Reflections, Travel

Hong Kong: The Scent of Incense

There are no shortage of options when it comes to Temples to visit in this city. It doesn’t matter where you are staying, you are probably only 5 or 10 minutes away from somewhere interesting.

In our case we took the MTR up the road to the Yau Ma Tei stop where we got off and wandered down the road to Tin Hau Temple. It can be reached by going down any of Public Square Street, Shanghai Street or Market Street. I mention the roads and neighbourhood because there are other Tin Hau Temples that you can visit.
This is one of the oldest temples in Kowloon according to our Fodor’s Guidebook, filled with incence and worshippers.

We visited the temple on a soggy, wet Friday morning after a respectable lie-in and leisurely breakfast. After our previous flying visit to Singapore (a weekend and a day) four years ago, John and I came to an agreement on how we would approach business/tourism travel from then on. We agreed that my desire to walk his legs down into blistered and bloodied stumps just so I could see every last temple and interesting shop in Chinatown needed to be toned down. So, with great restraint I took the slow-and-steady approach here in Hong Kong.

We entered the temple area through the Yau Ma Tei Community Centre Rest Garden having walked down Public Square Street after a brief visit to Public Square Street Children’s Playground and Rest Garden, which is a bit of a mouthful but I must say was a very pretty detour. At the time we thought it might have been the entry to the temple, but it is actually behind it (or rather in front of it, if you are coming from Nathan Road). A nice, but brief, mistake to make.

It is quite obviously a living temple for the local community and not just a tourist attraction. A lady was bowing and muttering prayers presumably at one of the altars when we entered, and another couple were discussing things with the fortune teller. The ceiling of the central courtyard was full of incence. Huge incence. There were three courtyards and within the central courtyard there were three shrines and full-sized statues to boot. One of the shrines was dedicated to family, with photographs on the wall.

Tin Hau Temple

By this time in our trip we were aware that some of the family and friends at home were not keeping so well and had caught the current virulent form of ‘flu’, so we thought what better way than to set some incence burning with a request to the gods for their assistance.

I decided on the yellow incense, not the red. It looked far too pink, and as a rule I am not a pink person. I don’t think I have ever seen incence this size before and it is quite astounding. At home I am used to stick incense, cone incense and occasionally coil incense. You know, the sort of stuff you can light with a match or a small lighter. I can honestly say that I have never seen incense being ignited by a small propane blowtorch before ! Don’t believe me? Click and take a close look at this:

John Lighting Our Incence

We shared the duties of requesting the gods’ favour. I wrote the request and John did the lighting of the coil.
We’re still not 100% sure if our request was meant to request blessings for 10 days because the incense burns for 10 days, or if by burning the incense the gods will notice you and help you out for 10 days. Still a bit vague on that aspect of it, I have to say. Either way, a little divine assistance can never go too far wrong I always think.
If you choose to visit a temple while in Hong Kong and you have no philosophical difficulties regarding “When in Rome…” with regards to belief systems, then this is a nice way to enter the local culture. And you never know, maybe the local deities will take kindly to your acknowledgement of their existence and answer your request. And for those who may be curious about our request, it was…

Blessings to our extended family and friends at Denray.
Health, wealth and happiness for all.

And there it goes, off to the waiting ears of the gods:

Our Incence Hanging

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