I caught the taxi to Kennedy Town from Ocean Park as I wanted to get a takeaway coffee and sit on the tram. There are signs all over the MTR saying not to eat or drink on the tubes (which is actually a good idea as it is much cleaner) but I hadn’t seen any on the trams. So, Keepcup in hand I boarded the first available tram and climbed to the top.
I met Jasmine at Central Pier number 5. The ferries take 55 -60 mins on the large one, or you can catch a 35 minute fast ferry. We were in time for the slow one and I spent the journey finding out more about the annual Bun Festival. Cheung Chau is one of the Outlying Islands; small and the shape of a dumb-bell, it is a popular getaway due to its beaches. It was Buddha’s Birthday on Saturday 14th May, so there are preparations going on in advance, and one of these is the Bun Festival. This is actually written down as one of Hong Kong’s many quirky festivals.
It’s extremely popular and will draw thousands of locals and overseas tourists evey year. It’s staged to mark the Eighth day of the Fourth Month, in the Chinese calender, which also coincides with Buddha’s Birthday.
The festival originally began as a fun and exciting ritual for fishing communities to pray for safety from pirates. Today this religious origin has largely been forgotten, and the festival has mainly become a showcase of traditional Chinese culture.
We docked finally and stepped out into a riot of colour. All along the harbour were stalls, selling gifts and plastic “buns” as momento’s. After a spot of lunch we had a wander around. There are numerous temples on here, and the harbour was beautiful with all the boats bobbing on their moorings.
Inside the temple, I was shown a tub of sticks. Each had a number on them.
The idea is to kneel in front in front of the alters, shake the sticks and ask it a question. Which ever number falls out has an interpretation. Obviously, I had to have a go. It took me a while to get the hang of it (don’t ask) but eventually a number fell out.
There was no-one around to explain my number choice, so Jasmine made a note of it, telling me there is a website that you can find out the meaning. Of course there is. I was also shown how to choose 9 incense sticks, light them and then put three into each of the three pots whilst making a prayer or hope for the future.
Unfortunately, I was concentrating so hard on the lighting and sectioning, that I forgot to make my wish. A bit like when you win the wishbone on the chicken, you forget to make a wish as you’re working out the best way to succeed. And then you’re totally surprised when you do win it. Or maybe that’s just me.
So, temples seen we wandered back to the harbour to have a mooch around and explore the island.
We found a beach, where I had to paddle my feet and then finally, after a detour to see some ancient rock carvings, we came across the Tower of Buns. Truly weird.
So, this one was still being prepared, but they were sticking hundreds of buns to the tower. It used to actually be bread, but that started to go off in the heat, so they’re now down the plastic route.
One story of the origin is that in the 18th century the island was devastated by a plague and infiltrated by pirates until a local fisherman brought an image of the god, Pak Tai, to the island. As it was paraded through the village, the diety drove away the evil spirits. Pak Tai is believed to have the power to confer smooth sailing.
Back to the towers. There are three giant 60-feet bamboo towers covered with buns which are placed in front of Pak Tai Temple. Historically, young men would race up the tower to get hold of a bun; the higher the bun, the better fortune for the holders family. After a tragedy in the 1970’s when one of the towers collapsed, three designated climbers now race up the their respective tower and then strip the towers of their buns as they descend. The festival lasts for seven days and apparently, on three of these days, the whole island goes vegetarian. Even the local McD’s joins in.
The day was coming to an end. The sun was low in the sky. We just had time for a brief look around the temple before catching the ferry back to the mainland. My time here is galloping away, but I have ticked off so many things from my Lonely Planet guide.