Billion-dollar handouts set John Tsang a hard task

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 4:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 4:16am

Peace, prosperity and above all health were among the wishes for hundreds of people who queued yesterday for the annual ritual of "borrowing money" from goddess of mercy Kwun Yum.

Worshippers queued last night at the Kwun Yum Temple in Hung Hom; the Lotus Palace in Tai Hang; and Tin Hau Temple in Shau Kei Wan for the opening of the goddess's treasury at 11pm.

This year, notes representing sums ranging from HK$3 million to HK$1 billion are available.

However, there are a couple of catches - the money, just pieces of paper with the amount written on them - obviously can't be spent and must be returned before the next Lunar New Year.

"I'm here to wish for peace, prosperity and, of course most importantly, health for all my family," said 57-year-old Buddhist Alice Lam, a Kwun Tong housewife.

Lam had been waiting outside the Hung Hom temple since 6am and was 10th in line.

She said she had come for more than 10 consecutive years and last year "borrowed" HK$180 million.

"I'll accept whatever amount the goddess gives me," she said. "You never know what the goddess has for you."

Her friend, Mrs Ng, 60, also a housewife, also put health at the top of her list.

"For people at our age, what else is there?" she asked.

Just ahead of budget day, the pair also hoped for a handout tomorrow from Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.

"We don't want to ask for too much," Lam said. "Just a two-month rental waiver for working-class families like us who live in public housing estates would be good enough."

The Kwun Yum Open Treasury falls on the 26th day of the first lunar month every year and always draws a huge crowd.

Worshippers receive a red lai see packet containing a note with a number representing the amount of money Kwun Yum is "lending" them.

The bigger the number, the more the financial rewards people should anticipate in the year ahead.

Worshippers must return the notes to the temples before the next Lunar New Year as a gesture of "returning" the money borrowed from the goddess.