Church of St. Catherine of Sienna (Samal, Bataan)

Church of St. Catherine of Sienna

The town’s first church was destroyed during the Dutch attack in 1647 and was rebuilt by Dominican Fr. Jeronimo Belen and again by Fr. Juan Zubelsu in the later half of the 17th century.

The 5-storey hexagonal bell tower

It was burned in 1836 and its roof repaired with galvanized sheets by Fr. Miguel Portell (who also built the convent).  In 1898, the church was burned by Katipuneros to drive out their enemies in the convent. Fr. Justo Quesada rebuilt the present church and convent from 1903 to 1905.

The convent

The church’s three-level, High Renaissance facade has semicircular arched main entrance with recessed door jamb and flanked by segmented arched windows and superimposed pilasters topped by pinnacles.

Church interior

Main altar and retablo

The second level has a semicircular arched window flanked by two smaller semicircular arched windows (above which are small triangular pediments).

Historical marker installed by the Philippine Historical Committee in 1939

Its balustered pediment has a blind circular window at the tympanum, above which is a small statued niche.  On the church’s right is its five-storey, hexagonal bell tower, with blind and open semicircular arch fenestration, and topped by a dome.

Right side altar

Left side altar

Church of St. Catherine of Sienna: Tel: (047) 451-1101. Feast of St. Catherine of Sienna: April 30.

How to Get There: Samal is located 111.3 kms. (a 2.5-hr. drive) from Manila and 14.6 kms. (a 25-min. drive) north of Balanga City.

Bahay Tsinoy: Museum of Chinese in Philippine Life (Intramuros, Manila)

Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center

After attending the opening day exhibit “Kuwentong Kutsero” of my Don Bosco Makati batchmate Gerardo “Ged” Merino at the St. Ignatius Church with in the Walled City of Intramuros, Jandy and I still had some time to kill so we proceeded to the Bahay Tsinoy (literally Chinese-Filipino House), a museum, within the Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center, I have been wanting to visit for a very long time.

Check out “Ged Merino: Turning Thread and Fabric into an Art Form

I consider myself as Tsinoy, being a member of the Locsin clan which had its beginnings sometime in the middle part of the 18th century, between the years 1747 and 1750, when an adventurous young man named “Wo Sing Lok” or “Sin Lok” from Amoy (old name for Xiamen), arrived in the Philippines. He permanently settled at “Parian,” now Molo in Iloilo City. In 1780, Sing Lok was christened as Agustin Locsin when he married Cecilia Sayson, a mestiza daughter of an Ilongga and a sangley (local Chinaman) who were both devout Catholics.

Check out “9th Locsin Reunion”

Replica of Terra Cotta Warrior

Jose Rizal

Designed in the American Colonial style by Eva Penamora in collaboration with my late U.P. College of Architecture professor Arch. Honrado Fernandez, the Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center was started in 1996 and completed and inaugurated in 1999.

Shoreline Tableau

After the acclaimed bi-lingual children’s educational television program Pinpin in the early 1990s, this museum project was envisioned by  the Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, Inc., a non-profit organization co-founded by Teresita Ang-See, to provide another venue for advocating patriotism to the Philippines and promoting cultural identity and understanding between the local Chinese and Filipino communities.

A Chinese goldsmith at work

A Chinese Cobbler and a Public Reader

Funding for the land and building structure, initially advanced by Angelo King Foundation, was eventually raised through generous contributions from different levels of Filipino-Chinese community, from tai-pans to average wage-earners.

Carpenters

The Galleon Trade

As we entered the center, we were welcomed by a replica of a terracotta warrior. Upon payment of admission fee, we entered the museum and first encountered a large ship introducing a brief history of the early contacts between the Chinese and the Filipinos prior to the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan.

Barber

Food Peddler

As we made our way further into the hall, we were greeted by an impressive and permanent heritage exhibit of a presentation of dioramas of almost life-size wax figurines tracing the history of the Philippine Chinese or sangley (meaning “itinerant merchant” in the Hokkien dialect), from Pre-Hispanic times to the Colonial Period.

Embroidery at  the Replica of a Whole Household

The Illustrado

A detailed impression of Chinese and mestizo (mixed Spanish Filipino) life in the parian (Chinese ghetto) in the 1800s is depicted via a replica of a whole household complete with Chinese-influenced furniture such as chairs and beds.

The Ah Tay Bed

There are also copies of marriage certificates contracted between Chinese husbands and Filipina or Chinese mestiza wives during the 18th and 19th century as well as their children’s baptismal records.

Colonial Culture – Shared Hands – Painting of Nuestra Senora de Pronto Socorro and Tombstones

Gallery of Rare Prints and Photographs

We also examined rare prints; a collection of excellent photographs; an interesting collection of rare porcelain unearthed in the country; old coins; religious artifacts reflecting Chinese influence; an exhibit of magazines, books, and even TV shows which promote the Chinese culture; and an exhibit of lives and contributions of famous Filipino-Chinese in the Philippine life and history.

Rare Philippine Shell Collection

In Defense of Freedom – Shared Cause

Ching Ban Lee Ceramics Gallery

At the third floor, we capped our tour at a dark section of the hall where we sat down and watched a hologram of a Tsinoy talking about how the early Chinese integrated themselves to the Philippine society.

Betty Go-Belmonte

Washington SyCip

The fully air-conditioned museum is divided into the following sections:

  • Early Contacts
  • The Parian
  • Colonial Culture
  • Emergence of the Chinese Community
  • In Defense of Freedom
  • Life in the 1800s
  • National Leaders of Chinese Descent
  • Gallery of Rare Prints and Photographs – scenes depicting old Chinese occupations, streets of Binondo, prints on turn of the century Chinese life.
  • Martyr’s Hall – dedicated for Filipino heroes who have Chinese ancestry and have made a significant impact in Philippine history.
  • Ching Ban Lee Ceramics Gallery – displays Chinese ceramics dating from 10th to 17th century that were unearthed in the Philippine,s tangible artifacts testament to centuries of trade between our two countries
  • Rare Philippine Shell Collection
  • Tsinoys in Nation-Building (Jimmy Ongking Hall) – inaugurated in 2004, it points out the influence of modern-day Tsinoys in business, politics, art, science, religious and social life. Some of the most important personalities, of (partly) Chinese origin, in Philippine history include national hero Jose Rizal, Pres. Corazon Aquino and Cardinal Jaime Sin.

