Header image courtesy of Brayden Law (Unsplash)
Hongkongers have their fair share of superstitions, especially during festivals and celebrations, but why limit ourselves to just a few days a year when there are so many to go around? Some superstitions also extend to daily lives, and you’d never guess that they can dictate how one should conduct oneself when you’re outdoors or in the countryside. It doesn’t matter whether you are from Hong Kong or just passing through—here are some things to avoid doing during your time in Hong Kong’s great outdoors if you don’t feel like testing your luck, courtesy of the author’s superstitious local aunties.
People believe that your forehead is where your yang energy is most concentrated, so in order to chase away any misfortune, you mustn’t cover your forehead with bangs or with hats when you are spending time in the outdoors. If you do have bangs and you’re feeling uncomfortable while hiking in an unfamiliar area, it is recommended to tie up your bangs. If you’re really desperate, hold them up with your hands! We’re sure your auntie has a headband or two to lend you.
If you’re hiking or spending the day outdoors, our aunties recommend against wearing clothes that are black, white, or grey. Next to the practical reason of being easier to spot in case you get lost—and the fact that hiking in dark clothes exponentially increases your body’s temperate when the sun is beating down on you—these plain colours are also similar to the colours worn at funerals. In Chinese culture, people are acutely aware of the yin and yang energy balance.
While there are multiple ways to interpret it, in this case, the yin is the spiritual energy of those belonging to the world beyond us, whereas yang is the energy of those living now our world. If you’re wearing clothes with the colours of funeral wear, it will increase your yin energy and attract misfortune. In order to counter that, throw in some neon colours, some pink, and some green to really amp up your yang energy!
Relating to the belief that your forehead is concentrated with yang energy, it is also believed that every person has three additional areas on their bodies that also emit strong yang energy: the top of your head and your shoulders. Imagine that there are three bonfires on these areas and they are in charge of lighting your path and chasing away misfortune. If you touch someone else’s shoulder or vice versa, you will be covering up the light from the bonfires, making it easier for misfortune to cling to you.
If you ever think someone is calling your name from behind (especially when you’re tackling a treacherous trail), don’t look over your shoulder either, since your own head will be covering up your bonfire light, making you more susceptible to bad luck and calamity. This theory also applies to when you’re playing mahjong—if someone’s shoulder is touched during the game, their good luck will slip away! Best not interrupt your ma and aunties when they’re pondering over their tiles...
If you are hiking through the countryside, you will most likely come across a wild banana tree or two. Even from a young age, we have always been by our aunties told to keep a safe distance from them. Despite the cute little fruits you may find and be tempted to pick, you mustn’t go touching the tree itself. It’s passed down in common local folklore that banana trees turn into spirits when they get old, so if you go touching the trees, you’re essentially disturbing their house. Just remember to be respectful, don’t stare too much, and move along as soon as possible!
Part of the reason we go hiking is for the views (and maybe one or two Instagram posts), and there’s nothing really wrong with it—until it’s nighttime. Chinese people believe that open fields and valleys are favourite places for spirits to dwell. While it’s ok to be hiking past during the day as long as you remain respectful, when the moon rises and night falls, don’t bring out your camera and start snapping photos because you could be disturbing spirits. Who knows what your camera will capture and bring home!
If you’re hiking in an unfamiliar rural area, don’t go around whistling as you’re walking, or your auntie might have a fit. It might seem fun to you, but it might also seem fun to spirits who are hanging around nearby and they may decide to follow you home based on your superior musical skills. Just chat with your pals in a moderate volume and be on your merry way. P.S.: Try to stay in groups of even numbers so no one is left out!
If you’re hiking near nighttime and you suddenly find a secluded stream or a small, hidden beach, it might be tempting to strip off and go for a swim, but we’re going to have to say no to that. According to old wives’ tales passed on by our aunties, it’s believed drowned spirits will try to take you away!
Especially during days on the lunar calendar where the yin energy is strongest, it would be best to avoid bodies of water anywhere. They say that drowned spirits with strong feelings of regret may try to look for someone to share their feelings, so they might hold on your ankle (giving you sudden cramps) or just drag you into the ocean depths!
If you’re hiking or out and about in unfamiliar rural areas, try to avoid taking the last trains or buses home. Spirits lingering nearby may be attracted to you since you are not from the area, and they might think it’s fun to follow you home to haunt you. There’s also a belief amongst local Hongkongers that the last trains and buses are for ‘other’ customers that you don’t see with the human eye—anyone else getting Spirited Away vibes?—so let’s try to avoid them, shall we?