Sunday afternoon

Does lightning really strike twice?

On the Light Rail again, and, not for the first time, a huge, colorful structure catches my eye.  A large, tiled orange roof seated atop of a dizzying palette of colors stands next to an even taller glass building.  The surrounding streets are rural and gritty, in stark contrast to their boldly – almost brashly – polychromatic neighbors.

What is this?  Or rather – where is this?

The Light Rail rushes past too quickly to discern anything specific, but the moment it stops, I get off and start exploring.

This is the village of Lam Tei (藍地).  Literally “blue earth” or “blue ground,” it can’t be found by riding on the MTR alone – although it’s situated right off the West Rail Line (西鐵綫) near Siu Hong (兆康) Station.  (Coincidentally, there’s another station named “Lam Tin” (藍田, “blue field”) on the Kwun Tong Line (觀塘綫), but that’s miles away from this particular location.) Even on the Light Rail, there’s little suggestion that this place should be any bigger than it is (or isn’t).  Just a single eponymous stop, and the train keeps moving.

But this isn’t going to be a post about Lam Tei itself.  It is what it is – a relatively rural village community situated next to developing high-rises.  I am sure there are hardworking, honest citizens here who have tales of hardship, dreams (and realizations) of success, and attitudes of anger and contentment.  But they are not the reasons why I’ve come here.

No – my only goal at this point in time is to figure out what this aged, multicolored structure and its sleek, towering companion are and why they’re here.

Within a few minutes of leaving the station (and ambling about), I have a name: the Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery (妙法寺).  This makes sense…

…until I approach the modern building first, and look up.

Not exactly what I had in mind when I read the word “monastery.”  But it’s more than intriguing enough, so I ascend the staircase.

The first flight brings me to a small shrine with the familiar golden statue of Buddha.  Glass doors open into a larger hall, but I am seemingly the only one here and feel too hesitant to enter.  So I continue to ascend.

The next two flights bring statues of warriors and deities, none of whom I know but have almost certainly seen before.  The wind joins my footsteps in breaking the silence; I still do not see any visitors here.

Farther and farther up, and then…a view.

“Striking” is a bit of an understatement, but it’s close enough to what I see and how I feel.  The staircases continue upward.

After I ascend the last one, I get a fuller view of the scene.  Lam Tei spreads itself out in the immediate foreground, a continuum of roofs that extend in all directions before being stopped by anything higher – apartment complexes, the West Rail Line, the mountains in the distance.  On the right side of the monastery stands the multicolored building I spotted earlier – bright orange roofs incorporate reds, blues, greens, and yellows along the wall designs, with two golden dragons facing each other at the very top.

The village of Lam Tei (藍地) in the foreground.

It is – and I say this with fear of understatement – breathtaking.  But then there is the interior itself: a large spiritual hall that houses three immense golden statues of Sakyamuni, all of which smile mysteriously yet benevolently.  Their respective altars are replete with flowers, libations, and other religious icons and offerings.

(Because cameras are not allowed in the interior of the Miu Fat Monastery, I have no images of the hall itself to offer.  While this is slightly regrettable, it is also a restriction that I completely understand and respect.)

Some basic research after this visit revealed that construction of the modern tower (which comprises seven stories that total to 45 meters in height) of the monastery was completed in March 2010.  The original monastery, however, was built in 1950, and the adjacent Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall – the multicolored building I’ve tried to describe thus far – was completed in 1980.  Presumably, the seven-story tower uses no electricity in supplying its power, although I can’t confirm if this is actually the case.

As mystifying and dizzying as the main tower is, I am still more intrigued by the adjacent Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall, so I descend and approach the building.  And it doesn’t take long for me to discover why this structure seized my gaze:

The Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall at the Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery (妙法寺).

It’s the color.  The artwork.  The design.  The imagery.

The façade is stunningly incredible and nearly defies description; it’s difficult enough using my limited vocabulary to figure out how to fix and locate the elements.  Golden dragons snake along two towering vertical columns in perfect symmetry – a symmetry mirrored in the geometric designs and iconography of the balconies, a perfect reflection of color and form and line and shape.  Lions and elephants carved in stone flank the main entrance with their piercing gazes and frozen-in-motion expressions.

(This description is just of the façade, too – the interior, which I managed to explore, is even more breathtaking and offers even larger statues of Sakyamuni graced by multicolored offerings.  For the same reasons as mentioned previously, however, I took no pictures.)

It takes me a while to let everything anything sink in.  There are, once again, meanings, beliefs, ideologies, interpretations, and lives encoded in a network of images and color that I do not understand; cannot understand; will never understand.  But to deny that all of it is beautiful would be nearly impossible.

Is that what happens when lightning strikes twice?