Jaime Cardinal Sin

Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee and Pres. Corazon Aquino

The center is also home to the following:

  • Chinben See Memorial Library – named in honor of Prof. Chinben See, the late anthropologist and renowned scholar on overseas Chinese, this library holds 8,000 books, documents, magazines, dissertations, and other articles particularly on the Chinese in the Philippines and other parts of the world; an extensive Filipiniana collection of books on Philippine society, economy, culture and politics; rare books (some almost 200 years old) that have mention and photographs of the Chinese in the Philippines. Open Mondays to Saturdays, 9 AM to 5 PM.
  • Office of Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran
  • Benito Cu Uy Gam Hallavailable for parties & other events
  • Pao Shi Tian Seminar Room
  • Madame Teh Siu Yong Limpe Seminar Room
  • Research and Data Bank Center – contains a collection of current research materials, clippings, microfilmed archival materials, old Chinese newspapers, data base from Chinese tombstones all over the country, etc. The center plans to output policy papers that will help government. Open Mondays to Saturdays, 8 AM to 5 PM.
  • Awat Keng Auditorium – named in honor of Dr. Angelo King’s late younger brother, the auditorium seats 380 people and is used for seminars, conferences, theater productions.

Office of Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran

Chinben See Memorial Library

Bahay Tsinoy: 2/F Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center, 32 Anda cor. Cabildo St., Intramuros 1002, Manila. Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 1 to 5 PM.  Tel: (632) 527-6083 and 526-6796 and 98.  Fax: (632) 527-6085. Mobile number: (0922) 890-1357. E-mail: info@bahaytsinoy.org. Website: www.bahaytsinoy.org. Admission: PhP100 for adults and PhP60 for children and students.

How to Get There: Take the LRT-1 (yellow line) and get off at Carriedo Station.  In front of Santa Cruz Church, ride a Pier-bound jeepney and get off at BahayTsinoy.

Caleruega Retreat Center (Nasugbu, Batangas)

Dominicum (Caleruega Retreat Center)

After a filling lunch at Josephine’s Restaurant in Tagaytay City, Mark, Jandy, Vicky, Marc, Bryan and I opted to go on a sightseeing trip.  Back on Mark’s Starex van, we traveled a further 15.7 kms. (25 mins.) to the town of Nasugbu, in the adjoining province of Batangas, where we were to visit the much hyped up retreat center and wedding venue called Caleruega. Designed by Arch. Yolanda D. Reyes (Dean of UST’s College of Architecture) and built in 1995, Caleruega was set up as a venue for retreats and seminars of the Dominican institutions.

Mark (center) and Vicky (right) exploring the grounds

 

The much-publicized wedding of Christopher de Leon and Sandy Andolong gave Caleruega its early exposure and, today, it is a lovely setting for an out of town wedding for brides and grooms.  Even movies and television ads producers have taken notice.

United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) 1996 Design Award in Architecture

From the highway, we turned into of a long, rough, bumpy and isolated road, at the end of which is the sprawling, 8-hectare property owned by the Dominican Fathers. We parked our van just outside.  Past brick-paved rotunda and fountain is the Dominicum (which we mistook to be a chapel), the receiving hall for visitors and those having their retreats at the place.

Perched atop an elevation with a 21 steps leading up to it, its two level Moorish and Spanish-style facade has a segmental arched main entrance flanked by square pilasters and niches with statues of Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Sienna, both doctors of the church, at the ground level.

Stairway leading up to the Dominicum

The main entrance is topped, at the second level, by a semicircular arched window with the stained glass image of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order.  This window is flanked by smaller semicircular arched windows with stained glass images of his father’s coat-of-arms on the left and his mother’s coat-of-arms on the right.

Stained glass window depicting St. Dominic

The four square pilasters (two reaching up to the pediment) are topped by pineapple (probably hinting at its proximity to Tagaytay)-shaped finials.  The undulating pediment has a bell-gable (espadana) at the center.

Grand stairway

Inside is a grand, elegantly curving staircase (unfortunately, off limits to visitors), a gift house (where one can buy souvenir shirts, trinkets and religious items) on the left, a mess hall on the right and a corridor that leads to the gardens.

Mess hall

From the Dominicum, pathways, following the natural curves and slope of the hill, lead us into a garden bursting with color and life. It was easy to fall in love with the serenity and beauty of this gorgeous retreat sanctuary with its abundant and colorful varieties of flowers, lush plants and trees and walking paths.

In the comforting company of nature, one can sit on solitary park benches, found in niches, and gaze at the 180-degree view of cobalt-blue skies,  the rolling, verdant hills and mountains and the plains. Caleruega’s tag line, “Closer to Nature, Closer to God,” is a fitting description of this nourishing sanctuary.

Lining the pathway are functional dormitories, cottages and overnight guests plus an interesting gazekubo, a conference hall that mixes the elements of a gazebo and a bahay kubo, with adobe stone walls roof made with once brown pawid (now green with small plant growth).

Gazekubo

The many signs and symbols of the Dominicans were abundantly integrated into the architecture.  The motif of the Dominican star (Joanna of Aza, St. Dominic’s mother, saw a star on her son’s forehead, a sign that he would eventually spread light to the world), as well as the sun, can be consistently seen in the refreshing fountain on the driveway, capiz windows, grilles and even inside cottages in the retreat center.

There were also viewing decks where one can witness the stunning show and the magical moment of the sun setting between the two rugged peaks of Batulao (incidentally, the name Batulao is derived from the words bato, meaning “stone,” and “ilaw or “light”), creating the perfect mood for love. St. Dominic’s Point, another beautiful vantage point, has a statue of St. Dominic, his feet lined with a star formation of fuchsia plants.  Rosary Lane, framed by the rolling hills of Mt. Batulao, has a statue of the Mother and Child sitting in prayer, each clutching a rosary.

