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The Elusive Buddha

February 26, 2014

16, 17, 18…


Two weeks ago I was climbing 268 steps up a mountain to the Po Lin Monastery to see Hong Kong’s largest outdoor bronze Buddha, officially called the Tian Buddha, but unofficially known as Big Buddha. A cold rain pelted me, and the fog was so thick I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face, not that I was willing to pry them from my pockets where they huddled for warmth. I was reminded of the weather in Portland when we left; our pilot announced he was closing the plane’s door so we could take off early to avoid the approaching storm, and I later learned eight inches of snow and two inches of ice began blanketing Portland fifteen minutes after our departure.


34, 35, 36…


The day before, Mrs. Chatterbox and I had passed through streets filled with watches for sale, so many watches that vendors treated us like the multi-armed god Vishnu in need of timepieces for multiple wrists. Hong Kong is arguably the world’s most vertical city, as we discovered when Mrs. C. and I took a cable car to Victoria Peak to take in the view. We have one in Portland called a sky tram and I think it a more accurate name. At the top of Victoria Peak we couldn’t see a thing, but we smiled at each other like newlyweds and braced against the wind. A vendor offered to take our picture and plaster it on a mug, claimed he could digitally alter the background to show a clear sunny day. We smiled and shook our heads.


68, 69, 70…


My stomach rumbled. Our restaurant had served glorious ham for breakfast (a British holdover, no doubt) and I was beginning to think I hadn’t gobbled up enough of what turned out to be the last ham I saw in Asia, and I couldn’t rid my mind of the sight of  thousands of people that morning queuing up in front of a closed bakery—for cookies. Really, how good could those cookies have been. My guess— pretty darn good.


138, 139, 140…


The fog thickened; yet out there was the legendary South China Sea. But I couldn’t shake the freaky apparitions that greeted us below. They were Chinese statues of generals and heroes, sentinels guarding the Buddha, but they seemed no match for the fog. I nearly wet myself when a bizarre creature emerged from the mist and approached us; too big for a dog or goat—it was a cow. It mooed plaintively. In spite of its ghostly presence, Mrs. C. remained below rather than climb two-hundred sixty-eight steps in the rain to see something she said wouldn’t be visible anyway. Mrs. C., as you all know by now, is much brighter than me, but I’m a person of faith and determination and I expected the fog to part so I could have a clear conversation with this Big Buddha. Had he spoken he might have warned me that another Buddha would figure more prominently on this trip, forcing a confrontation between me, Mrs. Chatterbox and security in another country, prompting a situation that would send us to a guarded room for a bevy of questions designed to see if we were antiques smugglers, but I’m getting ahead of my story.



265, 266,267…


I’ve paused three times making my ascent to the Big Buddha and I’m wheezing like a smoker with a three pack a day habit. My nose burns with the smell of wet pine needles and incense smoldering in temples below. But I just reached the two-hundred and sixty-eighth step. Along the way I was passed by giggling herds of grade school girls, but I made it! I shook away rain like a dog and glanced upward for the first time at the largest bronze outdoor Buddha in Hong Kong. I saw absolutely nothing, perhaps a thumb piercing the fog but it could have been a hallucination brought about by the lack of oxygen. In fact, had I not known of his existence I wouldn’t have suspected I was in the presence of anything other than wet pine trees. With some things, it’s all about faith.


This is what I was looking for.



This is what I saw.



