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Phap Vuong Monastery, a Buddhist temple nestled among pine trees in northern Escondido, is hosting the world's largest hand-carved gem-quality jade Buddha for the next two weeks.

To mark the beginning of its visit, a large unveiling ceremony and festival was organized for Sunday, February 7, from 1 to 4 p.m. An entire hillside was sectioned off for parking for the more than 3000 people that were expected to come (many nearby neighbors offered up their parking spots for seven dollars each).

"Maybe only once in every thousand years does one get to see the Buddha," said an attendee who had driven from San Francisco. (The sculpture was completed two years ago.) Groups from all over California and from as far away as New Jersey filled the outdoor garden.

The crowd waited for the three o'clock unveiling. The monastery had placed flags with the traditional Buddhist colors of red, orange, blue, and white. A large selection of Vietnamese food and drink items was served. Festivities included live music (drumming and cymbal clashing), a parade, and addresses by local Buddhist leaders. Loud cheers erupted as the golden drape was removed and doves and balloons were released.

This is the sculpture's first appearance in the United States and marks the beginning of a nationwide tour that will take it to San Jose, Houston, and other U.S. cities. The statue arrived in the U.S. last week from Australia, where it was met with tears by many.

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