At the peak was the famed, stunning and quaint Transfiguration Chapel with its Moorish-style facade done in red brick and painted concrete. When we arrived, a wedding was ongoing inside the chapel.  Patterned after the original Caleruega Chapel in Spain, it can fit only 150 people.  Its door has a brass sculpture of seven grapevines (symbolizing the Seven Sacraments).

Transfiguration Chapel

The chapel’s interior, finished with varnished wood and painted concrete, has a lectern with Biblical images of the mustard seed while the tabernacle has a burning bush design.  The altar, made from a carved tree trunk, signifies the Stem of Jesse in the Book of Isaiah. The birds, at the communion table, symbolize God’s providence.

The chapel interior with its centerpiece stained glass window featuring the Transfiguration – Moses on the left, Jesus at center and the prophet Elijah at the right

The stained glass windows of the chapel, giving a very soft and warm glow to the interior (an atmosphere conducive for prayers and reflections), were impressive. On the facade is the seal of the Dominican Province of the Philippines. Inside is the centerpiece of the church floor to ceiling stained glass of the figures of Transfiguration (Jesus, Moses and Elijah).

The author at the Transfiguration Chapel

In front of the chapel is “Thy Will Be Done,” a metal sculpture with arms outstretched done by Baguio City artist Benhur Villanueva. Surrounding the chapel are carefully selected plants and trees (the planted pine trees even mimic the Mediterranean setting where St. Dominic was born in 1170 in Caleruega in Old Castile).

Thy Will Be Done (Benhur Villanueva)

Caleruega is a lovely, quiet and soothing addition to the 39 Catholic houses (retreat houses, formation houses, seminaries and contemplative groups) tucked along Tagaytay Ridge as well as over a dozen Christian lay communities and prayer houses.

Caleruega Retreat Center: Bgry. Kaylaway, Batulao, Nasugbu, Batangas.  Mobile number: (0921) 270-9890 and (0921) 830-4226.  E-mail: caleruega_philippines@yahoo.com. Open daily, 8 AM – 12 noon and 1 – 5 PM. A mass is held every Sunday at 11 AM.

How to Get There:
Coming from Tagaytay City, board a Nasugbu bound bus and ask the driver to drop you off at Evercrest where there’s a tricycle station.  Here, you can hire a tricycle for a two-way trip to Caleruega.

Ten Commandments Building (Baguio City, Benguet)

Dominican Hill in Baguio City is now famous for two things – the century-old, haunted Diplomat Hotel Ruins and the newer, giant Ten Commandments Building. This new tourist attraction in Baguio, right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Diplomat Hotel Ruins

Front view of building

This A-shaped, 12.19 m. high “prayer building” has two slanting slabs of stone carved with the imposing 152.90 sq. m. (1,645.8 sq. ft.) Bible’s Ten Commandments (a copy of the rules supposedly handed down by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai) that broke the Guinness World Records as the world’s first and tallest facility that features the Ten Commandments.

Concrete slab carved with the Ten Commandments

This PhP5.5-million building was commissioned last February 2011 by Nueva Vizcaya businesswoman Grace Galindez-Gupana, chief executive officer of ABS Gen Herbs International Corp. and founder of  the Kingdom of Jerusalem Halleluyah Foundation International (KOJHF, a religious group), and built by contractors from Nueva Ecija. The Ten Commandments building topped her previous world record, attained in 2009, when she built a similar 65 sq. m. tablet on a hill outside Manila.

It was turned over to the city government in July 2011 and officially unveiled on October 26 in the presence of  Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan, Menashe Bar-On (Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines), Minister Abraham Okoliko of the Nigerian embassy and the Guinness representative Vic Fabellana. The Israeli ambassador also led a “tree planting” of an authentic Jerusalem-grown olive tree in front of the Ten Commandments building. It houses an altar and a replica of the Ark of the Covenant.

Gupana, who seems to have a penchant for setting world records, claims her company now holds seven records, including developing the world’s largest national flag (an 18,847-sq. m. Israeli banner which can cover an area of two football fields) unveiled at the Baguio Athletic Bowl; producing the longest banner (composed of giant flags representing the Philippines, Israel and the two Koreas); the longest drawing of the Biblical serpent, dragon and beast mentioned in the Book of Revelations (5 kms. long and 7 m. wide), and the largest blood pressure checkup session that gathered 2,302 people and organizing the largest diabetes screening session for 503 people, the largest blood identification session involving 260 people, and the largest cholesterol test session for 527 people. The authenticity of these world records could not be independently confirmed.

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant

Ten Commandments Building: Dominican Hill Property, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet

Diplomat Hotel Ruins (Baguio City, Benguet)

The author outside the Diplomat Hotel Ruins

The Dominican Hill Retreat House, an abandoned structure atop Dominican Hill commonly known as the Diplomat Hotel, is a favorite spot for photography, airsoft tournaments, film making, wedding receptions and photography, cosplay photoshoots and many more. In spite of it being in ruin, almost every tourist that goes to the City of Pines makes it a point to visit this place because it is one of the most panoramic and picturesque spots in the city. However, due to its brutal and grim World War II history, it is considered by paranormal believers to be haunted.

The century-old Diplomat Hotel Ruins. At far right is the Ten Commandments Building

The building had its beginnings in May 1911 when American friars of the Dominican Order (or Order of Preachers), along with a few Spanish members, made plans for the construction of a vacation house for them and the nuns of their order in Baguio. A 17-hectare hill property was first acquired from Americans who reside in Baguio. The hill where the building was to stand was christened as “Dominican Hill.”

Plaque installed by the National Historical Commission

The building was designed by Fr. Roque Ruaño, O.P., a civil engineer and one of the members of the order.  He was the same architect of the main building of the current campus of the University of Santo Tomas.

The cross at the front of the hotel. Below it is a bas relief of a probable Dominican shield with a crown on top and a dangling rosary

Construction, said to have started in 1913, was supervised by Fr. Ruano himself. On May 23, 1915, it was then inaugurated. At the time of its construction, it was considered the grandest and most expensive stone structure in the city.

Prayer Mountain and Tourism Center

On June 1915, to take advantage of tax exemptions, the order set up a seminary named Colegio del Santissimo Rosario.  However, due to the very small enrollment (only 6 students enrolled in 1917), the school closed two years later and the building was reverted to its original use.