To be continued…   



Sounds Like a delightful trip, aside from the interrogation, and the stairway. In college I was a member of an intramural team known as the Big Buddhas. That is as close as I'll ever get.
By: David Walston on February 26, 2014
Yay, you're back! I'm hoping the rest of your vacation went a little better than this. I think I'd need one of those stairlift things the old people use, that chair that zips along the side of a staircase, if I wanted to get up there to see that.
By: PT Dilloway on February 26, 2014
I'm sorry you couldn't see the big guy. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 26, 2014
oh, no! :) welcome back!
By: TexWisGirl on February 26, 2014
Welcome home, Stephen. If you squint, and have the faith of an eager-to-please disciple, you can clearly see the Big Buddha in your photo.
By: Bryan Jones on February 26, 2014
What an adventure! And what a well written piece. Looking forward to part 2-
By: Shelly on February 26, 2014
Well, you have wet my appetite for another good travel story and your photos are exactly what was needed. My dear friends ( 30 somethings) were in Hong Kong about a week ago...wonder if you crossed paths?
By: Tabor on February 26, 2014
Welcome home CC. I hate travel so I look forward to seeing Hong Kong through you. Sorry we missed the Big Buddah (at least so far) sounds like trouble comming up. I hope you kept us out of jail!
By: Cranky on February 26, 2014
That is one amazing trip, Stephen. Well detailed and I'm sure well enjoyed!
By: Michael Manning on February 26, 2014
Oh goodie.....good stories again.....I can hardly wait.
By: Oma Linda on February 26, 2014
Well, at least when you travel, you do have adventures! Welcome home, you've been missed.
By: mimi on February 26, 2014
Glad to see you are back! It must have been quite frustrating to exercise so hard and not get rewarded with the view you hoped for!
By: Pixel Peeper on February 26, 2014
But you were THERE! I can't imagine going all that way, then deciding it wasn't worth the climb. Not that I would have attempted it, of course. But I would have urged everyone else to go to the top.
By: Val on February 26, 2014
Ooh I love the way you're telling this story! And I'm excited to hear more.
By: The Bug on February 26, 2014
Welcome back. Great story. I like Mrs C's very direct prediction on poor weather conditions.
By: red on February 26, 2014
He's back!!! Can't wait to read more!
By: Carrie on February 26, 2014
Sooo glad you're back. I've been suffering from Chubby Chatterbox absence, as you no doubt suffered from the Big Buddha absence. I wonder if he was really up there.
By: Franklin Bruce Taylor on February 26, 2014
ah it's so nice to have you back home- I've missed your stories and yay you are back! This is a wonderful story and I like how you paced it with your steps (pun intended ) The photos you took are quite remarkable foggy images and I like tham quite a bit. Cheers-looking forward to the next installment.
By: Kathe W. on February 27, 2014
oh- and I would not have waited at the bottom- too far traveled to stop then!
By: Kathe W. on February 27, 2014
Glad to see you're back! I've missed you and am looking forward to reading all about your adventures...
By: The Broad on February 27, 2014
Glad you and Mrs. C are safely back home. Too bad you couldn't see The Big B, but it sounds like you found something better, or maybe at least more forbidden, later. Looking forward to hearing more. :) S
By: Scott Park on February 27, 2014
Welcom back! It's too bad you didn't see the Buddha in all its glory but I suspect you've got at least a dozen new stories with which to keep up entertained. You always do suspense well.
By: Hilary on February 27, 2014
So glad to see your you must of made your way back home. I am always up for the climb to see whatever it is at the top. Had you not made the journey you would of always wondered what was to be seen. I am eager to hear all about your trip.
By: Cheryl P. on February 27, 2014
Isn't there some saying about it's not the destination, it's the journey? Still and all, that is a pretty cool looking statue. (chuckling about the grade school girls, however) :) Cat
By: Cat on February 27, 2014
Too bad you missed the big fella but it's a good story.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on February 27, 2014
Welcome back! I was looking forward to hearing your stories about your trip. Hopefully, it was fun and you ate well. Although, by definition, I suppose every restaurant was a Chinese restaurant.
By: Al Penwasser on February 28, 2014
Your description makes me feel like I was there. You are such a good writer.
By: Michael Offutt on February 28, 2014
This is only a portion of the news from the trip, wow. Seemed like you were gone a long time, and you were. Too bad the fog was so thick. But you had a great adventure. I look forward to reading more.
By: CiCi on February 28, 2014
Glad you're back - great post to get things rolling again :)
By: jenny_o on February 28, 2014
Ha! I saw a waterfall once that looked just like this! :)
By: Linda at To Behold the Beauty on February 28, 2014
Perhaps it's a good thing Buddha was wrapped in mist that day. Welcome back. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 3, 2014
Sounds like you had a great time especially with your good friend, your sense of humor, to keep you and Mrs C company.
By: John on March 4, 2014
Wow... you went there?!?!?! I am SO jealous!!!! I want to go!!!! ~shoes~
By: redshoes51 on March 4, 2014

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