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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Elections peaceful – only 30 killed

I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to understand this country.
 
Yesterday was polling day across the Philippines. Some 54 million voters in 42,000 barangays (local council areas) marked their boxes for 94,124 candidates vying for the 42,028 barangay chairmen positions and 715,012 aiming for the 29,196 barangay councilmen posts nationwide.
 
The Nation’s Business Mirror newspaper reassured its readers that polling was ‘generally peaceful’, quoting a National Police spokesman… this in a land where election violence has become the norm. The National Police declared on Monday that the barangay elections were generally peaceful, despite incidence (sic) of election-related violence that were recorded around the country, the paper reported.
 
Oh, well that’s a relief, I guess.
 
But hold on… The article went on to explain that the elections were marred by ballot snatchings, vote-buying, killing of candidates and their followers, harassments of voters and even fighting between security forces and lawless groups. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) was quoted as saying that at least 30 people were killed in at least 80 cases of election-related violent incidents since September 28… Some of the killings that were reported were the shooting of a member of the board of election inspectors, a barangay kagawad (councillor) and the husband of an incumbent barangay chairman.
 
Hmmm – 30 people out of 54 million? Well, I guess that works out at only about 0.00006 per cent of the voting population, so it could have been worse. OK, so at least 105 people were also arrested for violating an alcohol ban that was implemented by the Comelec, with most of the violators recorded in Metro Manila and Southern Mindanao (a strongly Moslem area!). A total of 613 individuals were also arrested for violating the Comelec-imposed gun ban with a total of 509 firearms seized and 290 explosives. It turns out that 17 of the violators were policemen, soldiers and government officials!
 
In Central Mindanao, armed men harassed local poll personnel … with an M-203 grenade launcher. (The armed men were apparently attempting to block the delivery of ballot boxes to one of the polling stations.) A team of soldiers also engaged members of private armed groups in a gun battle.
 
Comelec declared there had also been eight nuisance candidates, 300 unregistered candidates, and four candidates with criminal convictions. But the good news was that at least arrangements had been made in 190 barangays nationwide for those confined in jail to be allowed to vote – as long as they were serving a sentence of imprisonment of less than one year.
 
Comelec obviously had its finger on the pulse of the nation. For instance, did you know that it is actually illegal during election day to buy or sell votes? Yes, really it is – Comelec says so. Likewise the soliciting of votes within 30 metres of polling places; giving and/or accepting free drinks, food, transportation or anything of value; selling, serving, buying intoxicating liquor; and the holding of fairs, cockfights, boxing, horse races or other similar sports.
 
Malacañang (Presidential palace) hailed the peaceful and orderly conduct of the barangay elections and emphasized that the true voice of the people must prevail in the ballot count. The barangay elections are over and based on reports, the elections were peaceful and orderly. We appeal to the public to remain vigilant in monitoring the counting of ballots to ensure the success of the elections as a process of electing the deserving leaders in our barangays that are the foundation of democracy, the presidential spokesman added. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where Chanticleer Meets his Match (or his Maker)

Country living! Ahhhh, there’s nothing quite like it!
 
I was delighted recently to come across the following on quotegeek.com which sums up what many townies must feel like when they go back to discovering nature: Being woken up at dawn by the cockerels is not in itself a problem. The problem arises when the cockerels get confused as to when dawn actually is. They suddenly explode into life, squawking and screaming at about one o’clock in the morning. At about one-thirty they eventually realise their mistake and shut up, just as the major dogfights of the evening are getting under way. These usually start with a few minor bouts between the more enthusiastic youngsters, and then the full chorus of heavyweights weighs in with a fine impression of what it might be like to fall into the pit of hell with the London Symphony Orchestra.
 
That just about sums up living in the Philippines, though I’m not sure if the Manila Symphony Orchestra could rival the LSO. It’s funny, isn’t it. In the UK, noisy cockerels prompt the threat of legal action for being a nuisance. You couldn’t imagine that occurring in the Phils, especially as cockfighting, or Sabong as it is known here, is big business. Basketball may well be the number one sport in the country, but cockfighting comes in a close second.
 