Baroque scroll ornamentation at jambs and the top of the main entrance

During World War II, the people fleeing from the Japanese sought refuge within its walls. Because of its commanding view of the city, the Japanese Imperial Army turned the compound into their headquarters and garrison. Within the courtyard and its grounds, the Kempeitai (Japanese secret police) committed barbaric acts such as torture, rape and decapitation of priests and nuns, as well as refugees.

The rehabilitated west wing of the building

On April 1945, during the liberation of the Philippines, the American forces bombed the place, partially hitting the right wing of the building while Japanese forces committed suicide. Between 1945 and 1947, the building underwent restoration.

The east wing of the building

In 1973, Diplomat Hotels, Inc. acquired ownership of the property and thoroughly remodeled the interior into a 33-bedroom hotel, all the while retaining the unique features and Dominican ambiance (the large white cross and the emblem was retained) which were earlier established by the Dominican friars.

Fireplace at hotel lobby. Tony Agpaoa is said to haunt this area

The hotel was managed by Baguio-based entrepreneur Antonio Agapito “Tony” C. Agpaoa, the sensational and controversial faith healer (later branded as a hoax by many) famous for psychic surgery who claimed to perform surgery with his bare hands without anesthetic.  The hotel became the haven of his patients that came mostly from abroad and they stayed here while being healed.

Multi-tiered fountain at Courtyard No. 1. Babies and little children were said to have been murdered here during the war

In the 1980s, Agpaoa suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with brain hemorrhage. On January 1982, the 42 year old Agpaoa died of his ailments. Since his death, the hotel ceased operations and was abandoned. Following its abandonment, the place was looted and sacked.

Similar fountain at Courtyard No. 2

The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, formerly known as the Ministry of Human Settlements, took over the ownership of the hotel. The Presidential Management Staff (PMS) came next.  During the June 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake, the building also sustained significant damage.

Exhibit at west wing

The property on the hill (currently named as Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park) was conveyed to the City Government of Baguio in April 2004 and, on April 5, 2005, was declared a National Historical Site through TCT No. T-85948.

Grand stairway leading to second floor

The entire property was declared as a historical site through City Resolution No. 168, series of 2013. The Deed of Conveyance and City Resolutions provided for the rehabilitation of the old building and the development of the property into a park by obligating the city.

One of the 33 hotel rooms

It is now under the maintenance of the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO). In May 2012, as part of the development of Baguio Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park as a preserved heritage site and to promote tourism, two new function halls for weddings, training and workshops in the hotel’s west wing were inaugurated. On September 1, 2014, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared it as an Important Cultural Property. 

Still intact bathtub at bathroom of one of the hotel rooms.

This 2-storey building, an example of classic Baroque architectural design with its striking details and admirable design, is a fusion of European church design, blended with local materials and motifs. Its rusticated facade has a porte cochere over a driveway.

The author

The ground floor, with semicircular arched windows, and the second floor, with rectangular windows, are separated by a horizontal cornice. The cornice, at the roof deck level, is located above corbels.

Headless ghosts of nuns and priests are said to haunt these hallways.

Planned out as a castle complete with crenelations, it has a massive fortress-like character. This is also the first hotel in the country, and even in Asia, to have a cross on its gabled main entrance. From this stone crucifix on the roof deck, a panoramic view of the city can be seen. Its roof also has water collecting devices. Inside are two courtyards, both with multi-tiered fountains.

Second floor hallway.  Note the still intact, circa 1970s crazy-cut marble flooring.  Floor beams are supported by decorative coorbels

If ghosts, spirits and the paranormal tickle your fancy, then this so famously haunted, eerie, bleak and abandoned building is definitely for you.  Considered as one of the most haunted places in Baguio City and the Philippines, even since the Diplomat Hotel was open, employees and guests would report hearing strange and eerie noises coming from the building and seeing headless ghosts, with their heads on a platter, constantly roaming the hallways.

Secondary stairway

However, even after the hotel shut down, those sightings would continue.  The people living nearby were often disturbed at night by sounds coming from the Dominican Hill. They would hear banging of doors and windows, clattering of dishes, voices of screaming people who seem to be agonizing, as well as rattling and clanging sounds alternating with total silence.  Adding to the eerie atmosphere is the derelict condition of the hotel.

Fireplace at east wing

As previously mentioned, during the World War II, numerous nuns and priests (forced to serve as helpers for the soldiers) were beheaded here and this is believed to be the reason why headless apparitions are often seen, during the night, inside the hotel. Crying coming from kids and babies, a common noise, are attributed to the massacre of numerous children done at the fountain.

Roof deck

Others say these are the restless spirits of Agpaoa and his patients.  Many years ago, a fire broke out in a portion of the hotel and several guests who were then staying at the hotel were trapped inside and died.  According to one of its caretakers, a woman who used to work there as a nurse committed suicide, for unknown reasons, by jumping from the rooftop where the cross is situated.

Cross seen from the roof deck.  A nurse was said to have jumped to her death at this area

A lot of documentaries have been written about this mysterious hotel.  It was featured on television programs such as Magandang Gabi, Bayan‘s 2004 Halloween Special, AHA! and Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho. Right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, is the fairly recent, A-shaped Ten Commandments Building, a “prayer building” which serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Ten Commandments Building

 

View of Baguio City from Diplomat Hotel Ruins

Diplomat Hotel: Dominican Hill, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador,  Baguio City, 2600 Benguet. Open 6 AM – 6 PM.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto (Baguio City, Benguet)

The author at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

The Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto (or simply the Grotto or Lourdes Grotto), a Catholic shrine and place of prayer and meditation, is one of the most popular attractions in Baguio City.  Located on Mirador (meaning “prospect point”) Hill, in the western part of the city, this very familiar and much photographed spot is particularly crowded on Sundays and during Holy Week, when pilgrims and devotees come to seek the blessing of the Virgin Mary.

The 252-step stairway leading up to the grotto

Visitors to this popular tourist destination have increased in numbers over the years. On Good Friday, it is estimated that about 10,000 people visit the grotto.  To reach the shrine, visitors must climb 252 steps or drive a light vehicle up a winding and steep paved road. When you reach the top of the stairs, it is traditional to light a candle.

