Every now and then, when reading about Hong Kong, I would come across the Chi Lin Nunnery as a “must see” attraction. Yet when I mentioned it to Hong Kongers, they shrugged their shoulders in ignorance. Taking the risk that the nunnery was simply a tourist ploy, we decided to check it out ourselves.
Taking the subway rather than a ferry for once, we embarked for the Diamond Hills of far NE Kowloon to visit the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden surrounding it.
As you enter Nan Lin Garden, you immediately come upon a building with an exhibition of wooden models of famous Buddhist temples in China. The stupendous part of this exhibition is the realization that non of these remarkable buildings contain a single nail, neither the full-size originals nor the models. It’s all about the joinery!
And then there are the rocks. Next to wooden structures, a proper Tang Dynasty garden has picturesque, impressive and expressive rocks arranged over a hilly landscape. These rockscapes are interfaced with ornamental greenery and are styled in five different prescribed layouts or “scenes”.
Another wooden structure in the garden is the Xiang Hai Xuan exhibition and meeting hall.
We were fortunate to see a ceramics display with works by a famous ceramics master and his students. The exhibit was jointly organized by the nunnery and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. During the dark days of the Cultural Revolution, when scholarly pursuits, adhesion to religion, or artistic expression through the classic arts was deemed criminal behavior, would you have expected to see government support and a return of respect for ancient traditions ever again in China? It is indeed an amazing development.
Back outside, we continued our walk through Nan Lin Garden, passing numerous rock groupings and Dahua Yantan Scholar Rocks amidst ancient trees and rich greenery,
Eventually, we encountered the last element of a Tang-style garden, water.
Lotus ponds, koi ponds, and waterfalls are essential for the creation of harmony.
We ate much more modestly in the casual and almost air-conditioned little café next to yet another exhibition hall.
Exiting the Rockery Hall, we passed through the Penjing [bonsai] Garden on our way to the nunnery proper.
Along the way, we were delightfully entertained by a few boisterously bathing birds.
Can’t quite see them? We had the same problem because the birds were not very close and they found near perfect camouflage among the rocks. Only their sounds drew our attention.
To reach the nunnery, one must first climb many stairs to a terraced forecourt.
To truly appreciate these structures, one shouldn’t forget that this modern, thriving nunnery complex was build in the 20th century according to the strictest Tang dynasty building principals of the 7th through 9th centuries. Like the temples and halls erected over a thousand years ago, not one nail mars the wood.
Along the cloister, more polished Scholar Rocks are on display on a row of small tables,
but with this site plan of the nunnery, any further photography in the Temple areas is strictly forbidden. Since I value my camera, I obeyed.
We left the Chi Lin Nunnery shortly thereafter, lingering briefly at the lotus ponds in the quadrangle.