There is a legend in our Chinese tradition for centuries: If someone gets a bundle of bright red papers caught in wishing tree’s branches, he/she will be granted a wish. Here on a Wishing Tree in Lam Tsuen, every branch is hung with auspiciously red cards. Each message on the card connotes to someone’s genuine wishes, wishes that seek for everlasting happiness, prosperity and health. Owing to its magic, far more than merely decorations, the Banyan tree in Lam Tsuen grabs our limelight with no effort.
Lam Tsuen, literarily translates as “Lam’s Village” in Cantonese, was already a residential area 700 years ago during the Southern Song dynasty (AD 1127–1279). Starting from that era, the locals had been grasping paper josses to worship the gods, while the charms in the paper were believed to ward off evil spirits or for benevolent deities to read. And amidst the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, wish-makers wrote their wishes on them during the Lunar New Year, then tied onto mandarin oranges with pieces of string before being tossed onto the tree. Nonetheless in 2005, a large branch of the tree came crashing to the ground due to overwhelming weight of fruits. However, that incident has unexpectedly expedited, though not erased, this tradition. For recovering and conservation, wish-makers can only hang their wishing papers to nearby wooden racks, or throw plastic fruits with red cards onto the tree. Nowadays this sturdy Banyan tree in Lam Tsuen, filled with streamers of paper cards tied to plastic oranges, is still considered as an auspicious spot. Yesterday the sixth day of the Lunar New Year, the village flooded with the hopefuls thanks to its famous Wishing Tree. All you have to do is to write your desires on a red card, together with your name and date of birth, tie the card to a plastic orange with a string and throw it as high as you could up into the tree. The higher the branch the fruit lodges, the luckier you are, and the more likely your wishes would come true.
Part of the village square is a Tin Hau temple that was built in the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty, with blue brick exterior, curved roofs and elegant flower carving. The temple was damaged by typhoon and a fire in 1960s, but was extensively renovated in the same decade. Tin Hau, the Chinese Goddess of the Sea, is long known by myriads in Guangdong. In bygone days, fishermen would travel from temples located at Hong Kong’s southern ports to make offerings, and arrive at Lam Tsuen, their final destination, to show their respect and ask the Goddess to protect them from the choppy sea. Besides Tin Hau Temple stands another temple dedicated to both the God of Literature and the God of War (Man Mo Temple). Red paper scrolls and banners with blessed poems are glued in pairs on each side of the walls, wishing visitors good fortune and best of luck. Worshippers stepped inside the temple, bowed in front of the statue of Tin Hau with both hands grabbing the lit-up incense sticks. Queues of fire from the sticks sparked under the dazzle of red lanterns, and thick smoke was surrounding the statue. There was a sincere glint in the worshippers’ eyes as they fixed on their sticks, and so did mine with the feelings of serenity.
As I walked through the Square, I was also greeted by wide varieties of traditional souvenirs, local snacks and unique Hakka food in rows of street bazaars. Multifarious New Year bits and bobs, like Monkey and Lion cushions as well as hand-held windmills, become popular hallmarks of this delightful season and help add festive touch to this hustling Square. These decorations, as year-long blessings to the visitors, are synonymous to good vigour and luck in business. Equally attractive were food stalls touting puffed rice, dried shredded squid and many others where people were gathering for their afternoon tea. One of my favourite treats is peanut and sesame candy. In this popular Hong Kong-style sweet, peanuts are covered with spoonful of toasted sesame seeds, and cloaked with clay-like glucose and shiny syrup. It was an enticement to me when enjoying such multiple layers of texture between the sweet taste of syrup, as well as the crunchy and crackling of the nuts.
Not only is Hong Kong merely a financial city with high-rise skyscrapers, but also graced by age-old traditions and cultural celebrations in rural outer villages. Walking out of the archway of Lam Tsuen, I found people rejoicing, children grinning and couples beaming with bliss in such jubilant ambience. In front of the backdrop of red spots, I also wish you much joy, and may your wishes come true in the Year of Monkey as well. San Nin Fai Lok! ♦
How to go to Lam Tsuen?
- Bus 64K or 64P at MTR Tai Po Market Station, get off at Fong Ma Po Station OR
- Minibus 25K and get off at Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees OR
- MTR Tai Wo Station and take a taxi
Address: Lam Tsuen Wishing Square, 8 Heung Kung Sho Road, Lam Tsuen, Tai Po