The century-old Lourdes Grotto, an integral adjunct of the Mirador Jesuit Villa, was constructed in 1913 at the initiative of Fr. José Algue, S.J., the director of the Manila Observatory. It was made of the same limestone, probably gathered on Mirador Hill, and was built, in slow stages, by Jesuit scholastics (seminarians), brothers and fathers, usually during the summer when Jesuits on vacation would augment the community’s population.

Jandy at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

The stairway, from the grotto to the foot of the hills, was completed five years later. The steps began as stones laid on the ground but was later covered with cement.

Candle gallery

Prayer area for devotees

Inside the grotto is a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The image, of polychromed molave, was carved by noted sculptor Isabelo Tampingco, whose name is inscribed (“I. Tampingco Manila 1913”) at the back of the statue. Above the statue are inscribed the Latin words Tota Pulchra Es Maria (“You are beautiful Mary,” part of an old Catholic prayer of the same title). An excellent view of the city can be had from the grotto.

View of Baguio City

On March 2007, work began on the grotto’s upper most section. For the convenience of pilgrims, the upper most landing was extended by more than 150 sq. m. and handicap access was provided. The stairs leading up to the grotto, damaged during the July 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake, was repaired and a center rail added for the convenience of the elderly.

Kapilya Nina Hesus at Maria

Within the shrine is the Kapilya nina Hesus at Maria (Chapel of Jesus and Mary).  Commonly known as the Lourdes Grotto Chapel, inside is an image of the Divine Mercy on the left and Our Lady of Lourdes on the right.

Interior of Kapilya Nina Hesus at Maria. On the left is the statue of the Divine Mercy while on the right is the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes

Also within the grounds is The Shrine of The Risen Lord, a big statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms.  Made on the spot by skilled sculptors from Black Nazarene Enterprises (the sculpture atelier of Bernie Caber), it was dedicated on February 11, 2008, the 150th anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous.

Walkway leading to The Shrine of the Risen Lord

The statue will be the culmination of a planned outdoor Stations of the Cross whose bas reliefs will also be designed by Bernie Caber.  It will begin near the parking area at the vehicular entrance of Mirador Hill and will follow a penitential path through the rock formations of Mirador Hill.

Shrine of the Risen Lord

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto: Dominican Hill Rd., Mirador Hill, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet. Open daily, 6 AM – 7:30 PM.

How to Get There: From Zandueta St. (Baguio Central District), jeepneys travel to Lourdes or Dominican Hills.

Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden (Manila)

Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden

The 5.5-hectare (14-acre) Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden, fondly called as the Manila Zoo, was opened on July 25, 1959 (the oldest zoo in the Philippines and in Asia). It was the brainchild of the late Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson.

One of the educational centers in the country, here the viewing public can observe, discover and learn interesting facts about the beauty of Philippine fauna and flora.

The now 60 year old zoo, maintained by Public Recreation Bureau, is home to 832 animals (as of 2007) and many plant collections from the botanically rich and diverse Philippine Islands and South Pacific region.

There are 106 species (up from 90 species in April 2015), among which are 30 different kinds of mammals, 63 reptile species and 13 types of birds. It also houses 600 plant species.

Ostrich

In addition to popular zoo occupants such as an elephant, Bengal tigers, ostriches and lions, Manila Zoo also houses Malayan civetmonitor lizard and several endemic and indigenous species of animals like the Palawan bearcat (binturong), Philippine long-tailed macaques, Philippine deer and Philippine crocodiles. Many of the zoo’s animals were born in captivity with three month-old juveniles recently born in April 2015. 

Philippine Deer

Worth checking out is a “hebra,” half-zebra and half-horse, the only one in the country, born on August 11, 2010 to  a female zebra and a male horse. Though shaped more like a horse than a zebra, it has boldly striped body, legs and neck.

Hebra

The Bengal tigers and lions, being great jumpers, can only be viewed from an elevated vantage point.

A pair of Belgian tigers

Lion

The reptile house, inside a stone structure, was inaugurated on July 25, 2009 during the term of Mayor Alfredo Lim.  A favorite of kids, it houses pythons, grass snakes, Philippine common cobra (Naja naja philippinensis), Saifin Water Lizard (Hydrosaurus pustulatus), turtles and large Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus).

Philippine Crocodile

Malaysian box turtles

The fish pond houses arapaimas, red belly pacu, red tail catfish, alligator gar, Pangasius catfish, etc.

Fish Pond

The zoo also houses domesticated animals (goats, pigs, Guinea pig, hamsters, sheep, rabbits, etc.), a goose cage and a lagoon.

Lagoon

There are also two aviaries housing exotic birds (Philippine hawk eagle, White-bellied sea eagle, Black-crowned night herons, Purple herons, Rufous night herons, Indian blue peafowls, Banded rail, Leucistic Indian peafowls, Blue-naped parrot, egrets, Turtle dove, Spotted dove, Purple swamphen, Double wattled cassowary, etc.).

Interior of aviary

The zoo has already lost many of its original inhabitants.  It was once home to the 2.5-ton Bertha – believed to be the world’s oldest hippopotamus – until her death at age 65 in July 2017 from multiple organ failure. She arrived at the zoo, as a 7 year old, the year the zoo opened in 1959.  Her mate, who died sometime in the 1980s, failed to produce any offspring.

There used to be 3  giraffes in the zoo but all have died due to natural causes.  They are now all part of Manila Zoo’s history.  Today, we can only see a replica or effigy of a giraffe which hardly satisfied our curiosity. 

My son Jandy admiring a giraffe during a school field trip to Manila Zoo in the 1990s

If you want to see giraffes (albeit short neck ones), go to Calauit Safari Park in Palawan. Kangaroos can be found in Baluarte Zoo in Vigan (Ilocos Sur).  

Check out “Calauit Safari Park” and “Baluarte Zoo

The tree-dwelling 38 year old Sisi, the lone female orangutan housed in the zoo since 1981, died on June 21, 2009 of multiple organ failure due to metastasized tumors.

