between the atmospheres at temples in Hong Kong versus in temples in mainland China? I can’t be sure, but a Chinese friend of a friend put it this way, “During the Cultural Revolution religion was forbidden, and with our Gods taken from us we have learned to worship money.”

But a fervent struggle for money and success is also evident in Hong Kong. My afternoon was spent in a huge stadium rented out for kindergarten graduation. Yes, you read that correctly, for Hong Kong’s upper class, kindergarten graduation is an important milestone. Only children graduating from the best kindergartens can gain admission to the best primary schools, the best secondary schools and ultimately the best universities. Indeed a huge amount of time and money goes into finding schools for rich three and four year olds. Of course, these schools must advertise, and the best place for competing schools to show their stuff is at kindergarten graduation. It is truly unbelievable. I watched as hundreds of five year olds lined up on stage and class by class got their diplomas. I was impressed to hear these little people thanking their teachers and parents in perfect English, Mandarin and Cantonese. And then I was awestruck as they put on a stunning musical performance that could rival the Cantonese opera! Scene after scene played across the stage and the children sported gorgeous child sized costumes that my high school would have killed for. There were stunning props, complicated dances, a glittering disco ball and even colorful confetti that rained from the sky. I have never seen anything like it. And yet, after hearing my friend’s tales of tears, trauma and backstage mayhem, I can’t help but question whether putting five year olds through months of daily rehearsal for such an extravaganza is really necessary.

2 to 4 July 2006, Day 18 to 20: Hiking the Sai Kung Peninsula and Farewell

With my time in Hong Kong coming to a close I decided to spend a day in the Sai Kung Peninsula, New Territories. The goal was a white sand beach on Tai Long Wan Bay and the only way to get there was on foot. The whole peninsula is a country park and harbors a beautiful mixture of green mountains and hidden coves. The 10 km walk took us past the High Island Reservoir, a beautiful fresh water lake that seemed to glow aqua green in the afternoon sunlight. At the beach, we picnicked in the sand, swam in the crystal clear South China Sea and shared with the locals a place that most visitors to Hong Kong don’t get to see.

I spent my last day in Hong Kong touring Hong Kong Island. I wanted to see the whole island so I planned a minibus trip from Central to the south of the island via the Aberdeen Tunnel and then east along the southern edge of the island to Stanley. From Stanley I took another minibus past the Tai Tam Reservoir and along the eastern edge of the island and then hopped on the tram for a final rumble through Hong Kong’s diverse districts from Shau Kei Wan to Kennedy Town. At the Stanley market, in a tiny and nearly hidden stall I found a lovely dragon and phoenix motif exquisitely died onto soft cloth using the batik technique. The dragon and phoenix represent husband and wife, emperor and empress, yang and yin, power and rebirth – powerful symbolism. Even better Chinese character in the center of the motif was the “shou” (pronounced “show”) meaning long life. That evening I attended a meditation and feeling happy and peaceful I thanked Hong Kong and China for the lessons they have taught me and I said farewell.

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