I’ve even heard it said that in the event of a house fire, a Filipino would first save his fighting cocks before his wife; and someone has worked out that over five million roosters will fight in the country’s pits during one calendar year, while the Philippine economy is said to benefit to the tune of more than $1 billion a year from breeding farms employment, selling feed and drugs and, of course, betting on the outcome of fights.
 
After Louisiana became the last state in the USA to outlaw cockfighting, an influx of American breeders poured into the Philippines supplying most of the best fighting cocks, with prices for quality blood lines selling for anything from 8000 pesos to as high as 120,000 pesos (£1,700).
 
Cockfighting in the Phils has been around for hundreds of years, preceding the first arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Many will tell you that sabong was introduced to the islands by the Spanish. Not so, since it was already flourishing in pre-colonial Philippines, as recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian diarist aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition.
 
Cockfights are held year-round, though Sundays are the best day to go, and you’ll see notices advertising cockfighting derbies in even the smallest towns and villages.
 
 
The fact that cockfighting is a vicious blood sport where two cockerels fight to the death – or one of them is critically injured – is not something that apparently fazes the average Filipino, though no doubt the animal rights lobby in Europe would have a field day campaigning against such inhumane treatment of animals. To make it “worse”, both gamecocks have sharp knifes, called gaffs, tied to the left leg, making the fights even more violent. Events typically last for an entire afternoon and well into the evening, during which 20-30 separate fights may be staged.
 
Anyway, as part of my induction into Philippine society I am taken to a local derby just outside town. You can tell you’re in the right place as there are literally hundreds of motorbikes and trike taxis parked by the side of the road…
 
 
Entrance to the derby is 200 pesos (£3), though my minder “knows someone” who turns a blind eye as we creep through a back entrance into the venue.
 
The sport of cockfighting is quite elaborate and is not dissimilar in some ways to the world of boxing where the birds are matched for size to ensure a fair fight. That’s where any similarity ends since it’s a fight to the death for at least one of the birds, though the winner might also succumb to his injuries sustained during the battle.
 
Someone hands us a programme listing the upcoming fights with the birds’ names, weights and other background essentials listed.
 
 
An old arena has ascending rows of wooden benches – the spectators climb up to the higher reaches, whilst most of the betting fraternity appear to prefer the lower levels. The names of the two contestants are scribbled onto green and orange paper before each fight and hung above the ring…
 
 
To ensure the birds get as aggressive as possible (cocks are notoriously territorial) the birds are made to ‘face-off’ by their owners thrusting their charges at the other cock, with some even being encouraged to peck the other repeatedly. The owners also show off their birds to the howling mob – a well deserved epithet, I think – and while all this is going on the ringmaster whips up excitement in the arena through a microphone while furious shouting and betting starts taking place.
 
Bets are taken by the “kristos”, an irreligious name given to them because of their outstretched hands when calling for wagers from the audience. Nothing is written down – the kristos work purely from memory. They use a system of complicated hand signals across the room – a bit like bookies at a horse race in the West. It’s all deadly serious as many hundreds of pesos are waged in the process and the winnings – or losses – can be worth a lot more than the average monthly wage.

 
Sabongs are judged by a referee called a sentensyador or koyme, and his verdict is final with no appeals allowed. Before each fight he inspects the birds and checks the metal knife blade that has been carefully attached via a cloth binding to each of the contestants. When he is satisfied, the two birds are placed in the centre of the ring and the owners move well away to the corners out of harm’s way.
 
 
At first, the two cockerels strut their stuff, a bit discombobulated by the screams of the crowd who are lusting for blood.
 
 
But soon the two fighters notice one another and quickly circle in to let the other know they are trespassing on THEIR territory.
 
 
One second it is peace and quiet (from the ring); but the very next there is a flurry of activity as the cocks fall onto one another in a blur of feathers and flashing blades…
 
 
After only a few seconds, one of the roosters starts to hobble and fall to the ground.
 