Domestic goats

By law, the Manila Zoo must operate in accordance to Republic Act 8485 (also known as the Animal Welfare Act of 1998) whose purpose is to ensure that all terrestrial, aquatic and marine animals in the Philippines have their physical and psychological needs met in ways that promote well-being.

Its Wildlife Rescue Center, subject of public scrutiny in regard to their animal welfare standards, serves as temporary shelter and repository for confiscated, donated, retrieved, sick, injured and abandoned wildlife species.

Its most popular resident is the 43 year old Asian elephant Maali (short for Vishwamaali), the only elephant in the zoo and the only captive elephant in the Philippines.   He arrived at the zoo in 1977 as 3 year old orphaned calf transported from Sri Lanka, after being poached from the wild. She was just walking around in circles.

Maali the African elephant

Sadly, he is known as the world’s loneliest elephant and she is the subject of a campaign from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), an animal rights organization which issued a report pointing out the numerous issues regarding Mali being kept in captivity.

Rooster

Seemingly stressed and miserable, she was subject of a campaign to free her, alleging animal cruelty, and has drawn support from Philippine bishops, global pop stars, and Nobel Laureate John Maxwell Coetzee.

Domestic sheep

The zoo has been criticized due to its inadequate animal care and dirty surroundings but efforts have been made to make the animal habitats as comfortable and natural as possible, such as by adding trees and vegetation, and expanding the enclosures.

Hamster

Due to over congestion in the zoo, management plans to transfer many of its animals to a separate breeding area or sanctuary outside Metro Manila. The current zoo will just be an exhibit area.

NOTE:

On January 23, 2019, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has ordered the indefinite closure of Manila Zoo after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) identified it as a major pollutant of Manila Bay as it had been draining untreated sewage into Estero de San Antonio Abad leading to Manila Bay.  During its closure, the city government will work on the installation of water treatment facilities or sewerage treatment plants for Manila Zoo.

Manila Zoo also has canteens, souvenir shops, boating rentals at the lagoon and several playgrounds that cater to children and tourists.

Administration Office

Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden: M. Adriatico St. cor. Quirino Ave., MalateManila 1004Philippines. Tel: (632) 525-8157 and 400-1884. Open daily (including holidays), 8AM to 6PM. Entrance Fee: non-resident adult (Php100), non-resident child;  above 4 ft. (Php100); non-resident child, below 4ft. (Php60); Manila resident, adult (Php50); Manila resident, child, above 4ft. (Php50); Manila resident, child, below 4ft. (Php30). Manila residents need to present ID with picture (TIN ID, Voter’s ID, Driver’s license, Barangay ID, UM ID).  For Manila students only, present School ID.

Po Lin Monastery (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

The author at the courtyard of Po Lin Monastery

After our visit to the Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha), we proceeded to the nearby Po Lin Monastery,Buddhist monastery located on level Ngong Ping Plateau, between the lush, green Lantau Peak and Lei Nak Peak.  The wooden bracelets sold near the Big Buddha statue (an extension of the monastery) are made at Po Lin (translated as “precious lotus”).

Check out “Tian Tan Buddha

View of Po Lin Monastery from Tian Tan Buddha

Founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu Province on the Chinese mainland, it was initially known simply as “The Big Hut” (大茅蓬 Tai Mao Pung) but was renamed to its present name in 1924.

In 1918, three nuns ordained at this monastery established a private nunnery, dedicated to Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy), called Chi Chuk Lam (紫竹林) on Lantau’s Lower Keung Hill (下羌山). In the 1950s, there were about 20 jushi and nuns residing there but, today, only an elderly abbess remains. On June 2013, the site was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Hall of the Heavenly Kings

Hall of the Heavenly Kings

We spent some time admiring the architecture of the structures of this orderly Buddhist monastery complex which houses many Buddhist scriptures.

Kyle, Jandy and Cheska at the courtyard of Po Lin Monastery

Its many halls (Da Xiong Bao Dian, the Maitreya Hall, the Hall of Ti-tsang Bodhisattva, the Weituo Hall, the Banruo Hall, the Sutra-Collection Hall) and prominent architectural buildings and structures sit tightly on the north-eastern to south-western axis, overlooking the South China Sea. On the south side of the axis are the Po Lin Hall and the facility for ceremonial and religious activities.

Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda.  On the upper level is the Hall of Great Hero while on the lower level is the Hall of Arhats

San Men (Mountain Gate) leads up to the Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda, the Main Shrine Hall of Buddha, and the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas.  In symmetrical arrangements on the flanks are the Bell Tower (houses a 1,000 kg. bronze bell) and the Drum Tower, the Hall of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, the Meditation Hall, the Dining Hall and the Sangha Hall.

Hall of Great Hero (off limits to visitors)

These edifices enclose and create roomy space and airy courtyards. The Hall of Ti-tsang Bodhisattva houses an approximately 200 kg. (441 lb.) bronze statue of Ti-tsang Bodhisattva.

Hall of Arhats

Hall of Arhats

In its effort in spreading Buddhism and in moving forward towards globalization, the monastery has changed its architectural concept from local southern China to that of Beijing palatial design.  The seven-span Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda, completed in 1970, adopted the architectural design of the Ming and Qing’s Dynasty palaces.

Its double-eaved gable roof, made of yellow-glazed tiles, has a ridge decorated with zoomorphic ornaments, dragons, phoenixes and animal patterns. Coiled granite dragons, carved in the Minnan style, can be seen on the front and the back of the hall.

Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas

On the other hand, the incredibly ornate Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which went on the drawing board in 2000 and was completed in 2014, adopted the classical architectural concepts of the Song Dynasty.

Koi Pond

Covering an area of more than 6,000 sq. m., it now enshrines more than 100 statues and has a shrine hall, an exhibition hall, a meditation hall, an abbot’s chamber, a scripture library and other multi-functional facilities.

Bell Tower

The Great Hall of Treasure (Da Xiong Bao Diane) enshrines three bronze statues of the Buddha (Sakyamuni, Dipamkarara and Maitreya, representing his past, present and future lives). Many visitors here join in praying and giving offerings at the temple.

