Saturday, 8 July 2017

Pingshan Heritage Trail & Tsing Shan Monastery Review

Pingshan Heritage Trail and Tsing Shan Monastery are two iconic heritage attractions in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. They showcase the culture and architecture of traditional Hong Kong and also allows guests to better understand Buddhist and Taoist religion. I visited these 2 places as part of the history and culture course I studied in Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Getting there

During the trip, I took a bus with the rest of the class. However, you can easily reach the 2 destinations by taking the MTR:

  • Ping Shan Heritage Trail: Take MTR West Rail Line to Tin Shui Wan station
  • Tsing Shan Monastery: Take MTR West Rail line to Tuen Mun, then transfer to light rain to Tsing Shan Tsuen station.
If you want to visit both places, I advice that you take MTR to Tin Shui Wan first, then take the light rail at the other end of Ping Shan heritage trail (Ping Shan station) to Tsing Shan Tsuen to visit the Monastery, before returning via light tail to MTR Tuen Mun station.

Ping Shan Heritage Trail

Ping Shan Heritage Trail is the first heritage trail in Hong Kong. Spanning 1.6km, it features multiple historic sites ranging from temples and pagodas to study halls. They are a nostalgic reminder of a time when this modern town in the northwest New Territories of Hong Kong was merely a humble market village. Notably, clans are a very important part of life in the old Hong Kong, and you will be able to learn about one of the largest clans in Tuen Mun - the Tang Clan!

Tsui Shing Lau Pagoda

Once you arrive at MTR Tin Shui Wan station, head towards exit E. A short walk down the slope will lead you to Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda. The 3 storey, hexagonal pagoda was built by the Tang Clan in the 15th century and is home to  is home to Fui Shing (‘Champion Star’), the deity responsible for success or failure in exams. In fact, the pagoda was originally situated on the mouth of a river facing Deep Bay and was intended as a feng shui structure designed to ward off evil spirits from the north and to prevent flooding

Yeung Hau Temple

As you walk along the trail, the next location is Yeung Hau temple. Yeung Hau temple is home to 3 deities: Hau Wong, Kam Fa and the Earth God. This temple really showcases 2 things: firstly, religious faith need not be an extravagant or elaborate affair. The simple structure and basic amenities really reflect the less-material-possession lifestyle of the commoner in old Tuen Mun. 

Secondly, Hau Wong and Kam Fa are actually real historic figures. They were deified after their death to commemorate their contributions to society. The deification of important people is a common practice in Chinese folk religion, and you will see more of it along the trail.

Can you spot the difference with the photo at the top of this post?

On the way to Yeung Hau temple, you will also go past the Shrine of the Earth God. This is an even simpler place of worship!

Tang Ancestral Hall

In this grand hall, the Tang Clan hosts social and networking events for their members and guests. However, behind the entrance courtyard stands the Tang Clan Ancestral Hall. Here, the names of people who contributed greatly to the clan are enshrined in a large altar. As I was told, ancient Chinese people strive to achieve great feats in their family's name. In other words, they are working hard so as to bring honour to their family, or in this case, their clan. This is so different from modern people like myself where we always think about achievements for oneself.

Kun Ting Study Hall/Ching Shu Hin

These 2 structures are the study halls of the Tang Clan. Basically, many ancient Chinese are not very financially well off, to say the least. As such, they rely on organisations like the Tang Clan to provide education facilities for their children. In fact, I was told the Tang Clan was one of the first clans in the Tuen Mun area to accept female students.

Look at the elaborate architecture. This is only possible because the Tang clan is able to combine the resources of all its members to build the study hall(s)

Here, every element in the design is meant to inspire the child to study hard. In the backdrop of Ching Shu Hin, a portrait uses traditional animals to symbolise a life of honour and glory if the child can pass the scholars exam, while at Kung Ting study hall, a large altar commemorates the most successful scholars of the Tang Clan. In ancient Chinese society, it is considered a great honour to the family to excel in the entrance exam and become a government official. No wonder Singaporean Chinese are so obsessed with scholarships!

Do you want to be in the hall of fame?

Hung Shing Temple

The final stop nearest to Ping Shan LRT station is the Hung Shing temple. The deity Hung Shing is widely worshipped, especially by fishermen and people whose livelihoods depend on the sea. As such, it serves a similar function to Tin Hau (or Thien Hock if you are from Singapore). Once again, you will notice that the main deity is flanked by several other deities. The mixing of deities in a single temple is quite common in Chinese folk religion since it is a polytheistic religion.

This door is NOT meant for you. Its to prevent evil spirits from entering!

Tsing Shan Monastery

The 2nd part of the field trip is to Tsing Shan Monastery. Here, after alighting at Light Rail Tsing Shan Tsuen station, you have to make long, long walk up the hill. I estimate that the total climb is about 800m and the height is similar to Bukit Timah Hill. I love how many of us students find it quite tiring and the professor said its "very easy"

Opps, you have only reached the halfway mark!

Three quarters...

and YES!!!
Tsing Shan monastery is actually 2 temples in the same compound: a Buddhist and a Taoist temple. The first temple you will see is the Buddist temple, which is coloured yellow. According to legend, an Indian monk who liked travelling in a wooden cup stayed where the Monastery now stands. His followers then built the Pui To Pagoda in his name. However, the main temple you see today is the modern structure.

The traditional structures are actually behind the modern temple!

Of course, this is not Hong Kong without Bruce Lee

One of the few original structures in the monastery

Is this cave dedicated to the Indian Monk Pui To?

Adjoining to the Buddhist temple is Ching Wan Koon, which is dedicated to Dou Lao, a Taoist goddess who is believed to be able to relieve people from their worries. Having 2 religions share 1 compound is quite unique, and really shows the degree of inter-religious tolerance in Hong Kong. In fact, the ancient Chinese were known to be very pragmatic about religion, so they are willing to worship multiple deities from different faiths to achieve their desired...enlightenments (if such a word exist).

Bonus fact: You can actually find a Buddhist deity in the Taoist temple! Good luck in your search!

It is not a Taoist temple if you cannot find mosquito coils!

So, this is Pingshan Heritage Trail and Tsing Shan Monastery. It is a good place to visit for people who want to learn more about traditional Chines culture as practiced in Hong Kong. It took our group about 2 hours to finish the heritage trail but we did not stop by at every location. We also spent about an hour at the monastery.

  • Strongly advice to bring Insect repellent, especially for Tsing Shan Monastery
  • Admission is free for all places
  • Learn more about the places from the Hong Kong tourism website before going. It really helps you to appreciate the structures and culture better. Ping Shan Heritage Trail. Tuen Mun & Tsing Shan Monastery.
That is all. If you like to know more about the culture of Hong Kong and the contrast between old and new, I strongly recommend you read more about the following: