Friday, October 28, 2011

10,000 Buddhas Monastery (aka herding cats)


One of the BEST kept secrets in Hong Kong! It is not really in many of the tour books, and I am SO glad. I felt kind of silly NOT having been there before, but it is out of the way, and I just never made it. Well, I was not the only one! There were a couple others like myself who have been here less than a year. We were 16 in all.

Today I was actually “working” the tour. When we go out, the AWA has a coordinator and a sweeper. I was the sweeper today. It’s my job to make sure no one gets lost and the group stays together. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are all HIGHLY intelligent woman…but sometimes you just blink and one has wandered (a quick peek in a shop or to snap a pic) off. This was my first time being a sweeper for a tour that involved the MTR, so it was a little bit of pressure to make sure we all got on and off at the right times. This trip involved three transfers…no pressure!

I made sure everyone had their Octopus cards out in advance (this is how we pay for the MTR and other modes of transport), and off we went.

The thing is….we do all walk at different rates so keeping an eye on our coordinator who is tiny and moving the slower walkers along is a little bit of a task (this is where the herding kittens thing comes in)…but I achieved it. We arrived at Shatin…which is our MTR stop. The Monastery is just a few minutes away on foot, which is amazing since Shatin is a pretty busy place.

The Monastery is located on a mountain behind Shatin Pai Tau Village which is still there today). It was founded in 1949 by the Reverend Yuet Kai. It took 8 years to build. Now the Reverend was very old when the work started, but he carried building materials himself up the mountain.

Look closely: See the monkey…the Monastery as PLENTY of these guys running around. You DO NOT smile at them…they think seeing teeth is a sign of aggression…good safety tip!


This is the very first thing as you enter the Monastery grounds:IMG_1602IMG_1603

Group shot AND a close up. These Arhans line the walkway up to the main level. There are over 400 steps and hundreds of these statues. Most are gold like this one above, and yes, he has been…enhanced…with red lips and the flower is painted. Here are a couple more!


With the sun and rain and pollution…these guys must need touching up ALL the time. This lady was being very meticulous.

You come to the first level, which is where the Pagoda is and most of the attractions (like the hall with over 10,000 Buddhas in it)..but I kept walking b/c what I found the most interesting was JUST ahead…


Now…notice these guys are NOT gold…they are painted painted. Well, these are some original artifacts that were here in Hong Kong before World War II that were sent into China for safe keeping. These were the few that came back…China decided to keep the rest.


At the top of the next series of steps (that was lined w/the painted statues was this guy. I sadly did NOT get his name..but he was beautiful and his beard reminded me of GPA.

Then, just a few steps more….was THIS!


In the Dragon’s mouth is an orb…and it looks like the same orb she is holding…not sure of the significance of that…but I am checking it out.

Here I am near a “garden” of gold statues

IMG_1626Right next to this guy:

IMG_1638Ummmm, I wonder who HE made angry?

I made my way back down to the main area where the founder of the Monastery is entombed. THIS is where the walls are lined and lined w/small Buddhas. NO picture taking of any kind is allowed here…so I can’t show you that, but I am talking floor to ceiling Buddhas!

IMG_1631IMG_1632Read the signage carefully! Don’t break the rules!!! (no…really read it carefully)

Then, our time was done, and it was time to gather the ladies and head off to lunch. As we walked past the path lined with golden statues…THIS was there to greet us…

IMG_1644IMG_1647This statues’ head makes for a nice picnic spot (obviously the monkey did NOT read rules Number 1 AND 3!).

We waited until he was done snacking to NOT smile at him and sneak our way passed.

Another great trip…with another great group of women. I’m glad this one is kept pretty quiet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Interrupt Vietnam…

I had THE most fun experience today that did not involve an airplane, TSA or body searches!

After my first 7 months here, I went back to the US for 6 weeks. After back and forth and some great travels (details still to come)…I determined that I needed SOMETHING to do that did not involve…well, lunch.

Enter the “English Conversation Program” that the AWA coordinates.