Drum Tower

Interior of Drum Tower

For those who fancy typical, good quality vegetarian cuisine, the monastery also has a vegetarian kitchen where a multi-course lunch can cost you up to HK$138.  Dishes are served at the dining hall and at the Fat Ho Memorial Hall. Opposite the dining hall, snacks such as salty dimsum, steamed cakes, spring water bean curd, glutinous rice dumplings with mango filling and noodles are sold.

Fat Ho Memorial Hall

Near the giant Tian Tan Buddha and the monastery is the Ngong Ping Village and Ngong Ping 360, a gondola lift running between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping.

Check out “Ngong Ping 360 and Ngong Ping Village

Deli Vegetarian Cafe

Po Lin Monastery: Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2985 5248.  Fax: +852 2985 5600.  E-mail: info@plm.org.hk.  Website: www.plm.org.hk.  Open daily, 8AM to 6PM. The Vegetarian Kitchen is open daily from 11:30AM to 4:30 PM  (7 PM on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays).

Tian Tan Buddha (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

Tian Tan Buddha Statue

The majestic Big Buddha statue, sitting atop the peak of 479 m. high Mount Muk Yue, is sited near Po Lin Monastery.  At ground level, the statue was quite a formidable and imposing sight. Together with many other tourists, we were huffing and puffing on our way up, only catching our breath at a number of stair landings. The view of Lantau Island, the 934 m. (3,064 ft.) Lantau Peak and the South China Sea from the top was ’breathtaking.

Check out “Po Lin Monastery

This large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, a major center of Buddhism in Hong Kong and a popular tourist attraction, symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith.  The statue, skillfully mastered and conceptualized by the artist to shape the perfect design of the Buddha statue that we see today, was a culmination of the characteristics of Buddhist sculptural art of the Sui and Tang Dynasties (when Buddhism was at its prime).

Taking 12 years to plan and build, this bronze Buddha statue, an outstanding piece in Buddhist sculptural art in recent history, is now a major landmark in Hong Kong attracting numerous local and overseas Buddhists and visitors.  It symbolizes the stability of Hong Kong, prosperity of China and peace on earth.

The author at the foot of the stairs leading up to the Buddha

The Big Buddha Statue, combining traditional bronze art with modern science and technology, embodies the harmonious resonance of Buddhist spirit and modern civilization – a solemn epitome of human beings’ continuous and unyielding pursuit of moral happiness and peace on earth.

Grace (near left), Cheska (fifth from left), Bryan (sixth from left) and Kyle (right) making their way up the stairs

Here’s the timeline of the statues construction:

  • In 1974, the government granted Po Lin Monastery 6,567 sq. m. of land in Mount Muk Yue, at a nominal premium, for the building of the Buddha statue.
  • On December 26, 1981, the Committee for the Construction of the Tian Tan Buddha Statue was formally established, by Po Lin Monastery, to coordinate the project, including the artistic design and concept of the statue, building materials and details of construction.
  • On April 1982, the work on the 1:5 scale, 5 m. high plaster model of the statue, fashioned by Ms. Hou Jinhui of the Guangzhou Institute of Fine Arts, was started.
  • On February 1984, the plaster model was completed, the draft of which had been revisited eight times, following discussions and consultations with the artist responsible for the conceptual design of the statue.
  • On September 26, 1986, the plaster model of the statue was shipped to Nanjing from Guangzhou.
  • On April 1989, the bronze pieces were transported to Hong Kong by sea.
  • On October 13, 1989, the last bronze piece of the statue was put in place and a solemn topping ceremony was held on the same day.
  • On December 29, 1993, which the Chinese reckon as the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment, the statue was inaugurated, with monks from around the world invited to the opening ceremony. Also taking part in the proceedings were distinguished visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the United States.

Halfway up the stairs

The project was divided into six stages, with Nanjing Chengguang Machinery Plant of the China Astronautics Science and Technology Consultant Corporation principally carrying out the actual casting, finishing and assembly of the Buddha statue.  During the overall project design stage, over 5,000 drawings and 300 technical documents were produced within less than three months. The daily and monthly work progress for the subsequent three years was mapped out and prepared by system analysis.

Bronze incense censer

The enlargement, carried out by the technical staff through a special “survey-controlled box enlargement method,” involved the use of stereoscopic photography to find out the position of the statue in space.  When over 3,900 coordinate points were established, the computer was then used to calculate the enlargement. At the same time, to form the inner frame of the statue, a traditional method of using boxes which were stacked up in layers was used. Then plaster was applied to the outer surface, producing a 1:1 scale model.

The body of the statue, cast in 202 bronze pieces after careful studies and surveying, was supported by an inner steel framework and fixed by connecting bolts. Auxiliary supports were used to connect the bronze pieces to the main framework.  The bronze pieces had thicknesses ranging from 10 to 13 mm. and the error margin of each cast piece was less than 3 mm..  Precision molds were prepared according to the different shapes of the pieces.

After overcoming numerous difficulties, the professional staff, in an effort to portray fully the splendor of Buddha Sakyamuni and to achieve a perfect artistic design, managed to finally cast the face of the Buddha in a single piece. To rehearse for the on-site assembly, a trial assembly was carried out in the plant where any problems that might occur on site were detected and solved.

View of Po Lin Monastery

The Buddha statue was trial assembled separately in three sections (upper, middle and the lower) and various necessary adjustments and trimmings were made to the bronze pieces plus initial mechanical finishing was also carried out.

Jandy with the Big Buddha in the background

On arrival at Lantau Island, the very large face piece and two other large bronze pieces were safely transported up to Mount Muk Yue with the help of the Transport Department who provided a large lorry and two large cranes (which sandwiched the lorry in the middle) for this arduous journey up the winding and narrow roads on the island. The arduous task of assembly and welding (the length of weld was over 5 kms.) of the statue was carried out, in open air, from bottom upwards in eight layers.

To ensure that the Buddha statue would not be damaged by strong winds, calculations on the wind pressure, imposed load and material strength of the various parts of the statue were conducted the specialists using computers and the Beijing Institute of Aerodynamics specially created a testing model, utilizing the wind tunnel employed for satellites and rockets, to conduct unidirectional as well as multi-directional wind tests on the statue as a whole and on the various parts.

