The Big Buddha

Prior to our trip to Hong Kong in 2009, I had never been to the Big Buddha located on Lantau Island.  It’s situated in a place called Ngong Ping near the Po Lin Monastery and symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature.  In the picture above, you can see that it sits high on top of the hill near Po Lin Monastery and it’s quite an impressive figure.  The statue was completed in 1993, the exact day of enlightenment that year of Gautama Buddha.  Many monks from the neighboring countries were invited to come to the opening ceremony.  There are 3 levels below the Buddha, Hall of Universe, Hall of Benevolent Merit, and the Hall of Remembrance.  The most holy relic is some of the remains of the alleged Gautama Buddha resides inside.  It’s meant to give homage to a religion that is thousands of years old.

And yet, somehow, we mess that up too.  Where there is an opportunity, there is a way where we Chinese people will see dollar signs.  And none of that is more true than Ngong Ping Village.  The picture is not only of a great view of the Big Buddha, but of the shops and eateries at Ngong Ping.  Gift shops, Chinese restaurants, Japanese restaurants, and even Italian restaurants are there to help satisfy one’s hunger.  Even a place where you can get Pearl Tea [boba] and heaven help us all, a 7-11 along the path to the Big Buddha himself.  It definitely takes away the sense of wonder of the statue.  When you finally arrive at Ngong Ping, you are already bombarded with retail and food – which I have decided are the 2 things we excel at.  Then, as you walk down to the village, you are not only bombarded with more eateries and stores, you are now just part of many tourist groups and travelers coming here to have a good time.  The sense of seeing something unique is no longer in the forefront of your mind, but how you are going to get through it all without walking into the Starbucks for a cafe latte.  Once you do get up to see the Buddha, it is a great sight.  It is worth the visit.  But from far away while riding on the cable car from the Tung Chung MTR station, you only see a glimpse of the Big Buddha in all of its magnificence.

And that’s how I want to remember it.  A sitting statue on top of the hill, looking down in his stillness.  I don’t want to remember the Starbucks and 7-11 near its feet, where people are buying macchiatos and slurpees.  I understand now why people were enraged when Starbucks opened a store at the Forbidden City.  It takes away the allure and history of the place.  And even though the Big Buddha has only been around since 1993, I am sure people who go there to pay respect and bring incense for their ancestors couldn’t care what’s in the village.  For them, I am sure it’s a spiritual journey that ends in reflection and honoring their family members.  And it’s sad to see that we are profiting from that.  But in the end, it’s what you take out of it that counts.  I won’t let Ngong Ping Village smear my memory of the Big Buddha.  I choose to remember that there were monks there, worshipping him.  I choose to remember that Anita Mui, the once famous Hong Kong singer/actress is buried and remembered there.  And I will remember the walk up to meet the Buddha himself, to see the bronze statue and to know that it was built for reasons other than commercialism.