This program involves volunteers (ME and others) to go to local schools, and urge, cajole, draw forth…English from students who want to improve their English speaking skills.

Our students are 3A students, which I understand, are the top of their class (like Junior year of HS?).

There were MANY more girls than boys. It IS a volunteer program for the students. I think the boys are able to see a “target rich” environment. (smart guys)

The school is only 10 minutes by MTR from my house. We walked about 7 minutes to the school where we were met by the IT guy (not the English speaking expert).

After we arrived, we took roll. Each student picks an “English” name…(examples? Suki, Karen, Bruce, Mark…Zita?? – you get the idea). We then had them line up alphabetically (by English names…this only took 5 minutes) THEN…count off and into groups. We made sure that we changed things up so the kids could not put themselves into groups and hang with friends. The whole point of this is to push them to speak English, and they tend to be shy anyway, so we try to mix it up!

The first part of the hour we had them interview each other. Questions such as “Who is your Idol?” and “What annoys you” inspired some enthusiastic answers. Each person had a different questionnaire so they cold not “copy”

One coordinator in each group had to be interviewed..and I was that person. Sigh. Poor Suki…My idol? John Adams (at least it was easy to spell…but she still has no idea who he is). Favorite music? (rock n roll) After we did the interview, we had to introduce the other person. Least favorite subject in school is STILL math!

Suki likes green tea (favorite food) and Avril Lavigne. After school she wants to see an Avril Lavigne concert and travel to France!

The thing about language, is that when we wrote the questions, we thought it was SO obvious what they "what do you want to school when you get out of school?" Many of the students answered "sleep" or "play a video game". WE thought long term, their "out of school" was short term! I have lots to learn!

There was lots of giggling and really really quiet voices, and the group did a terrific job talking about each other...but it did NOT fill the hour!

hmmm…what to do?

There is a game I played as a child. We would sit on our porch in PA at night, catch lightening bugs and play this. It’s the “Store” game. You had to run through the alphabet…name what you would buy…then repeat each thing until your new letter was up …For example…”I went to the store and I bought an apple. I went to the store and bought an apple and a banana. I went to the store and bought an apple, banana and a carrot” ETC

Well, this group good naturedly played the entire game…funny, they would help each other when one person stumbled on a letter (Nametag)…but when my partner and I had trouble and could not remember a word ... (well, my partner…not me) not a PEEP…we were on our own.

The kids played the game…they seemed to be good sports. They came up with great words (elephant, yo yo kitty - I wanna shop at THAT store!) and the game DID make them use the English alphabet and apply words..Mission accomplished? Yes... My guess?

My students will be defecting to another group!! :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lao Cai & Bac Ha

Vietnam – Day 2

We took the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. There were four of us in the sleeper car, and I have to say, it was pretty darn comfy. Our fearless leader handed out ear plugs, which helped tremendously. We were in the last car, the second to last cabin…so we felt a lot of the rocking.

One man decided NOT to read the “no smoking” sign and lit up. He was pretty much ATTACKED by some of the group. (go girls!)


This is our train. After we got to Lao Cai, we stopped and had breakfast. I was pretty hungry! It gave us a chance to use the restroom, get some strong coffee, and generally get ourselves in order for another great day.

This is the day that we would really start seeing the countryside of Vietnam! Our first drive was to Bac Ha. They have THE most colorful Sunday Market in the area. I posted some pics on FB of this day, but here are some more!

IMG_1052IMG_1053We aren’t sure what the boys were watching…but they were just hanging out!


It was so strange to see the women in traditional garb (underneath which they wore blue jeans)…in their hands most had a cell phone! The women wear their prettiest things in the hopes of attracting a husband. Those that HAVE one, still wear their best because it is their “dress up” day.

IMG_1074IMG_1075Fish and eggs were some of the fresh things available!

IMG_1080There was lunch on the go.

IMG_1082IMG_1129Treats for the kids.

IMG_1085IMG_1088Household items.

