PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 February, 2005, 12:00am

Q Is a heliport on the Wan Chai waterfront a good idea?

I want to ask why a tycoon thinks he has the right to demand land for a project that would require reclamation of the harbour.

It's questionable how this can help boost Hong Kong's image and competitiveness and facilitate air traffic (when it will only be for helicopters).

Moreover, the presence of the heliport might cause inconvenience to passing ships.

Diana Wong On Yi, Tseung Kwan O

On other matters...

Any tree selected as a 'wishing tree' is given a death sentence.

On Saturday, the famous Wishing Tree in Lam Tsuen, Tai Po, dropped one of its branches and hurt a child. This was a sad, predictable and entirely avoidable accident.

I have on various occasions advocated a modification of this traditional practice, which involves throwing up a paper 'treasure dish', with names and wishes written on it, tied to an orange as a counterweight to facilitate the hurling.

All my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

It does not take a genius to realise that a tree that is bombarded relentlessly by such projectiles, and has to support hundreds of them at peak wishing days during the Lunar New Year, will be seriously damaged.

Lest people say that they do not understand how such human actions could harm the tree, I am providing a concise summary below:

Leaves are torn or removed

Twigs and small branches are bent, cracked and broken

Branches are entwined by strings

Numerous abrasions on leaves, twigs and branches provide portals for invasion by pests and pathogens, including wood decaying fungi

Leaves are blocked, and they do not receive adequate sunshine for photosynthesis.

Rotting oranges, causing unsanitary conditions, could invite pests and fungal infestations

Attempts to remove the wishing dishes will cause further physical damages to leaves, twigs and branches

The sheer weight of the large number of dishes and oranges will break branches

Branches that are weakened by wood decay and pest attack are more susceptible to breaking

Joss-stick and incense burning near the tree generates smoke and heat that are harmful

Due to the above damage, at least one wishing tree nearby was killed recently.

Upon its death, we should have asked ourselves some pertinent questions: Why did the tree die? What could be done to avoid the same fate befalling other trees?

Inexplicably, the response was to choose another wishing tree as a substitute in the vicinity.

We seem oblivious to several factors. A tree that qualifies as such would have required decades of growth and freedom from inordinate human impact; there is an unlimited supply of wishing trees for us to consume; and the Wishing Tree is an inanimate object that could easily be replaced by another one, just like a television or a car.

It is perhaps not too much to say that any tree chosen as a wishing tree is literally sentenced to a slow and painful death.

In attempting to obtain blessings, it is believed that no wisher would want to deliberately harm a wishing tree.

To an individual wisher, his or her action will only impose a limited amount of impact on the tree.

Unfortunately, the collective actions of too many wishers will seriously harm it.

Here lies the painful realisation of the tragedy: Why should I stop while others continue to enjoy the fruits of the engagement?

We could perhaps thoroughly search our souls and contemplate the consequences of our actions.

Must we build our happiness and perceived fortune on the suffering of the tree? Is it necessary to harm a plant to satisfy some non-essential human needs?

How would we feel if the Wishing Tree that is supposed to protect and bless us is eventually killed by our collective actions?

Will we be blessed by a tree that will soon be dead? Would our allegiance to one wishing tree be transferable to a substitute? Surely the present practice is not sustainable. Very soon there will be no more wishing trees in the vicinity of the altar.

What will we do then? Do we move the altar to a suitable wishing tree in a different location? Do we tell our citizens and tourists to go to another site so we can kill another tree in due course?

There are alternatives to obtaining blessings from our wishing trees without harming them so they can continue to live well.

Let us use our imagination to explore the possibilities.

We can modify our ritual so that there is no need to throw projectiles up into the branches of living trees.

Near the Wishing Tree we could build a frame that imitates a tree's branching configuration, and continue to throw the same offerings up to land on a durable and sustainable structure.

We could put our wishing paraphernalia on a vertical frame placed near the tree, in which case the strings and oranges are no longer needed.

The present ritual and paraphernalia were invented not long ago by humans; humans could modify them to make the tradition sustainable and enjoyable for all.

Let us see some prompt and decisive actions from the relevant authorities.

C.Y. Jim, Chair Professor of Geography, University of Hong Kong

For several years, a mountain in Kowloon has been steadily excavated and its soil deposited on the old Kai Tak airport.

It has now formed a huge, ugly pile along much of the length of the airport site.

Of course this would make sense if there was a clear use for this mountain of soil.

Perhaps I am mistaken, but last year's reclamation court ruling resulted in the government stating that there would be no more reclamation carried out in Kowloon.

The depositing of the soil on the airport site has continued, so can anyone from the government tell us what they are planning to do with such a massive collection of dirt.

And for how long will it sit there, literally blowing in the already disgustingly polluted wind?

Did someone forget to stop the mountain excavation after the court ruling last year?

Or is the government just planning to reclaim around the old airport regardless, ignoring the ruling?

Patrick Gilbert, Lam Tin

I refer to a letter by Yiu Pun Wai (January 27) about toilets for the disabled.

The provision of access and facilities, including toilets, for people with a disability in private buildings is governed by the requirements set out in Regulation 72 of the Building (Planning) Regulations.

The Buildings Department will check on compliance with the relevant statutory design requirements before issuing occupation permits to new buildings.

Appropriate enforcement action may be taken by the Buildings Department against any unauthorised alteration or removal of the approved access and facilities for people with a disability.

We urge building owners, occupiers and management companies to take necessary action to ensure the proper maintenance of the relevant facilities for use by people with a disability.

Alex Chow, Buildings Department