 
But just like in Western boxing and wrestling, the referee checks to see if it is a clean knock out, or whether there is still any fight left in them. There is. He picks them both up and throws them at one another a second time and there is another flurry of feathers. This time the one that appeared to be the underdog has found new strength and he lashes out at the other who might have been just a bit too cocky for his own good (pun intended!) and succumbs to a deadly lashout of his opponent’s left foot.
 
 
It’s all over bar the shouting. Once again the referee steps in and picks up the dying bird and drops it three times to the floor, just to make sure it really isn’t going to make another come back. It doesn’t, and the winning bird is returned to its owner, while a still quivering corpse lies in the centre of the ring.
 
 
The whole fight has typically lasted no more than about 90 seconds. The winner will almost certainly have sustained some injuries from the fight, and his owner takes him round the back to a chicken surgeon who will sew up between up six and 10 roosters in a day, for which he charges 200 pesos (£3) per bird. If it dies, there is no charge. Instead, it is quickly feathered and cleaned and in no time at all it has become a delicious adobo, or chicken stew!
 
 
The winning cockerel, assuming it survives, will now be pampered by its owner for the next few months until it has made a full recovery – after which it will once again be ready for the ring, older and wiser for its next fight!
 
But this ring is already being prepared for the next bout. A sweeper clears up the old feathers and drops water onto the blooded sand before swishing it all level and clean.
 
The next contestants are brought into the ring; the cocks face off to one another; the betting starts again in earnest; and almost exactly 15 minutes after the end of the last fight, carnage once again is let loose.
 
 
I have to say that I cannot claim to have enjoyed the experience – it’s very bloody and reminiscent of the Roman gladiator fights you see in films like Ben Hur and their ilk. But I guess it is an inseparable part of the basic Philippines culture. I don’t think you can condemn something until you have experienced it and started to understand what it is all about. But equally in the same way I can understand the argument that if people didn’t go along to have a look in the first place, then it wouldn’t encourage the sport. (Mind you, I cannot believe for one moment that my presence there or not would have made one jot of difference to the people there.)
 
It is easy to condemn something out of hand; but can anyone tell me why on the one hand it should be wrong to get birds to fight to the death (something that their inbuilt aggression has “programmed” them to do) whilst it appears perfectly acceptable to very many people to pull fish out of the water by lodging a hook in their mouths – all in the name of sport.
 
I think we just have to accept the fact that man, as a species, has a lot of shortcomings, of which cruelty in the name of sport is just one.

But it was interesting to note that about 99.9 per cent of the spectators were men. (I only saw one female present.) What can be read into that little fact, I wonder? 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

God Bless the Man who Invented Nature

Regular followers of your favourite blogger will know that I am a soft touch when it comes to visiting parks and gardens. Some of the designs that people come up with are truly wonderful,. Combine this with what nature can do and the effects can be remarkable.
 
So it will come as little surprise that a recent visit to Hong Kong saw me wending my way on yet another visit to Central to soak up my regular infusion of nature at its best.
 
Hong Kong has more than its fair share of parks and open spaces – which often surprises first time visitors; but one of the best is Hong Kong Park (香港公园) which was, until 1979, the British Victoria Barracks. Covering 80,000 square metres – about eight hectares – it was built at a cost of $398 million and opened in May 1991 by Sir David Wilson, the Governor of Hong Kong at the time.
 
It’s only a five minute hike away from the Central MTR station (take the Charter Garden exit) and just below the Peak Tram terminus. Throughout the park, water is a dominant feature and you’ll find no shortage of waterfalls, streams, ponds and cliffs made of artificial rocks. What it lacks, however, is a single lawn… but don’t let that put you off.
 
 
When they built the park, they didn’t simply flatten all the old garrison buildings built between 1842 and 1910, thank goodness. Today the buildings still include the former residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, known as Flagstaff House, Rawlinson House which is a marriage registry, Wavell House – an Education Centre, and Cassels – formerly the barracks for married British officers, but which today accommodates the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre.
 
