Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Something else new (for us) in the New Territories: the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree

On our drive back from Kadoorie Farms, our adventurous and astute friends pointed out that we passed by a Chinese New Year institution on our way to the farm. We passed unawares the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree, to which many people journey each year to make wishes for the new year. We rectified this mistake by stopping at the famous large banyan tree on our return trip home. The tree is right off the main road and situated in front of the centuries old Fong Ma Po Temple to Tin Hau, goddess of sea travelers. With cranky twins in the car, we skipped the temple and focused on the tree, specifically on getting Tori her wishing opportunity.

As we try to get up to speed on Chinese New Year, we have checked out a number of books on the subject from Tori’s school library. It just so happens that one of our favorites is entitled the Wishing Tree and involves a fictional account of a boy and his grandmother making wishes at the tree through the years. The book tells us that the tree became famous after one boy dramatically improved his school grades after wishing at the tree and how a wealthy visitor was brought to the town to see the tree and then financed public works. The book mentions a little stream and other features of the village. Tori anxiously scanned for these little details while I kept directing her attention to the huge tree in front of us.

Fact and fiction aside, the tree was impressive, even in its gated and guarded form. The tradition is to write a wish on red and gold paper, tie it with a mandarin orange and then throw it up on to the tree’s branches. If the wish package catches, then the wish is suppose to come true. Sadly, in 2005, some of the branches broke under the weight of many wishes and fell on bystanders. In deference to the injured, wishes are no longer to be thrown up. Wishes are pinned on large wooden boards near the tree, with each person pinning their wish under their Chinese zodiac sign.

The visit to the tree was beautiful and seemed very Chinese, whereas many of our moments here are not. The kids, Tori and friends (the twins were still in the car), bought red and gold incense papers from a vendor and wrote their wishes. With incense burning, mandarin oranges everywhere, and thousands of wishes pinned all around us, it did seem like the perfect time to wish for something. Peeking over Tori’s shoulder, I saw that she wished for happiness. In our book about the tree, the grandmother always wishes for her grandson’s happiness. Tori, while sweet and wise, is also a reader and a stickler for following the plot line.


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