In Hong Kong, when people damage their statues of deities or simply replace them with newer ones, they don’t throw them away. Instead they leave them on the side of the road for people to worship or take them home. One man has been picking them up for over 17 years, and today his colorful collection is one of the island’s most impressive tourist attractions.
85-year-old Wong Wing-pong, a retired butcher, looks after thousands of unwanted statues of deities, including Buddhas, Taoist deities, local gods and Christian icons. They are all perched on a rocky slope in a park near the waterfront in Wah Fu. Legend has it that he picked this spot because it already had a statue of Tin Hau, the patron goddess of fishermen, and he believed it would make it easier for people to come see both the Buddhas and the goddess at the same time. However, he recently told news reporters that it was simply the place where he found the first discarded statues, a few dozen of them, 17 years ago.
At first, he would collect old and broken statues of deities from the side of the road, fix them up and add them to his small collection, but as word about his curating hobby spread through Hong Kong, people started dropping off unwanted statues to him directly. Today, he receives new additions every month, from various sources, like restaurants undergoing renovations and private homes where they are no longer wanted. Wong puts broken ones back together, cleans them and finds them a place among his motley assortment of thousands of deities. The pensioner says some those who donate them to him even come to worship at his sanctuary from time to time.
“No one should demean god. If they are out here, we should treat them well,” the founder of this unique sanctuary for discarded deities says. “If they are broken, I will glue them back together … I don’t dare throw them away. It goes against the conscience.”
And the people who have dropped off old statues at Wah Fu sanctuary appreciate his efforts. “The place is very well kept. I am thankful to him,” says Ms. Wan, who regularly comes to see the statues of local deities she had to get rid of after her family converted to Christianity.
Wong Wing-pong himself says taking care of the statues has had a positive impact on his life. “I feel I’m more healthy now. I have good sleep,” he told AFP. “I will come here until I can’t walk … I don’t care which religion they belong to. I will look after all of them.”