Borrowing Money From a Goddess

Last night, over 2,000 people queued up at the Kwan Yam Temple in Hung Hom to “borrow” money from Kwan Yam, the Goddess of Mercy. On the 26th day of the first lunar month there is an annual ritual in which people pray first and then pay HK$45 (US$5.75) to “borrow” a red note inscribed with an imaginary sum, usually in the millions of dollars. They also receive a head of lettuce and a Lai See (red) envelope full of peanuts, lotus seeds and other nuts symbolizing a prosperous year ahead.

People take this very seriously. One woman had been waiting 30 hours when the gates opened at 11:00 PM. Rumors of Pick-Six winners and sudden beneficial changes of fortune keep people coming back every year. To forestall any queue jumping problems people must obtain a date and time stamped piece of paper if they go to the toilet.

This same ritual goes on at other Kwan Yam Temples in Hong Kong but the Hung Hom location is the busiest. The “borrowing” closes at 8:00 PM tonight. I wonder if Gweilos, Cantonese slang for Caucasians, (literally “white ghost”) can participate. I may give it a shot.