It’s easy to get swept into the allure of Hong Kong’s neon signs and busy streets — the grandeur of the city has that effect. But as most people would probably agree, the more time you spend in a place, the more likely you are to start noticing the little things.
And as I’ve started to look, I’ve realized that the devil is in the details.
In every doorway and nestled in every quiet neighborhood, you will find the elements of spirituality. Sometimes showing up as a grey patch of leftover ash, and other times, manifested as a bright red shrine, but no matter what they always seems to be there.
The ritual of offering incense and fruit is called jingxiang or shangshiang and is a shared practice among Taoists, Buddhists, and Confucianist traditions.
The Ethos of the Temple
Stepping foot in these spiritual centers is quite a trip for a number of reasons. The first being that even from the outside, it’s quite evident that the entire temple is filled with smoke — so much so, that it’s permeating out of the entrance door. You walk inside and pass through a thick haze of aromatic incense. The stale atmosphere carries with it an esoteric energy; something that you respect, but cannot really comprehend.
What I’ve come to realize is that within the temple, we are able to reconcile the duality of pragmatic sensation and mysticism. The lines are blurred between the tangible and the intangible. In essence, spiritual space is filled with physical things (incense, candles, statues, artifacts, art, tapestries, & symbols) that are meant to stimulate the senses and resonate with you on a deeper level, guiding your inner being to transcendence.
Undoubtedly, the people of Hong Kong are deeply wedded to their traditions. It is still common place to frequently pay homage to the ancient deities and ancestors – and the ubiquitous presence of this spiritual space makes it very easy for people to casually do so.
The temple or shrine is the place to go when seeking out advice and insight as to your destiny and direction, luck, and the afterlife.
It’s been a longstanding belief that burning incense has a cleansing and purifying effect on the surroundings.
It’s actually possible that the origin of the city’s name stems from the aroma of incense:
“The legend says that a long time ago, fishermen working in the bay area noticed the smoky fragrance in the harbour as it was wafted to the sea from both incense factories in Kowloon and shore temples, and they began calling the island hēunggóng (香港): fragrant harbour.”
Lastly, here are some spiritual gems I’ve collected along the way.
Tian Tan aka. Big Buddha (center & right)
(left) One of the six small statues known collectively
as “The Offering of the Six Divas”