Sunday, 22 July 2012

Vodka, mudflats and the Big Buddha

What, you might ask, could these three things possibly have in common? It's a good question with a simple answer: they were all part of my day yesterday.

The Big Buddha is a well-known giant statue of the Buddha build near the Lo-Pin monastery on nearby Lantau Island. I don't have stats on its dimensions, but it is cast bronze that had to be trucked up the mountain in three pieces and assembled on site. To reach it -- and see what all the fuss was about -- involved taking the subway to the end of one of the lines and making my way to Ngong Ping Village. Rather than getting aboard a bus, I took the pricier option: a cable car ride over the hills. With no disrespect to the Buddha, it was the highlight of the afternoon.

I chose to ride in a Crystal Car, which meant that the floor was glass. Not only could the six of us in the car see out the windows, we were able to look below us at the lush vegetation, the hiking path meandering up and down the hills and the graves of ancestors buried on slopes here and there. En route, I enjoyed the company of two young Chinese women, one a reporter for the China Daily, an English language paper.

Once in Ngong Ping, I made my way through the village to the impressive gates that led to an alley of stone warriors, each representing a sign on the Chinese calendar. Beyond the alley were the 250 steps leading up to the enormous statue of the Buddha. Clutching my water bottle in the hot sun, I made the trek.

From the bottom of the stairway, he looks majestic, seated calmly upon his lotus leaf. Up close, he's equally impressive for the size, the artistry and the symbolism of his pose and his garb. It was a lovely feeling standing at the base of the statue looking out over the lush valley and nearby hills as the chants from the nearby monastery wafted through the air.

The cable car ride back from Ngong Ping put me in the company of a lively Australian couple, an enjoyable extra. As the car prepared to cross the water, we could see that the tide was out. The mudflats below were exposed and speckled with what turned out to be people digging for shellfish. They would put their finds in strainers, then store the catch in what looked like white coolers. The brown flats were lined with the diggers, some going knee deep in muddy water for their bounty.

I returned to dry land and made my way home by train with only an hour or so to spare before it was time to turn around and go out to a party. One of my co-workers got married this week in a small ceremony and invited the work crew to celebrate Saturday night. The event was held at a bar in Soho (South of Hollywood Rd., the antiques district), the upscale nightlife area of town -- as opposed to the drunken bar scene area of town, which isn't too far way! I hadn't been there before, so I hopped into a cab and set off. Cabs are very inexpensive here -- the ride cost me about seven dollars, plus tip -- so it's a great option.

The party venue was a vodka bar called V13, and it could easily have been a trendy bar in any city in the world. However, I had a lovely time chatting with co-workers and their spouses, including the bride, who is from Thailand. My colleague doesn't get off easily with the civil ceremony -- this fall, he'll be off to Thailand with his wife for a traditional ceremony there.

So, thus ended a lovely day off, and now, it's back to editing.

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