Flagstaff House itself was built in 1846, but since 1984 has housed the Museum of Teaware. It’s certainly the grandest of the buildings, and even if you don’t find a museum devoted to tea that interesting, it’s probably still worth a visit, especially as there is no entrance fee!
 
 
A photograph from 1897 shows that the building, with its wide verandas and numerous columns, has changed very little over the past century…
 
 
To be perfectly honest, the tea museum isn’t that exciting – not a patch on similar museums in mainland China. It has a so-so collection of porcelain and tea related antiques, it explains the tea manufacturing processes and also regularly hosts tea tasting sessions in the K.S. Lo Gallery.
 
It also puts on various exhibitions such as a “Teaware by Hong Kong Potters 2013” show which runs through till 2014.
 
I rather liked this wood carving which represents ‘good health through fortune wealth and longevity’. In the centre is the Chinese character for tea which represents good health by drinking tea regularly. Bats can be found at the corners, since the word for bat in Chinese sounds like the word for fortune (the Chinese are into homophones big time!); while you can see deers (which sound like the word for wealth) in the left and right lower bottom corners. At the top and bottom are cranes – the symbol for longevity.
 
 
The tea pot designs in the special exhibition have some fun elements… such as this one of a bird sticking its head through the pot with what looks like a crab apple in its beak.
 
 
Or how about this one representing rubber ducks in a bath, all on the lid of the tea pot, with a tap forming the spout.
 
 
Incidentally, if you are into birds in a big way, then you could consider joining the regular bird watching fraternity who meet here every Wednesday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – again, free of charge.
 
I mentioned the theme of water throughout the park; and at its centre is an artificial lake and a waterfall, which were built on the site of a tennis court of the former garrison.
 
 
Actually it’s not just one waterfall, but a number of waterfalls and rockpools which are home to a colony of turtles that spend their days lounging around on the rocks. The park is also home to a colony of Tai Chi followers whom you will see if you can get up early enough and make it to the park just after dawn (not something I am good at – hence no pictures!)
 
 
A bit further on there is what is known as Olympic Square, which, the blurb claims, is reminiscent of an ancient Greek amphitheatre. Hmmm – well, it seats 880 people and is used for concerts, plays, promotional events, sports, and various other entertainments.
 
 
Much as the grounds themselves are lovely to walk around, for me the icing on the cake is the presence of two major facilities, namely the Conservatory and the Aviary.
 
The 1,400 square metre conservatory is apparently one of the largest in Southeast Asia and is well worth a wander through. It's divided into three sections: the Display Plant House, the Dry Plant House and the Humid Plant House; and as you’d expect a range of climatic conditions are simulated so that visitors can experience everything from a tropical rain forest to an arid desert... with a little imagination thrown in!
 
There’s a semi-permanent orchid exhibition which is marked temporary, but has been there for as long as I can remember. Who can fail to love these Orchidaceae Phalaenopsis Hybridae, I ask myself!
 
 
Or for cactus lovers, there is a wonderful display of Echinocactus Grusonii – or Golden Barrel for normal people!
 
 
And possibly because it’s China National Day coming up, someone has thoughtfully arranged these Gymnocalycium Friedrichii with the colours of the national flag.
 
 
If the conservatory is a crowd puller, then even more so is the aviary – named after Sir Edward Youde, who served as Governor of Hong Kong for four years in the 1980s. The aviary features more than 80 species of birds in a tropical ‘rainforest’ that you can wander through. But before you enter, you pass a number of cages for some of the less sociable birds, or those who need special privileges … such as this White Crested Hornbill.
 
 
As you enter the EY Aviary, you prance over a designer-walkthrough facility that takes you up to the tree canopy along elevated walkways, with birds flying around the complex with gay abandon. The stainless steel construction is itself a work of art; but throw in the birds fluttering around you and it’s fabulous. There are a number of these white birds flitting all over the place (I have no idea what they are called – can anyone help?).
 
