If you travel north of Mongkok you can pretty swiftly leave the Hong Kong of insane crowds, bars and shops, and enter quieter, more residential areas. Indeed, for normal everyday shopping, these can actually be the more useful neighbourhoods. Not only are the crowds thinner, but the Gucci and Prada stores are replaced with useful shops actually worth entering.
Sha Tin is just such a one of these places. Three stops north of Mongkok East on the East Rail Line, it is a world away from the bustle a stone’s throw from my flat. There is a village feel to the place and a far quieter air. But that was not the reason for my visit. I was here for the Temple of the Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Waiting for the unwary tourist is, at the bottom of the stairs, a would-be monk. Unbidden he presses beads to your forehead, bestows a kiss of blessing, and tries to force a bracelet on you. He is easily shaken off and left behind; I bounded up the first flight of steps away from the false monk and past the first of the ten thousand Buddhas.
The way to the temple is steep. A staircase cuts up the hillside, through the trees. It is lined with golden Buddhas, each in a different pose (or would these be Buddhavista or Bodhisattva?). They smile and frown, read books and play music, ride animals and stand alone. All the way up they go to the temple itself.
In truth, there is nothing very special at the top. The temple is as temples are. But the setting and the views and the entrance make it well worth the visit.
Back the other side of the MTR station is the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, an apparently politically contentious museum that Beijing is using to try and educate Hong Kongers about mainland history (and instil enthusiasm for a shared sense of nationhood).
I wandered through an exhibition focused on a single room from the Forbidden City that was important in the Qing Dynasty. The exhibition was lighter on actual exhibits than it was on videos but the effect was to inculcate a sense of mystery and excitement around the Qing. Quite why the Communist Party should want to evoke such feelings for the last imperial dynasty is less clear. But perhaps the ambiguity Hong Kong feels towards the museum is shared by its curators. Who knows?