They were like something out of Grimm's Fairy Tales: climb the stairs to your left and then follow the path. I began to climb, walking through a jungle of leaves and blossoms that canopied the steps, up a never-ending staircase that took me high above the highrise buildings of Sha Tin. Then there was a paved road that continued the upward slant, bordered with trees and mammoth elephant ear plants. It passed a few enticing looking buildings, but none bearing a sign that said Pilgrim's Hall. I began to hope that when I found it, there would friendly backpackers and a table where I could sit and have a bottle of very cold water.
Then there was a sign. This didn't seem promising, except for the part about keeping silence. Quietly, I kept going..
Then I found this. It was more than I had hoped for--quiet and a view, besides. I swallowed my agnostic reservations and wandered through a place that seemed uninhabited, until an elderly couple emerged from a nearby staircase. The woman stopped to exchange pleasantries and she explained where I was.
In the 1930s, a Danish architect with an interest in Chinese building and design came to Hong Kong. A devout Christian, he was curious about Buddhism and how it related to his own creed. He found property and began to create buildings that linked Danish and Chinese characteristics. When missionaries streamed out of China in the '40s, he gave them a refuge,continuing to build and create a sanctuary for all who would respect it.
This is the Pilgrim's Hall. It is one of the most serene places I've ever seen. I don't think it's meant for me but Thomas Merton would have felt very much at home here, I'm certain. Down a short flight of steps is this.
And across from it is this chapel.
And through the trees, almost unreal, float the towers of Sha Tin.
When I left, I felt almost like Rip Van Winkle. Would the world I left when I climbed to this silent refuge still be there? But within minutes I was surrounded by Zara and H&M and MotherCare and all of the other joys of civilization. This is my world, as much as I love to decry it. But I also love knowing that on a hilltop overlooking the malls is a place that exists out of this time. Or did I imagine it?