The Offering of the Six Devas

The optimal coating for the surface coloring of the statue, carefully studied for over a year, was selected from various formulas for surface coloring.  Oozing an air of classical simplicity and solemn dignity, it is not susceptible to fading because of corrosion due to the exposure to the elements.

One of the halls inside the podium

Here are some interesting trivia regarding the statue:

  • The design of the statue was based on the 32 laksanas (“physical marks” of the Buddha as described in the sutras).
  • The Tian Tan Buddha is one of the five large Buddha statues in China and is the biggest sitting Buddha statue built outdoor.
  • The statue was named The Big Buddha because its base is a model of the Earthly Mount of Tian Tan (or Altar of Heaven), the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
  • Enthroned on a lotus on top of a three-platform altar, it is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas,” symbolizing the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.  They are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit and music to the Buddha.
  • Every feature of the Buddha statue has a symbolic meaning of religious significance. The face, measuring 4.3 m. by 5.8 m., with a thickness of 13 mm. and a weight of 5 metric tons, was modeled after the Buddha Vairocana of the Longmen Grottoes for its fullness and serene beauty. The clothes and headgear had their inspiration from the soft and smooth flowing lines of the Buddha Sakyamuni image in Cave 360 of the Mogao Caves.
  • For the building of the Buddha statue, the original idea was to use reinforced concrete. However, due to artistic requirements, structural problems as well as the anticipated difficulties in quality and cost control, bronze was finally chosen as the building material.
  • The Big Buddha is 34 m. (112 ft.) tall, weighs over 250 metric tons (280 short tons) and was constructed from 202 bronze pieces.
  • Reputedly the figure can be seen across the bay from as far away as Macau on a clear day.
  • In addition to its exterior components, there is a strong steel framework inside to support the heavy load.
  • Visitors have to climb 268 steps to reach the Buddha. However, to accommodate the handicapped, the site also features a small winding road for vehicles.
  • The Buddha’s raised right hand represents the removal of affliction while the left hand, resting open on his lap, is in a gesture of generosity.
  • The statue faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south.
  • One of the statue’s most renowned features inside is a relic of Gautama Buddha, consisting of some of his alleged cremated Only visitors who purchase an offering for the Buddha are allowed to see the relic, entering to leave it there.
  • On October 18, 1999, the Hong Kong Post Office issued a definitive issue of landmark stamps, of which the HK$2.50 value depicts The Big Buddha.
  • In 2000, the Big Buddha Statue was elected as the fourth of the 10 Engineering Wonders in Hong Kong (the others, all public works projects, are the Lantau Link, the Hong Kong International Airport Passenger Terminal and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Extension). Of the projects in the private sector, the Big Buddha Stature came as the first.
  • On May 22, 2012, it was also featured on the HK$3 value of the Five Festival set, this one celebrating the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha. The MTR corporation also issued a souvenir ticket featuring a photograph of the statue.

View of Lantau Island and South China Sea

There are three floors beneath the statue – Hall of the Universe, Hall of Benevolent Merit and Hall of Remembrance.   In the show room, there’s a huge carved bell, inscribed with images of Buddhas and designed to ring every 7 minutes, 108 (symbolizing the release of 108 kinds of human vexations) times a day.

View of Lantau Peak

Tian Tan Buddha: Ngong Ping Rd., Ngong PingLantau Island, Hong Kong. The Buddha (as well as Po Lin Monastery) are open daily, 10 AM to 5 PM. Access to the outside of the Buddha is free of charge, but there is an admission fee to go inside the Buddha.

How to Get There: Visitors can reach the site by bus or taxi, travelling first to Mui Wo (also known as “Silvermine Bay”) via ferry from the Outlying Islands piers in Central (pier No. 6) or to Tung Chung station via the MTR, or via the 25-min. Ngong Ping 360 gondola lift between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping. Visitors may then travel to and from the Buddha via the Mui Wo ↔ Ngong Ping (NLB No. 2) and Tung Chung ↔ Ngong Ping (NLB No. 23) bus routes.

Ngong Ping Piazza (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

New Pai Lau of Ngong Ping Piazza

During our cable car ride to Ngong Ping Village, we already saw the huge Tian Tan Buddha (also called the Big Buddha) statue sitting on the side of the mountain and, after our return from our visit to Tai O Fishing Village, we proceeded to go there.  Along the way, we had to traverse the length of the 1.5-hectare Ngong Ping Piazza.

The author at Bodhi Path

The piazza, where visitors could get started and tour to observe the religions and nature of Ngong Ping, connects with Po Lin Monasterythe Big BuddhaNgong Ping Cable CarNgong Ping Village and the Wisdom Path, a landing with 38 impressive, 8-10 m. high wooden rectangular beams, each beam inscribed with Chinese scriptures that  make up the prayers of the Heart Sutra, one of the most popular Buddhist prayers.

Check out “Po Lin MonasteryTian Tan BuddhaNgong Ping 360 and Ngong Ping Village

This intensely Buddhist piazza has four main components – New Pai Lau (built to reflect the northern architectural style of Qing Dynasty); Bodhi Path; Di Tan (Altar of Earth); and a Chinese landscaped garden constructed to echo with the design of Po Lin Monastery.

Stone statue of General Mihira

As we left Ngong Ping Village, we walked through the New Pai Lau, the towering ornamental archway to Bodhi Path, the central walkway paved with lotus tiles, where we were surrounded by Chinese structures that emit an aura of antiquity, appreciating the stone statues of the 1.8 m. high “Twelve Divine Generals” (each weighing about 1 ton) as well as 40 lotus-shaped stone lanterns installed on both sides.

Stone statue of General Anila

The “Twelve Divine Generals,” the protectors of the Healing Buddha, are also guardians of the hours of the day, each responsible for a two-hour period.

Di Tan at Ngong Ping Piazza

In addition, they represent the twelve Chinese zodiac signs, as denoted by the different zodiac signs on their crowns. Di Tan, the open space of Po Lin Monastery, is primarily tiled with grey granite paving. The four lotus ponds, built on the perimeter, facilitate the staging of religious ceremonies and rituals held from time to time.