Tourist plan threatens wishing tree tradition

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2008, 12:00am

Time-honoured traditions and modern enterprises have to be thought through carefully if they are to go hand-in-hand. To put the latter before the former will make a mockery of that which has been so carefully preserved and handed down from generation to generation.

The villagers of Lam Tsuen in Tai Po district should, therefore, not lose sight of the original purpose of their famed wishing tree when moving ahead with development plans. There is no doubt that they are enterprising. But they must ensure that the desire to attract tourists does not cheapen or detract from the tradition their forebears have endowed them with. Last month, the century-old banyan tree at the village was named the most culturally significant of its species in the city. The award after an internet poll was justified: the tree is famed far and wide for its luck-bringing properties. Luck-seekers have for years thrown offerings and messages into the branches of a wishing tree in the village. Sadly, however, the wishing tree has not always enjoyed good luck.

The original tree was burned in a fire in 1998. Its replacement collapsed. The banyan there now has been doing the job for five years. But it, too, has suffered. Three years ago a branch fell down injuring two people. Since then, the practice of tossing objects has been banned. Thankfully, the tree seems to be recovering as a result. But to bring in more tourists, a HK$5 million project will transform an old school into a museum and a banyan of a similar age donated by a businessman will be transplanted from Guangzhou. An artificial tree will be placed nearby so that objects can be thrown into it.

Transplanting an old tree to the village will give visitors a new focus for their wishes. But the move is not environmentally sound. It would be better to move a much younger one there and let it grow to maturity. Such a tree would have more meaning if it had been nurtured and grown in the village. While the wishing tree offers a money-making opportunity, it has to be handled carefully so as not to lose sight of tradition and culture.