 
My favourite in this hotch potch collection is the Bule-throated Barbet which gorges itself on melon and oranges.
 
 
But even this plain looking vulture look-alike is rather cute – again I have no idea what it is!
 
 
OK, so the Hong Kong Park is quite spectacular, so we can assume that The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens should be even better, no? errr…. Unfortunately, no.
 
The HKZBG (香港動植物公園) boasts that it is bigger than HK Park, occupying an area of 5.6 hectares … Hold on, I thought the latter was 8 hectares??? Oh well. Whatever.
 
It was founded in 1871 as a Botanic Garden and renamed in 1975 “to reflect the increased commitments to zoological exhibits”. Construction works, we are told, started in 1860 and the first stage was opened to the public in 1864. … Hold on, I thought it opened in 1871? As above… ditto.
 
Anyway, it is still one of the oldest zoological and botanical centres in the world by anyone’s calculations.
 
The Garden is divided into two parts by Albany Road, but linked by a subway. The eastern part of the Garden is known as the Old Garden where you’ll find a Children's Playground, Aviaries, Green House and a Fountain Terrace Garden. The New Garden in the west is mainly the home of mammals and reptiles.
 
But though there are more than 1,000 species in the Garden – mostly indigenous to tropical and sub-tropical regions – it simply isn’t a patch on the Park. Yes, you can feast your eyes on members of the major plant groups such as Conifer, Fig, Palm, Gum Trees, Magnolia, Camellia, Azalea, Philodendron and other native flora. The Dawn Red-wood, the local Ailanthus, Crapnell's Camellia, Grantham's Camellia and Yellow Camellia, we are told, provide rarity.
 
The Norfolk Island Pine, Travellers-tree, Royal Palm, Asoka Tree, Forest Grey Gum and the Elephant Apple provide distinctive features in form, leaf-shape, bark and fruit. And the Garden is frequently filled with the fragrance of Roses, Mock Lime, Orange-jessamine, Kwai-fah, Chinese Privet and the White Jade Orchid Tree.
 
But after the Park, it ranks a definite second place, in my book… which I suppose serves me right for going to the Park first. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now!
 
 
Even the bronze statue of King George VI, erected in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of British colonial rule over Hong Kong is scarcely given a second look. But almost all the collections look tired and badly in need of a good dollop of renovation. The information provided about the poor animals is minimal. The aviaries are difficult to look into due to the type of wire mesh used. And looking at the plants one gets a feeling of déjà vu after wandering through the Park.
 
Most of the animals are half asleep, and they have little space in which to run around. The birds' exhibit is made up of only a few cages and some of the other exhibits such as the reptiles are closed.
 
OK, maybe I’m sounding like a spoiled brat now. But I have to admit that my favourite sight in the HKZBG was the no smoking signs!
 
 
The keeping of wild animal exhibits date back to 1876, when they were kept in small numbers in very primitive structures. But following the major expansion in the mid-1970s, emphasis were directed to the latest techniques in captive breeding and conservation programmes. About 400 birds, 70 mammals and 50 reptiles are now being housed in about 40 enclosures.
 
Providing a splash of colour – if you can force your eyes through the thick cage fencing – are the American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) which are here in abundance.
 
 
Even more red are the Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus Ruber) – well I suppose they would be given their name, wouldn’t they.
 
 
There is a handful of mammals, though the official blurb tell us that the size of the Garden precludes the keeping of very large Mammal species such giraffes. (I think I would call that an understatement!) And prepare to weep … Two Chinese Alligators passed away recently just four months apart from one another.
 
I quite enjoyed the lonely Siamang (Hulobates Syndactylus) jumping around his cage – though at the same time felt sorry for him. What a life having to stare back at the rubber-neckers staring at you all day long! Apparently Siamengs advertise their territorial rights with loud calls audible for at least a kilometre, though this old guy had obviously given up claiming his cage as his very own. Can’t say I blame him.
 
