Lam Tsuen tradition
The Wishing Tree
By Elaine Tai
the same section:
Legend has it that if someone gets a bundle of bright red papers caught in its branches, they will be granted a wish. Owing to its magic, this tree has earned a nickname the Wishing Tree.
Towering at the entrance of Fong Ma Po, one of 26 villages in Lam Tsuen, the Wishing Tree is covered in a deep crimson colour all year round.
Wish-makers write their wishes on red paper josses, which are offerings dedicated to Chinese deities.
The josses are then bundled and tied onto oranges with pieces of string before being thrown onto the Tree.
According to a spokeswoman of the Hong Kong Tourist Association, people started to use paper josses to pray to gods in the Song Dynasty, A.D.960.
Said she: The papers are written with charms to ward off evil spirits. They have slots and holes for evil to run through and are printed with drawings of clothes.
Usually the prayers are for protection and good fortune, but if for other reasons, they are written on the charms for the deities to read.
The tree-worship practice in Lam Tsuen, however, was actually not originated by inhabitants of Lam Tsuen.
Local villagers dont have this tradition. If we want to pray, we go to the Tin Hau Temple, said Mr. Lam Luk Ming, principal of the Lam Tsuen Public Wong Fook Luen Primary School.
According to the HKTA spokeswoman, a dying fisherman who sought a miracle in Lam Tsuen brought the practice to the village about 40 years ago.
Said Mr. Lam: Since I was a child, I have seen fishermen gathering here for worship every Lunar New Year.
They throw paper josses to every Pak Kung tree on their way to the New Territories, wishing that this would bring them good luck and protection.
Mr. Lam said Pak Kung is an earth god.
Every village has its own Pak Kung and one tree represents one Pak Kung, he said.
In Fong Ma Po, there are two Pak Kung trees that protect villagers. One is the Wishing Tree and the other is a banyan tree farther away from the entrance of Fong Ma Po.
In the past, offerings were a lot more on the Wishing Tree than on the others because it was closest to the Lam Tsuen Tin Hau Temple, said Mr. Lam.
However, on the first day of the Lunar New Year in 1998, the original Wishing Tree was burnt down by offerings. It used to be a camphor tree where a tablet for enshrining and worshipping Pak Kung was placed.
But after the fire, it was replaced by a bauhinia, which collapsed last year due to the excessive burdens of offerings. Eventually, a banyan tree was planted.
Together with the other banyan tree situated away from the entrance of Fong Ma Po, they are both now regarded as wishing trees by most tree-worshippers.
In fact, according to the official homepage of the Lam Tsuen Valley Committee, it was not until the emergence of a legend did the Wishing Tree become popular among Hong Kong people.
The legend says that there was a worshipper who had a son that was very slow in learning.
After he had wished upon the tree, his son completely changed and made incredible improvement in his academic performance.
Since then, word spread and people flocked to the place to make wishes.
A 75-year-old Mrs. Fung, a local resident in Lam Tsuen, has been selling paper josses under the tree for more than 20 years.
I dont sell things to earn a living. I just do it for spiritual support, said she.
As a supplier of paper josses, she also makes wishes upon the tree.
I usually wish for a healthy body, a good fortune and good conduct from my little kids, she said.
According to Mrs. Fung, people come there from all walks of life, including men and women, the aged and the young.
Mr. Bruce Lee Chun Yu, 41, is one of the worshippers.
I know nothing about the tree. I just saw from a TV series that it can grant wishes, said he.
He recalled his first visit to Lam Tsuen 1 year ago. He said it was in the Lunar New Year of 1999. The area was so crowded that he could hardly walk in.
Said he: I only wished that I would not be fired and thats all.
Since then, my career has been quite smooth, so I came here again to thank God for granting me the wish I made.
He said that it was not a matter of believing or not, but he really felt more peaceful after wishing upon the tree.
According to the spokeswoman for HKTA, tree worship is not limited to Hong Kong villages. It is also popular in many regions of China.
Said she: It is believed that the spirit of God resides in trees. Therefore, trees become sacred objects in the hearts of worshippers.
Tying trees with garlands and decorating their branches with lanterns are also examples of tree worship.
In recent years, the Wishing Tree not only has attracted a large amount of people from all around Hong Kong, but also has become a scenic spot for foreign tourists.
Every Lunar New Year, Lam Tsuen villagers hold some celebrations for the festivity.
For example, football matches and variety shows have been held so that villagers can gather together. This year, some special functions were held under the Wishing Tree, including throwing offerings in front of the Tin Hau Temple.
The Wishing Tree has made Lam Tsuen famous. It has become a feature of Lam Tsuen ever since, said Mr. Lam.
Letting go of the josses, children cheerfully embrace their future. (Courtesy of Hong Kong Tourist Association)
Wish-makers flock to Lam Tsuen for good fortune. (Elaine Tai)