We’ve already climbed some sixty steps, and we’re still far from the top. I suddenly find myself wondering how many times my petite twenty-seven-year-old Chinese tour guide has scaled Muk Yu Hill. The statue at the top, Tian Tan—the Giant Buddha—looms overhead, its enigmatic features momentarily lost in a beam of sunlight. For the majority of visitors to Po Lin Monastery, situated on the Ngong Ping Plateau on Lantau Island, Tian Tan is more than a breathtaking landmark; it is perhaps the most tangible symbol of Hong Kong’s Buddhist community. But my youthful guide, Hau Sze Chan, might be a close second. Although she leads the Tian Tan tour, like many young Chinese she has mixed feelings about her country’s ancestral religion: “In Chinese society, older people believe in Buddhism,” she explains. “When they are younger they believe in Taoism. I studied philosophy. I don’t believe in anything.”

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