 
So the lesson to be learned form all of this is that if you intend to visit the two places on the same holiday, go visit the Zoological gardens first. That way you won’t be able to compare the two and be forever disappointed as you look for something positive to say about it.
 
But at the end of the day, both establishments are free entry and how many places these days can boast that? Time for your favourite blogger to start showing a bit of gratitude to the powers that be in HK, methinks.
 
OK, I am duly chastised and thoroughly ashamed of myself. (But I’d still give the HKZBG a miss!)

 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Can One Ever Get Fed Up With Gold?

One of the great things about Hong Kong that comes as a surprise to many first time visitors is that there are so many things to do and see in the SAR. The Hong Kong Tourist Board has for a long time done a sterling job of publishing leaflets and maps for tourists, and you can pick them up as you exit the baggage hall at HK airport, as well as in touristy places such as at Tsim Sha Tsui.
 
But one thing that has always mystified me is the lack of inclusion in the HKTB’s publications of, for me, one of the best things to go and see: The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, or 萬佛寺– Man Fat Tszi in Chinese. There are plenty of temples and monasteries to see in Hong Kong, but I can guarantee that no others are like this one! The Big Buddha with its cable car on Lantau gets much more attention, but the Ten Thousand Buddhas wins hands down, as far as I am concerned.
 
It’s incredibly easy to get to and is less that 10 minutes walk from Sha Tin (沙田) station on the East Rail Line of the MTR. You leave Sha Tin MTR by exit B and turn left along the side of the bus terminal. Walk down the ramp and after a couple of minutes, you reach a turning opposite HomeSquare Mall. Turn left down Pai Tau Street and walk to the end.

 
You’ll see a white temple-looking building ahead of you which is NOT what you are after!

 
It’s quite cute in its own way, but this is Po Fook Hill Ancestral Halls where mourners burn incense in honour of deceased relatives, and it is not meant to be a tourist attraction.

 
To its right, next to the parking lot, you’ll see a path which is what you should be heading for. If you have your eyes peeled you might even catch sight of a small sign which confirms you are on the right track…

 
You are quite likely to see what look like monks begging in the area around the monastery, especially at the start of this path, but don’t be fooled. The Hong Kong Buddhist Association confirms that genuine monks are not allowed to beg here, and further up there are signs warning you of this.
 
One very monk-looking scam artist came up to me and insisted on shaking my hand and started to make small talk, before touching on the fact that he would be so grateful if I could give him some food, or donate some money if I didn’t have any food. I told him to take a hike and carried on walking!

 
Now for the quirky fact that the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is not an actual monastery at all, as there are no resident monks there, but this doesn’t detract from its attractions one iota. It was built by a devout Buddhist layman called Yuet Kai, who was born into a wealthy family in Kunming in southern China in 1878.  When he was 19 he decided to dedicate his life to Buddhism and in 1933, aged 55 he moved to Hong Kong to preach Buddhism in a local monastery. He planned to establish a Buddhist college when he accepted an estate from another pious Buddhist who was also a rich merchant. Sixteen years later he decided instead to found a monastery and so began the construction of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery.
 
It took eight years to complete all the buildings and another ten years to finish the 12,800 Buddha statues. Construction was finished in 1957. Today, the Main Temple and the Pagoda of the Monastery are graded as Grade III Historic Buildings. If you’re wondering why it is called 10,000, when in reality there are many more Buddha statues, it is because in Cantonese tradition “ten thousand” simply represents a figurative term for an extremely large number!
 
Anyway, back to the entrance path, which actually is a steep uphill climb of 431 steps to the lower terraces of the Monastery. It takes some 20 minutes and some people who aren’t in great physical shape can find it exhausting. On both sides of the path are loads of golden Buddhas, each one unique and in a different pose.

 
Don’t be surprised if you see some really devout people kneeling down every three steps or so as they make their way up the hill.

