BORROWING MONEY FROM KWUN YAM’S VAULT (觀音借庫)
Religion is somewhat a confusing topic in Hong Kong and an absolutely huge topic to cover. The most popular religions in Hong Kong are Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. With over 600 temples in Hong Kong, there are many temples to explore & discover. Often, during one of our food tours, or on our Free Central Walk, someone will ask about religion and which temple corresponds to which religion. Now, that’s the tough question.
There is also something called Chinese Folk religion. Chinese Folk religion can also be said to be the larger umbrella category for both Confucianism and Taoism, but yet, it can be said to be different doctrines as well. Often times, the temples in Hong Kong worship a special god, or deity that’s of a local deity & that’s Chinese Folk religion. For example, Tin Hau Temple is a Chinese Folk religion temple and it worships the goddess of the sea.
It’s almost never truly clear cut if it’s a Taoist temple, a Buddhist temple or a Chinese Folk Religion temple, but rather often times, it’s a bit of everything. For example, is Kwun Yam, the Goddess of Mercy, Taoist or Buddhist? Rather, Kwun Yam is a deity that is revered in both Taoist and Buddhist religions.
My friend, Jesse, over at Expat Getaways compiled a list of temples in Hong Kong and we contributed by writing about the most famous Kwun Yam temple in Hong Kong. I would recommend you to check out that post first, before proceeding to the below as it will make a lot more sense that way.
KWUN YAM TEMPLE IN HUNG HOM
As mentioned, Kwun Yam, is the Goddess of Mercy and whilst it is frequented year round, it gets particularly busy and particularly interesting during the 26th day of the first month of the lunar year. This is the first of three days in which you can “borrow” money from the Kwun Yam. The Kwun Yam temple of choice is the the one in Hung Hom because it is considered the most auspicious and luckiest Kwun Yam temple in Hong Kong. Kwun Yam is the phonetic Cantonese spelling and is the name of the street and of the temple in Hung Hom. You will more commonly see Kwun Yam spelled as Guan Yin because that is the phonetic Mandarin spelling & there are still some other less popular alternative spellings to Kwun Yam, but they all mean the same thing.
WHAT IS BORROWING MONEY FROM KWUN YAM?
So what is “borrowing money” from the Kwun Yam? In Chinese, it is called 觀音借庫, which loosely translates to “Borrowing Money from Kwun Yam’s Vault”. It is said that the Kwun Yam opens her “vault” starting on the 26th day of the first month of the lunar year so you can borrow from her vault. Don’t get so excited, you do not borrow real money; however, you “borrow” the luck of the Kwun Yam. That can be interpreted in many ways from earning more money to better health for your family members, etc. You will be presented a piece of red paper with the amount of “money” that you have borrowed from the Guan Yin. For example, in 2017, the monetary amount ranged from 30 million to 1.2 billion. The currency is not stated 😉
People want to be the first in line. This shows the Kwun Yam how dedicated you are and you get first draw so they say the chance of drawing the higher “borrowing amount’ is higher. Over a thousand of people will queue; in fact, the one in Hung Hom, the roads around the vicinity of the Kwun Yam Temple are blocked off. Usually, crowd management is very organized and they have everybody queueing at the sports ground near the temple and only release a section of people of temple at a time. Those that are at the front of the queue? They’ll have been waiting for about 20 hours. It’s a very serious business.
The vault will open at 11pm, which I assume corresponds to the midnight of the 26th day of the first month of the Lunar year, and will be opened till 8pm of the next day. If there are people that still have not gotten a chance to go in, you’re given an opportunity at around 7:55pm to sign up with the temple caretakers so you’re allowed to visit the temple within 48 hours to borrow the money. After that, Kwun Yam’s vault is closed off till next year.
HOW DO YOU BORROW THE MONEY?
PRE – GOING INTO THE KWUN YAM TEMPLE
One. There are a plethora of shops around the Kwun Yam temple in Hung Hom that sells offerings to the Kwun Yam. Buy an offering package. The shop owners will write the date and details for you; you will just need to write your name on it (they’ll tell you where).
Two. Follow the signs to where you should be queueing. It’s about a 5 minute or so walk upwards towards the sports ground.
Three. Wait patiently in line. For a very long time.
Four. At long last, you should be the next group entering the Kwam Yam temple. Take off the wrappers to your offering package. Keep the papers in one hand, and the 3 sticks of incense in another. Take out $45HKD (price in 2017). If your package came with candles, set the candles aside for later.
GOING INTO THE KWUN YAM TEMPLE
Once you’ve been given the OK to proceed, it’s GO TIME! It wasn’t until near the end when a temple staff told me that there is no videography allowed.
Five. Right at the entrance to the temple, there will be stations there to light up your incense. Take your time to make sure they’re all lit because it’s going to be pure chaos once inside the temple. Note: If you have candles, they won’t let you light them here.
Six. Go to the middle of the temple where you’re facing the Kwun Yams(s) and pray to them with incense in hand. Put the incense into the pot when you’re done.
Seven. The papers can now be given to the workers collecting it. They will help you burn it so the Kwun Yam can receive it.
Eight. To the left hand side in the temple, there should be a queue of people queueing again. This is the line to “borrow” money. Get in queue with your $45 HKD.
Nine. Handover the money, and you will receive in a similar order to this: A bag with lettuce & an envelope with tea inside, a red note with how much money you’ve borrowed from the Kwun Yam, and your “prosperous” ornament/paper.
Ten. You could donate a little more money to the Kwun Yam if you would like. After that, you’re good to go.
POST – GOING INTO THE KWUN YAM TEMPLE
Eleven. Lettuce is 生菜 and it sounds similar to “growing fortune”. To activate it, remember to cook and eat the lettuce. You’ll also need to eat the peanuts and drink the tea that you receive because they’re also auspicious foods as well.
Twelve. The “prosperous” ornament needs to be placed in a prosperous place in your house and where that is changes according to the year. Usually feng shui experts will state the “direction/spot” during Chinese New Year publications and television interviews, etc. For 2017, that direction is East.
Thirteen. This is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT step to borrowing money from the Kwun Yam. It’s called borrowing money for a reason. You gotta return it! Make sure near the end of the year, you go back to the same Kwun Yam Temple and give it a “returning” money offering. You’ll be able to buy a package at the shops in front of the Kwun Yam temple. There will be a chart with guidelines for you at the shop. Which “return” money offering package you buy corresponds with how much money you borrowed from the Kwun Yam. Some say that if you’ve borrowed money from the Kwun Yam, it’s best if you do it consecutively for 3 years.
Here’s a video from 2017 if you’re interested to see how chaotic and busy it can get.
ORIGINS OF BORROWING MONEY FROM THE KWUN YAM
So where did this all originate from? Legend has it that there were 500 arhats, a saint of one of the highest ranks and disciples of the Buddha, who all went incognito as monks to test the Kwun Yam when she was still practicing at a monastery. When the monks arrived begging for food, Kwun Yam opened her “vault” and offered all of them food, and even gave food to those that were praying at the temple. Since then, it became a ritual for those that pray at the Kwun Yam temple to visit the temple on the 26th day of the first month of the Lunar calendar to pray and to borrow money. Of course, what is borrowed must be returned and therefore, people will go back to Kwun Yam with fruits and offerings to demonstrate they appreciate her generosity.
Interested in Chinese & Hong Kong culture? In addition to a blog, we also run tours in Hong Kong. Check humidwithachanceoffishballs.com out!