How a century-old monastery is using crowdfunding to save itself

July 11, 2015 08:12
Nun Chi Ting points out that Ting Wai Monastery has not undergone any major repairs since its establishment several decades ago. Photo: HKEJ

Ting Wai Monastery in Tai Po was founded in 1921 as "Lan Yeuk Yuen" — which literally means "The Orchid Garden" — by Monk Tsang Sau to promote Buddhist teachings to the public.

The Grand Temple — the second main building of the monastery — was built in 1934 on the premises in Ma Wo Village. Lan Yeuk Yuen was later renamed as Ting Wai Monastery.

Over the years the two buildings in the monastery have suffered damage due to the weather and termite attacks.

Following some urban development initiatives in Ma Wo Village in the 1990s, Ting Wai Monastery is now surrounded by high-end residences near the Tolo Highway.

Faced with huge maintenance and repair costs, the monastery has taken an interesting initiative by launching a crowdfunding program.  

Nun Chi Ting, who currently manages the Ting Wai Monastery, says the facility has not undergone any major repairs since its establishment.

"The canopy of Lan Yeuk Yuen has fallen thrice. The last time it fell was when the Tolo Highway was being constructed nearby.”

"Previously we managed to raise a few hundred thousand dollars for minor repairs, which were not sufficient to get to the root of the problem. What I worry most is that the balcony will fall and people may get hurt," said Chi Ting.

The monastery sought to carry out some structure reinforcement work since last year, but the work was halted by the Buildings Department in May 2015.

"We had no idea that we have to first apply to the Buildings Department for approval," said Chi Ting.

The incomplete work makes Lan Yeuk Yuen no different from a torn house, as it is now covered by canvas and bamboo scaffoldings, highly vulnerable to typhoons.

Some companies are offering big money to help.

Property developers have been interested in this 130,000-square-foot monastery, with some offering as much HK$200 million for its spacious land.

In the past eight years, over ten private columbarium operators have approached the monastery, offering money for renovation of the premises in return for urns management and columbarium operation rights.

But Chi Ting and her master Abbot Cho Wai have been saying "no" as they believe that they should keep Ting Wai Monastery as a quiet and peaceful place for believers and that the property shouldn't be commercialized.

But after turning down the property and columbarium deals, a series of complaints started to emerge from the neighborhood, in a curious coincidence.

"Once we were accused of endangering others after we put a Buddha statue on the ground. But it weighed less than 1 kg and it was not on a public pavement," says Chi Ting.

Then there have been complaints about noise.

"Our morning class is now conducted at 6:30 am instead of 3:30 am. Morning and evening bells can only be rung softly."

Chi Ting says though Ting Wai Monastery has not been listed as a historic building with any given grade by Antiquities Advisory Board, the monastery has its own history and culture that is worth preserving.

She hopes the monastery can become a meditation center, and that busy city dwellers can come there for spiritual retreat.

Solicitor and Buddhist believer Mary Jean Reimer, better known as Yung Jing-jing to Hong Kong people, is very concerned about the future of Ting Wai Monastery and supports the funding efforts.

Reimer is now assisting in the crowdfunding, targeting a sum of HK$ 500,000 via the FringeBacker platform. As of now, around HK$350,000 has been raised.

"A one-off comprehensive maintenance and repair work is required. The initial sum raised will go to pay for the consultation work, blueprint recovery and demolishing of any illegal structures inside the monastery. After that, the monastery has to seek a contractor through open tendering," said Reimer.

"It is a long way to go, but I am confident about preserving Ting Wai Monastery." 

Reimer estimates that a further HK$5 million is needed to complete the project. During the first phase of the repair, Lan Yeuk Yuen will be turned into a meditation center.

In the long run, it is hoped that a six-storey new building can be constructed at the site to expand the center. But that will require government approval.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 6.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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The Grand Temple (left) and Lan Yeuk Yuen (right) are in need of maintenance and repairs. Photo: HKEJ
Solicitor and Buddhist believer Mary Jean Reimer is very concerned about the future of Ting Wai Monastery and supports the funding efforts. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong Economic Journal