 
The Buddhas, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fat, some thin; some are bald while others are hairy; some hold musical instruments, while others hold interesting objects, not all of which are easy to fathom out.

 
A quick calculation lets me know that for each of the 431 steps up the hill you will get to see around 30 Buddha statues in all, which I guess can’t be a bad deal!

 

Along the path these 500 gold-painted plastic statues represent the experience of enlightenment, known as Arhan statues. Each face is entertaining or insane, depending on your view point. There’s even one which has small arms coming out of his eyes, which has to make it one of the weirdest in the whole complex.

 
As you go higher and higher, the number of statues increases and they get more fantastical too. 
This one appears to be telling the visitors that there is only a little bit more foot slogging to go…

 
… while this smug one obviously thinks he is quite a clever dick riding on the back of a peacock.

 
Eventually I reach the first of the two main levels, which are made up of two groups of architectural structures. On the lower level is the Main Hall (the actual 10,000 Buddha temple), together with a pagoda, two pavilions and a tower; on the upper level are four halls
 
In 1968 the monastery underwent substantial renovations when many of the statues were coated with pure gold. But almost 30 years later some of the buildings were damaged by landslides causing the site to be closed for over two years of reconstruction.

In the Main Hall you find the 12,800 tiny Buddha statuettes, but though they are small, they are still impressive. Again, each one is unique and they were made by Shanghai craftsmen and donated by worshippers over the decades.

 
Surrounding the entrance to this temple, yet more gold paint… this time covering the animals of the Chinese zodiac – such as this tiger, which represents your favourite blogger’s birth year.
 
 
Here’s a golden rat, which is meant to be auspicious for wealth seeking believers.

 
Between the Main Hall and the Pagoda you will find 18 painted, life-sized “Luohan” representing Buddha’s most important students.


On this plateau, apart from the temple, there is plenty more to see. Next the hall is a vegetarian café which many have commented as being quite good, offering Cantonese snacks and tea, though it didn’t appeal to me, I’m afraid. Apparently it is open every day except Thursday.

 
Filipino visitors seem to be picked out for discrimination by signs written only in Tagalog. Apparently they have a reputation for using the temple grounds as a picnic spot which the powers that be take a dim view of!

 
There are also signs warning everyone not to feed the monkeys, since the Sha Tin area and its surrounding hills are known as the home of wild monkeys. I never got to see a monkey, though, apart from one of the gilded statuettes.

 
Connoisseurs of historical bank notes may well do a double take when they set eyes on the nine-storey pagoda, for which the monastery is also known.  It achieved fame when the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation featured it on their 1985-1992 issue HK$100 note.

 
Beyond the pagoda is a pavilion with Wen Shu riding on a blue lion.

 
while to its side you can also see a white elephant belonging to Pu Xian – the Lord of Fire.

 
My favourite statue in the temple grounds, however, is this one of Guanyin with the Thousand Arms given to her to let her reach out to those in need.

 
Moving on to the upper deck of the monastery complex, you find even more life-sized Arhan statues, and a few more temples as well, featuring mythological scenes and more miniatures. Reconstruction is still ongoing up here though. Perhaps the most impressive statues are these Arhans scattered across a knoll overlooking the city.

 
And staring down onto them is an ivory white Kwun Yam statue – a goddess riding a dragon who holds a .red orb in his throat

 
The poor tigers seem to get a pretty raw deal from these golden statues – I felt quite sorry for this little Tigger who doesn’t appear to be a happy bunny, despite sticking his tongue out at his tormenter.

 
This Tig appears somewhat less accommodating and you can find him in a mini temple which also features a deity sitting on a large black horse.

 
After a while you might find yourself getting somewhat tired of this excess of gold paint; but worry not – there are also loads of bonsai trees scattered around the grounds for your enjoyment…

 
… not to mention the panoramic vistas over Sha Tin and the New Territories.

 
Admission to the Monastery is free and it is open every day from 9am to 5.30pm, unless there is heavy rain. Allow about an hour to 90 minutes to enjoy all there is to see here.