As we drove up to the hotel, I spotted a yellow stupa in the background--several stories high and quite radiant in its simplicity. It caught my attention--held it and I just wanted to look. That evening was spent with art professors at dinner and a cosmic two-hour medicinal massage by ladies with pressure-point wizardry hands. Welcome to China--a place where the human form is treated with ancient formulas of healing and detoxification. Where, even though there are Rolls Royce showrooms appearing on the streets, there is also a tremendously old, in-built understanding of how to be a human being.
The following morning, I set out from the hotel to explore the park to the left and try to figure out that amazing stupa. Walking past bare trees festooned with red lanterns, I found a sign that told me the story--and what a story. This is Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the place where the Buddhist monk Xuanzang first brought back Buddha's teachings to China. That stupa off in the far distance is where he founded a center for translation.... so that pure teachings could wash into this country. This all happened about 600 years AD. It's the story behind Journey to the West and the Monkey King.
My randomly-placed hotel was facing the grounds of one of the most important moments in Buddhist history.
I had another run-in with Buddhas when I returned to Hong Kong a few days later. I had come back to my former stomping grounds to work on the Time Out Art Guide and was staying with a friend in Sai Ying Pun. So I walked into Sheung Wan most days, and found myself on Hollywood Road, the landscape of my twenties. This was the road that I walked down every day as an entertainment writer for HK Magazine. Admittedly, most mornings I was probably still hungover from the night before--so clarity was not a natural feature of my mind.
But it all seemed quite ordinary back then. Just grimy streets on the way to work, nothing special. This time, as I walked down Hollywood Road I suddenly realized what had surrounded me all the time. Buddhas. Literally, hundreds of them, and some of the most incredible statues you've ever seen. Endless antique shops housing golden Tara, Avalakiteshvara with his peace eyes, Amitayus with one arm held aloft. The awesome Man Mo Temple with its ever-bulging incense. That place where prayers are uttered daily and the old Gods are spoken to about contemporary comings and goings. Hollywood Road is literally a parade of enlightened beings, where every glass window shows a new Buddha or Bodhisattva...
I had walked past enlightened forms everyday for years, and never saw them.
My journey back home this winter was one of great revelation. In Hong Kong, I locked eyes with my muse once more. I'm not done with that city quite yet. I may have moved from its physical shores, but it's story continues to burn through my mind and I continue to be connected to it in a very real way. I love its artists and I love its Banyan trees and it's islands and I want to understand it's identity. I want to give voice to its mind--because right now there is the sense that disappearance is nigh.
Hong Kong is not just a collection of islands. It's a state of mind. Everything is a state of mind.