It was an early 20th birthday celebration yesterday for the Tian Tan "Big" Buddha, sitting aloft above the smog-shrouded Ngong Ping plateau on Lantau island, overlooking the Po Lin Monastery. And its gift was a multimillion-dollar new temple.
Since its completion on December 29, 1993, the 34-metre-tall bronze statue has sat serenely through Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China, the Asian financial crash, Sars and bird flu.
Yesterday, monks and distinguished guests were out in force to celebrate both the birthday and the grand opening of the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
The monastery was founded in 1906 and over the years became the largest religious complex in the city, a collection of temples and pavilions that attracts pilgrims and tourists from around the world. Visitor numbers soared with the opening of the Big Buddha.
The Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas has been under construction since 2007, and was originally due to be completed in 2010, with some of the oldest buildings on the site being demolished. Building work destroyed a number of pre-war structures to make way for the new temple.
However, the work has been beset by delays, and workers are not now due to move out completely until October 31 next year. Meanwhile, the cost is now thought to have doubled to around HK$500 million.
Yesterday, however, the abbot of Po Lin, Sik Chi Wai, was in no mood to discuss rising costs. Despite concerns over its financial health, the monastery handed out in excess of 100 lai see packets. One containing HK$500 was handed to a Sunday Morning Post journalist, but the gift will be returned to the monastery.
The new, five-storey, 5,600 square metre temple includes a library, multimedia hall and, of course, altars.
Inside the main exhibition hall are exquisite golden carvings detailing the life and death of Buddha.
The abbot has said an entrance fee to the temple and the Big Buddha may have to be introduced.
The last time fundraising schemes were proposed in 2006, Sik said the monastery was not "eager to make money" but a HK$10 charge for tourists was a reasonable request.
It has ruled out going cap-in-hand to the government, but Sik revealed in 2007 that government officials had helped negotiate the land premium down to just HK$11.98 million, according to Land Registry figures, from a reported HK$30 million.
Facts about Big Buddha
Biggest outdoor seated bronze Buddha in the world
Weighs 250 tonnes
Made from 202 bronze pieces
Cost HK$60 million to build
34 metres high, including the base
268 steps to reach it