Hong Kong, the travel brochures will swear, is all about global cuisine, snazzy nightlife, cutting-edge gadgets, wine-dine dates, casino sweepstakes and Disneyland. But the tourist magnet, located on
the south coast of China, also offers some of the quirkiest experiences rooted in its ancient practices. From the sorcery ritual of ‘villain hitters’ to offering vegetables to the resident Gods at
the Man Mo Temple, here’s a look at cultural offerings to take in an entirely different side of the ‘fragrant harbour’.
The ‘evil eye’ ritual
The pandemic may have halted the ‘petty person beating’, an ancient ritual where Old Chinese women—professional beaters—beat away the evil blues. Also called ‘villain hitting’, this Cantonese custom is part of Hong Kong’s intangible cultural heritage. Often done to ‘curse’ one’s enemies,
it involves hitting a photo or paper with the name of the person—lover, boss, ex—with a shoe, as the women chant.
The ritual, also called ‘da siu yan’ in Cantonese, used to take place at the Canal Road Flyover between Causeway Bay and Wan Chai. The practice was named the ‘Best Way to Get It Off Your Chest’ by TIME magazine. The ritual, which sees a gathering of hundreds of travellers, was revived earlier this year. Cost: Between $5 and $70. One can book a slot using a bunch of villain-hitting apps in the Play Store.
Light a giant hanging incense coil
When in Hong Kong, the temple complex of Man Mo Temple, Lit Shing Temple and Kung So, is a must-visit. Built as a tribute to the Gods of Literature (man) and War (mo) in 1847 during the Qing Dynasty, this is one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong. The unassuming outside and simple wooden exterior in no way set you up for what’s inside—rich in the colour gold, with massive red coils of incense hanging from the ceiling, creating a mystical and fragrant atmosphere.
There are several Man Mo temples in Hong Kong, but this one—in Sheung Wan—is the most popular. Typically scholars and students visit the temple three weeks before the start of the new academic year.The offerings include paper, fruits, joss sticks and money. A scallion is offered for intelligence while Chinese celery stands for diligence. Later the students eat the offering. Visit between 8 am and 6 pm on any day; entry is free.
Go off the beaten track
As much as 40 percent of Hong Kong is protected country parkland and these green areas offer great hikes —the Dragon’s Back (over three hours) being the most famous. Begin on Shek O Road near To Tei Wan village. Run up the stairs and onto the rugged path around the hillside. Other walks to try are the Peak Circle Walk (an hour-plus), which gives you a bird’s eye view of the sparkling city’s skyline, and the culture-rich Lamma Island Family Trail (four hours), which offers a mix of ferry journeys, religious and heritage sites, a slice of island life, and a peek at the local industry.
Indulge in tea-time treats
Hong Kong is known for its fast-paced, no-breaks nature, but there are moments of time when
the people want to sit back and dawdle. And what better way than sipping endless cups of tea with scones and finger sandwiches.
A colonial legacy that still thrives in the city, afternoon tea has evolved and now encompass local delicacies like HK-style French toast and milk tea. But it’s the quintessentially British afternoon tea that you must try. The place that’s on top of everyone’s list is the afternoon tea experience at the luxe Peninsula Hong Kong hotel on Salisbury Road.
Served at The Lobby every day, the lavish meal comprises rows of finger sandwiches, and an assortment of scones, cakes and pastries served with cups of tea, or champagne. The string quartet’s classical music adds to the ambience.
The hotel’s high tea is so popular that a booking is ideal. Other places to try the delectable afternoon fare include the Cafe Rivoli, Stanford Cafe, Mall Cafe YMCA, Cafe de Coral and Cafe Landmark. Feeling fancy? Try the Four Seasons Hotel or the Butterfly Room at Rosewood. A minimum charge of $350 applies to each guest at the Peninsula.