Bun Festival And Buddha's Birthday Celebration in Cheung Chau Island (#SummerHK23)


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    Published on May 31, 2023
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    May 31, 2023

    In almost six years of staying in Hong Kong, I have never been to the Bun Festival on Cheung Chau Island nor celebrated Buddha's Birthday freely. These two are declared public holidays for Hong Kong residents, but not for foreign workers. However, festival celebrations were called off when the pandemic happened at the start of 2020, so it didn't matter to me at all.

    But the government announced last year that the 26th of May will be declared a permanent public holiday for everyone in celebration of Buddha's Birthday which coincide with the Bun Festival in Cheung Chau island. Foreign employees like myself were overjoyed to hear the good news because it meant an extra statutory holiday for us. Moreover, I was too happy to know that, I'll be able to witness Bun Festival that I've been yearning to attend since then. It was May last year when I planned to attend the Bun Festival but since the events were canceled, I opted to wait for another year and hoped that Covid restrictions will be lifted, which was granted before 2022 ended.

    We are back to normal and so as festival celebrations! So last Friday, the 26th of May, I went to Cheung Chau Island to attend this celebration, rain or shine. The weather has been so unstable recently and even though I saw some possible rain indications on Friday, it didn't impede me to continue going to the island to witness this festival.

    Come and join me to celebrate Buddha's Birthday and Bun Festival On Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong.

    Despite the cloudy weather, it didn't stop people from attending the festival. As expected, the queue in the ferry terminal was long and some reporters positioned themselves in the corner to cover the scene. Some police officers stood by the corners of the pier to mitigate further incidents.

    I opted to go for Deluxe Class on the upper floor of the ferry to get to the open deck and see the outdoor view which I always prefer when traveling either on land or water. The Deluxe Class has more available seats and I was lucky to find available seats on the open deck which offers a stunning view of the harbor.

    Later on, thick clouds paved the way to reveal the sun and blue sky which I loved. There's nothing to worry about possible rain anymore and the festival will be celebrated joyfully.

    After more than half an hour, we finally arrived.

    Welcome to Cheung Chau Island!

    Cheung Chau Island is part of the Island District located in the southwest of Hong Kong and one of the fishing villages. The fact that fishing is the major source of income for many villagers, several fishing fleets can be seen along the harbor. Those floating boats have been part of the main attractions on the island in which some are used for tourist water tours. There are boat junks as well used by some fishermen.

    Every 26th of the year is a celebration of Bun Festival alongside Buddha's Birthday. And this year was a special celebration since the covid restrictions were lifted and the day was declared a permanent public holiday where everyone can enjoy without limitations. As I got to the island, people were expectedly swarming around. Some parts of the road were closed in preparation for the afternoon parade.

    Given that it is also Buddha's Birthday, the island food was turned into vegetarian where most served food contains no animal meat. Fast foods are no exception, even Mcdonald's. This happens for the whole week prior and on the day of Buddha's Birthday. So vegans would like to go to this island to celebrate the two events on the same day.

    As part of the celebration, traditional buns were everywhere and people were lining up just to purchase and taste the special food of the festival. These buns are filled with sesame paste, some have red beans and other flavors. They are traditionally made and are one of Cheung Chau's best local food. The buns are marked with auspicious letters to give good luck to whoever will consume them.

    Not just real buns, but souvenirs as well. There were several cute souvenirs, including bun pillows and keychains.

    While waiting for the special event which will take place in the afternoon, particularly at two, I spent the morning roaming around the island, visiting temples, and other places of attractions. The temple premise is set as the special place where the main event usually takes place.

    Bun Towers

    A huge tower with thousands of buns was set in the middle of the court for the Bun Scrambling Competition. Unfortunately, the competition will be held at ten in the evening, so I didn't have a chance to watch it. Participants would climb the tower and collect as many buns as possible, and the higher they reach, the higher points they'll get. The one who could collect the most buns and reach the peak will be proclaimed the winner.

    In front of the temple were more bun towers made by different groups. Some offered food in front of them as part of Chinese tradition. I was uncertain though whether the bun towers were real or artificial buns. Nonetheless, they are attractive.

    Buns have red stamped with characters which means peace/safety.

    Pak Kai Temple

    The main temple on the island is Pak Kai Temple devoted to the god of the sea, Pak Tai, where villagers as well as Taoist and Buddhist visitors offer prayers for protection, longevity, and prosperity. I've been to this island several times and for some reason, I can't just leave the island without visiting the temple. I was probably influenced by my boss who is a resident of this island.

    Incense Temple

    On the side of the main temple is the incense temple purposely built for the festival. I am certain it wasn't permanently built because I've been to this place several times.

    There were hung coil lanterns that resemble fish trapped which are common in incense temples.

    Giant Lanterns of Deities

    Meanwhile, on the side of the court below the temple are giant lanterns I assumed were the village's deities. Many people visit the island just to offer prayers to their deities to drive evil spirits and bad luck away. These deities are usually built outside the temple during festivals.

    Another temple is located on the opposite end of the island. In front of it were seats built for another competition, a blue girl drinking competition if I wasn't mistaken since barrels of this beer brand were in the area, and staff were setting up booths with bottles of Blue Girl beers.

    Bun Festival Parade

    Part of the tradition is the festival parade which took place at two in the afternoon. The parade started from the main temple, strode around the village, and ended at the same point. People gathered on the roadside to witness the parade and capture the main attractions - the marching bands, lion dance performances, and floats of children in different costumes who seemed to be floating over each float.

    I was kind of late to position myself along the road to watch the parade as I was at the beach beforehand. But I crammed my petite body into the crowd just to see the parade up close. The scorching sun didn't help the situation as I forgot to bring my umbrella. My cup only covered my head, but my arms were exposed and I felt like they will get sunburnt at any moment.

    But watching the parade must continue because it was the main reason why I visited the island, and it was my very first time to witness the parade.

    Marching Bands and Carriages

    Different marching bands started to play their musical instruments - cymbals, drums, trumpets, trombones, and others and performed on the streets joyfully. Some were chanting to make the parade more lively. Some viewers along the road, including me, jived with the beat of the music.

    Different participants of the parade brought their colorful flags, lanterns, and banners representing their pilgrims or organizations.

    Alongside were carriages containing different statues of their respective deities, and other sacred stuff.

    Lion Dance Performances

    The most anticipated part of the festival parade was the lion dance performances and float parade. Participants from different groups showcase their lion dance performances wearing lion mascot costumes of different colors.

    Some lion dance performers climbed the pole and showed some stunts. They seemed to be skillful in this stuff as they weren't afraid to climb up. People around cheering them making the crowd more lively and fun.

    Apart from lion dance performances, there was a paper dance performed by an old Chinese man, and the monkey king suddenly appeared tumbling and doing some karate stunts on the parade ground.

    Floating Children Float Parade

    One thing I noticed while watching the parade was the participation of kids. The main highlight of the Bun Festival is the float parade where kids seem to be floating in the air in their cute costumes, props and poses from different groups. They were too adorable to look at.

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