The Battle of the Big Buddhas
The mass of people coming down the stairs didn't look very happy. In fact, they looked decidedly grim. Their faces all carried frowns not really associated with the fact that they were visiting a site of religious importance, a site which represents the relationship between humans and nature. But I think the cloud may have had something to do with it, and the fact you could only see five metres ahead of you didn't help either.
I was on the island of Lantau, one of the rocky outcrops that form Hong Kong, and I was there to see what at that time was the largest outdoor seated buddha in the world, the Tian Tan Buddha.
The Tian Tan Buddha was built between 1990 and 1993, and sits on a stone lotus near the Po Lin Monastery. At 34 metres high, and weighing in at the sumo weight of 250 tonnes, it is an icon that can be seen as far away as Macau. However, on the day that I made my pilgrimage, it was difficult to see the Big Buddha (as it is affectionally known) from even a few metres away. The sweltering heat and sunshine of the day before had given way to low cloud and mist, swirling around the harbour and the city, obscurring the sky scrapers, revealing lit windows and car headlights every so often as it threw a grey blanket over everybody's lives.
I reached the Big Buddha by first taking the ferry from Pier 6 to Mui Wo, then the No. 2 bus, which was clearly marked "Big Buddha". Entry to the Buddha is free, but there are three exhibition halls below it, which can be viewed for the mimimal price of $60HK.
But I bypassed the halls, instead choosing to climb the 268 steps up to the stone effigy, dodging the angry American tour group who had climbed the steps and were now on their way down without seeing the Buddha.
"You would think that they'd warn us there were clouds up there," said one puffing and wheezing old man. The fact that there were clouds and mist everywhere, and we could barely see our hands in front of our faces, made me laugh. I love humans sometimes... sometimes...
Sure enough, when I reached the top of the steps, the cloud and mist was still swirling around me, damp droplets of moisture clung to my face, cooling my skin, making me steam. I had the platform almost to myself, other tourists had decided the weather was much more suitable for shopping.
Yet, as I stood there and considered my journey, a shape started to materialise in front of me. I made out an arm, a head, a large torso... the Buddha revealed itself to the few of us who had made the journey without protest, and stood revealed in his bronze glory, blessing us with a sight that would have made movie makers froth at the mouth.
Since visiting the Buddha, who I now consider my friend, I have found that he has lost his place as being the largest seated Buddha in the world. A newcomer in the Nam Mireuk Temple in Korea has claimed the title by towering a whole 2 metres over my friend the Tian Tan.
But I remember my Buddha, and the special moment we shared in the clouds.