IMG_1105Corn Alcohol was very popular. NO, we did not try it. We wanted to retain our sight for the trip.

IMG_1100IMG_1136There was plenty of live game being sold. NO…we did not obviously see puppies or kitties that were to be eaten (it was explained to us by our guide that in Vietnam, these are just like chicken).

IMG_1119IMG_1121The colors are AMAZING! So bright! I wish I had a use for these threads. They were yummy.

I only picked up a few things here. The shopping was fun! The market was very crowded.


That is the market from above…and you can see Sue waving…she was surrounded.

As we prepared to go…so did the locals:


Finally settled, off they go. Let’s hope the Mom held on tight! Helmets ARE required…but NOT for children under 6 (anyone else just find this ODD??)

We took a little walk before heading to the Victoria Resort for the night:

IMG_1153Mama pig yawning.

IMG_1155I think we were annoying.

IMG_1157There are many schools and they are gorgeous


My first close up glimpse of the rice terraces. It would not be the last!

IMG_1165Diane and I …she’s a great roommate.

IMG_1169She greeted us at the end.

IMG_1171Wash day!

This walk took about an hour. Afterwards, we loaded onto the bus to head to the resort (a three hour ride…much of which was UP a mountain…pretty curvy road).

We checked in, showered, and headed to dinner! Day 2 in the books and it rocked.

Vietnam–Day 1

We had to report to the airport pretty early on Saturday. Group travel is all about being courteous…which includes being on time. There were eleven of us making this journey. It was quite a diverse group, with one of our travelers coming from the US just for the trip!

The flight to Hanoi is just over an hour and a half. I’ve said before it is one of the great attractions of HK…we are so close to so many great places. Places I probably never would have visited if it were not for this opportunity.

We land and are met by our Tour Guide for the week. His name is Thong (pronounced Tong). He was born in Vietnam but speaks with a suspiciously British accent. He told us he perfected his English speaking skills by listening to the BBC. THAT explains it.

Our first day in Hanoi is rainy. We had a very full day planned.


These are just a couple pics snapped from the bus. I learned pretty quickly this was a waste of time and battery. You do get the gist of what a grey day it was.

Our first stop was the Temple of Literature (also known as the Temple of Confucius). It was the first University and at one time was the capital of Vietnam (about 1000 hours ago). It has been restored several times.




The picture just above this shows a layout of what the University was like when students studies here. The phoenix and the turtle are very important and are considered lucky. Students would study, and if they passed their exams, they got their names engraved on wood plaques.

After a rainy stop here, we stopped and had lunch at Cha Ca La Vong. This place has one dish. “Cha Ca fish dish” It is almost like a “hot pot'” dish where the fish is cooked right there. Greens are added with spices YUM.


My first meal here and it ROCKED!

After lunch we went to the Vietnam Museum of History. I did not take any pictures on the inside…but here is the outside:


It is a typical museum…from the stone age on. It never ceases to amaze me that wherever I am, the first “weapons” you see in museums are arrowheads!

Next we took a rickshaw ride! I got in the second rickshaw, but my guy took off first! SOOOO…as we moved through the streets and had to turn or go through an intersection, I was the one taking it for the team!

IMG_1005 IMG_1021

As crazy as it was, this is a terrific way to see the city! When we would come back to Hanoi later in the week, I recognized so many places just from this half an hour ride



You can buy anything on the streets. The colors were great. The city SO busy! I loved it.

We checked into a “day use” hotel for a couple of hours to shower and freshen up. We walked the city a little bit more before going to Bobby Chinn’s for dinner (YUM)! It is a quirky place:

IMG_1036This is the 10 stages of Drunkenness a la Bobby Chinn.

IMG_1030The entrance of the restaurant


Just two of the dishes.

After dinner, we were leaving for the overnight train to Lao Cai, Bac Ha and Sapa,…but WAIT


We found the wine store! A collective decision was made to buy a case of wine “for the road!” (To be consumed at the resort @ Sapa!)

I already knew that this was my type of crowd….but THIS stop…SEALED IT!