by Jian Ping
Hong Kong’s weather was calm and sunny when we got there. We felt very blessed. I had been coughing since the moment we landed in Vietnam and the pollution in Hanoi and Ho Chi Ming City only made it worse. I decided to take it easy in Hong Kong.
A friend took me to the Aviary in the center of the city. I had been to Hong Kong many times before but never knew the existence of this large “cage” in the middle of town that raised a variety of birds. I snapped many photos, wishing I had my long camera lens with me.
The following day, three of us paid a tribute to the “Big Buddha”, taking the long cable ride, 5.7 km or 26 minutes in mid air, to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue at Ngong Ping. Despite the haze, we had a good view of the Lantau North Country Park and the Hong Kong International Airport. The Buddha statue was completed in 1993 and had since become a visiting center for believers and tourists.
Looking down at the winding trail on the mountain ranges leading all the way to the Buddha, I told my friends we should hike next time.
“We can watch you hike from above,” one of them responded, laughing.
From a distance, the statue of the Big Buddha appeared magnificent and mysterious. When we got close, I was awe-struck. High up on an alter, the bronze Buddha sits on top of a lotus throne, with her right hand raised, a symbolic gesture for the removal of affliction. Her face was calm yet benevolent. Many people crowded the 268 steps to reach her on the hill top. A middle-aged woman not far from us kneeled down and covered each step on her knees.
We were not Buddhists, but standing in front of the Big Buddha, we bowed our heads, put our hands together in front of our chests and prayed for her blessing. It was a serene and peaceful moment.
The next day, I boarded United Airline Flight 896 to return to Chicago. The 14-hour flight was long enough. To make matters worse, our plane sat on the Tarmac for more than an hour after the scheduled take-off time and had to take a detour to San Francisco to refuel, “due to strong wind,” the captain announced. The stop resulted in an unexpected change of crew and we ended up waiting on the plane for more than two hours, once again sitting on the Tarmac. By the time we landed in Chicago, we were 5 hours behind schedule. It was the longest flight I had ever taken—a blemish to my otherwise wonderful Asian trip!