Sunday was one of mixed feelings: both happy and sad. I was happy that I was able to take time off to relax in the quiet bosom of nature. I was sad because I witnessed in concrete the ineluctable passing of an age. I went to the old monastery which used to produce and sell full cream milk of excellent quality under the brand name
Milk 十字牌牛奶" or "Priest Milk 神父牌牛奶". Perhaps due to the dwindling number of
young people prepared to undergo a life of simplicity, working with their hands and body, prayers, hymn
singing and contemplation as a form of religious
worship, the dairy farm there was forced to cease operation for lack of
manpower. The supply of milk has now been entrusted to another private company in which the monks own 30% shares and the relevant dairy farm is now relocated to
somewhere in Yuen Long and Guangdong. The monastery concerned is
the Trappist Haven Monastery (熙篤會神樂院 now 聖母神樂院), at Tai Shui
Hang, on Lantau Island. Only a small
number of monks are still staying there now. On January 15,
2000, it changed the name by which it was known to most old timers of Hong Kong, from "The Trappist Haven Monastery" to "Our Lady of Joy Abbey".
internet sources, Trappist monks follow the kind of monastic life based
on rules first laid down by Saint Benedict, in 6th century Italy.
Formally, they are called the "Order of Cistercians of the Strict
Observance", founded in 1098 in France but the name "Trappist" has stuck
because of the 17th-century
reform movement of the order that started at La Trappe, France. It was
in 1883 that the first Trappist monks arrived in Asia and established
Our Lady of Consolation Abbey at Yangjiaping, northwest of Beijing, the only
one at that time in Asia. Then in 1928, the parent house the present Our
Lady of Joy Abbey, was founded. It was somewhere near Zhengding in Hebei
province, quite close to Beijing. It is there still. However, when the atheistic communists took control of Hebei in 1947, the 65 monks there fled, first to Chengdu in
Kuomintang-controlled Sichuan and then in 1951, two years after the CCP took control of the whole of China, 20 of their
number escaped to Hong Kong . Three of them had to disguise themselves in fake
PLA officers' uniforms whilst one pretended to be mad. Those who failed
to escape were jailed for the next three decades. Only a few of them
survived until their release in the early 1980s.
The 73 hectares of land on which the monastery now stands was first rented from the Hong Kong Government in 1951 at the nominal rent of $20 per year, which they are still paying. When they
first arrived, they settled down in Mui Wo. But after 9 months, they succeeded in building a rough shed at its present site, to
be used as a dormitory. They had to carry the building
materials for four kilometers all the way from Mui Wo to Nim Wan across the mountain path joining the two places. In 1955, they laid the foundation stone of the permanent monastery. By the early 1980s, when China changed its policies, most of the old-timers returned to
the mainland to visit their families. Some of them continued to work
at the Hebei monastery which struggled on. Most of those who were released
from jail continued to work in the "underground" Catholic Church
but a few of them have since joined the sanctioned Chinese Catholic
which does not recognize the primacy of the Pope.Perhaps, Although not very many
people know it, the abbey has a guest house for people doing what
Catholics call "retreats", a period of time in which they would observe
silence and contemplate on the mystery of the salvation and upon the
way they have led their lives and spend time to pray.
I really admire people who have
the courage to resist all the temptations offered by contemporary
secular society to lead a life of prayers and contemplation. I was struck by a strange sense of inconsolable melancholy in my heart when my
eyes fell on to the broken windows, wooden doors with peeled off
paints, broken locks, the discarded motors, plastic buckets. loose wires, stopped electric meters, rusting roofs of
corrugated iron, metal fences and other dairy implements lying at the
side of the path, stacks of bamboo poles which were probably used for
processing hay during the hey days of its dairy business standing erect
but idling on a wooden stand in front of a disused shed, the rough
surface of the concrete path now overgrown with all sorts of grasses,
weeds, flowers and its floor covered with a carpet of brown pine needles
and cones. They all seem to
be singing to me, each in their own peculiar voice, as in an orchestra of whispers: "Don't
look at us as we now are. We 've seen better days. There were cattle
then. You should have seen how those monks in brown gowns,
enthusiastically carrying fodder to the cow in the morning sun as their
form of prayer, the clatter of the hooves of the cow as they trotted down to be milked, jostling against each other with their their bursting udders swaying left and right and dangling up and down in synchrony with the motion of their bodies, the moo-ings of the cows as evening approached, when being milked or when they were in heat, how excited the friars were when
new calves arrived with their wobbly legs, the sloshing sound of the milk as it was poured
from containers to containers, the tinkling of the glass bottles with
red crosses as they were shoved along the conveyor belt to the dull
whirring of the motor supplying the electricity to the belt, and how the
cows would stare when they hear the heavenly hymns coming from the chapel close
by, the honking of the milk vans to signal their arrival for collecting
the full-cream milk ..Those were the days...Now hardly any one ever look
at us and those who do would merely cast a few cursory glances at us and would
quickly move away to resume clicking at their cameras or their chit
chats and then leave."
A wooden statue of St. Benedict at the entrance to the Chapel
A closer view of the founder of the order.
A view of the chapel
A statue of Jesus. Behind him, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, both facing the light from the windows.
Figures of Jesus and Mary in barest outline at the top of the altar.
The simplicity of the Chapel windows. No colors. It was an order stressing control of sensory desires.
Solidly but simply built arches inside the church
A candle to remind us of the passing of time as our life burns away.
A brother in meditation.
The entrance to the monastery off limits to the visitors where the friars are supposed to spend their
time in quiet contemplation, prayer or work.
Their private chapel hidden amidst trees.
Another view of the chapel from higher up.
The abandoned cow shed with rusting roof and two creepers competing to colonize it.
The barn for storing fodder or the milking the cows?
Rows of bamboo poles on a stand. They have been laid off for redundancy without pay! It appears
that they still got an occasional coat of new paint as a reward for past service though.
The former milk processing facility?
Its doors have fallen off from the door frame and are bent inwards.
A concrete reinforcing wall holding the mud back. It looks as if it hasn't been cleaned for a really long time.
The implements for processing milk now lying abandoned to their fate.
Creepers taking advantage of the lack of attention to propagate themselves upon the granite
The rusting lock to what used to the the cowshed.
Discarded metal implement rusting on the ground by the side of the path beside the carpet
of dried pine needles..
Another broken wooden door, all overgrown with plants and under heaps of pine needles.
Another door, padlock broken and rusty and a window pane missing replaced by a board.
Plants growing behind an abandoned window.
Plants taking advantage of the wooden frame to grow higher
Another abandoned window with rusting hinges and discolored paint amidst fallen leaves and
being overgrown with plants
Fallen leaves all curled up in front of a discolored window pane with dried lime?
A rusty metal angle which might have served as the support for a kerosene or gas lamp to light the
path during the night now having nothing to do but staring at the sky.
Pine leaves doing the same. There's a difference though. It's still growing. There's life in it yet!
Ensconced between trees and sky, the monastery is a real enclave, away from the hustle and
bustle of our world, a place for the friars to contemplate the mysteries of existence and to pray
for man's salvation.