This past weekend we ventured to the other side of Hong Kong Island to spend some time in Stanley. I was told that this beachy village was not to be missed. Low rise victorian-inspired buildings with a main street that sells hippy-chic clothing. What’s not to love? We slept in late, made our way to the bus terminus under the IFC, and caught the number 260 bus through the tunnel, and across the island. From where the bus dropped us off, we walked toward the bustling marketplace. A hub of shops clearly catering to tourists delivered to the area by cruise ships and tour buses. Scarves were three times the price they are in Sai Yin Pung, and the shop sellers drove a harder bargain. After making our way through the crowded market we walked down to the water to a grainy public beach where I dipped my toes into the South China Sea for the first time. I can’t believe it took me almost three weeks considering the abundance of water surrounding this city-state. It was warm enough, cool enough, and calm enough. Perfect! I can’t wait to get to a cleaner beach for a full submerging! We scanned the esplanade for the perfect spot to grab a bite and settled upon a sweet little place that served young coconuts and cheap small portions of Chinese food. Along this main drag there were those hippy-chic shops I had heard about selling long flowing skirts, patterned peasant tops, quirky accessories, and sandals- but nothing too tempting. With full bellies, we bypassed the mall (they love their malls here!) at Stanley Plaza in search for the village’s temples.
We first came upon Tin Hau Temple- in honor of the Goddess of the Sea. Tin Hau translates to “Empress of Heaven” I first heard her called Mazu or Ma-tsu, “Mother-Ancestor”. She has been worshiped in China and Southeast Asia as protectress of travelers, sailors and fisherman. Alternate names given to her are Tianfei, “Celestial Consort” or “Princess of Heaven” and Tianshang Shengmu meaning “Heavenly Holy Mother”. In Fiji, she is Mazupo “Grandmother” even though she died at age twenty-eight. A sort of saintly combo of Venus meets Mother Mary. Upon further research, there are over seventy temples dedicated to her throughout Hong Kong alone. The Tin Hau Temple in Stanley was designed with a stage-like bench that circled the entire internal space and held the icons of various Gods and Goddess with Tin Hau featured in the center. A thick layer of incense smoke filled the space. Fruits, sweets, bottles of beer, and cups of water were placed at the feet of each statue.
According to the map, just up from the Tin Hau Temple was the Kwun Yam Shrine and Monastery. Like Tin Hau, this Goddess goes by many names throughout Southeast Asia depending on the language and culture. In the states, I’ve most often heard of her referred to as Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of compassion and mercy. A gentle Goddess… a good one to call in when doing a restorative yoga practice or healing bodywork. From the lower ground we could see a large white statue of Kyun Yam overlooking the town. She seemed to be not far at all. We walked up the hill a bit and could hear the chanting of melodic mantra echoing out the windows. “If we just walk up the street this way, we should be there in no time … hmmm?… How about this path through the woods? It seems to be the most direct. Ah yes! The sound of the mantra is so close! But I don’t see if this path will actually get us there?…” Then I walked into a thick spiders web. I look back and see a huge black and yellow spider the size of my face! I walked through her web! Eric is standing on the other side of the web getting his camera out to snap a good picture of it. I can only image what the spider is thinking of us fools trying to cut our way through the woods. The message I got from the spider was,”Turn around! This is not the right path!” We asked for help from a local and were confidently guided to a road that would put us closer to the entrance- no, it seemed to be a road that lead no where. We walked around to a path that wrapped up around a set of apartment blocks- a dead end though I did meet a few cute feral cats. We walked around the other way- nope. We looked at the map again. We gazed up at the statue beyond the trees- it’s so close! At this point I am willing to give up on the search thinking it would be closed by the time we got their but Eric wasn’t ready to give up so easily. We went back up the road we took before veering off into the woods and kept walking up, with a steady eye on our blue dot on googlemaps, we finally came upon a clearly marked entrance to the Temple. I commented to Eric as we walk up the steps and through the archway how this is so like the “hero’s journey” in literature, complete with animal guides and misleading directions. The members of the monastery were completing a ceremony and disrobing their ritual garments. We made our way a little further up the hill to the statue. She was beautiful. Shining white with a loving expression of warmth and openness upon her face and left palm open, a gesture of offering and acceptance. She was flanked on either side by dragon fountains. The roof over her skillfully painted with images of swirling dancers. Monks from the monastery brought their filled rice bowls out to the grounds before her, sat casually on the benches, and relaxed while they ate dinner and chatted with one another. I’m glad we didn’t give up our pursuit for her. By now the sun had completely set and the waxing moon shined it’s light over the bay. We both commented on how it was the perfect time of day to be there. Quiet, calm, and sweetly sacred. We shared a kiss and promise to stay compassionate with one another. We continued to explore a little further before someone told us nicely that the Temple was closed, it actually had closed forty-five minutes earlier- about when we arrived. Walking back down the staircase that led us there, the bus stop we arrived at was surprisingly close. We hopped on the next bus headed for central and were back in a flash. Looking forward to further adventures in search of the Goddess!