Justin and I have been eagerly looking forward to spending our very first Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. Our friend Pui (who we met while she lived in Tallahassee studying at FSU), a native of Hong Kong, has been showing us around town and even took us to dinner with her *very large* extended family. Her uncle (who was actually a Tennessee Volunteer many years ago….who would have thought!) asked us what we were most wanting to see and do in Hong Kong. The only reply I could come up with is, “I want to see Chinese New Year!” He thought that was pretty funny, and he also gave us several great suggestions for sites to see around town, so that we could say that we saw something other than just Chinese New Year.
I knew that Hong Kong was in southern China, but I had no idea that it was so tropical! When we first stepped out of the airport, Justin said he felt like he was on the movie set of Jurassic Park. He almost expected to see a Pterodactyl come swooping down over us at any moment! No dinosaur sitings yet, but we have seen plenty of dragons…
It was just our luck, of course, that Hong Kong was all sunny and warm and even shorts weather before we arrived, but somehow when our plane landed we brought with us a bout of cold, rainy weather. Every day the sky looks very gray and cloudy, and it never has all out started pouring rain, but we keep getting this strange light misting rain that makes everything feel damp and cold. On Chinese New Year morning, Pui took us on the chair lift up to Ngong Ping 360, a mountainous tourist attraction that offers panoramic views of the Hong Kong bay and surrounding mountain ranges, and of course, allows people to get up-close and personal with a giant Buddha statue situated at the top of the mountain. As soon as we got off the ground and onto the chair lift, a heavy layer of fog surrounded us, blocking our views of the mountains, and strange misty rain made it necessary for us to invest in some ponchos. But we tried to make the best of it! Here are some pictures:
All day long, we tried to participate in as many Chinese New Year traditions as possible. (You may have caught me participating in one New Year’s tradition already–wearing new clothes on New Year’s Day–in the pictures above. Check out my new pink coat!) We relied on Pui’s knowledge and lifelong experience of the holiday to help us authenticate our experience. Some of the things that we did:
1. Went shopping at the Flower Market. We already knew that people traditionally give and receive gifts and money on Chinese New Year, but we had no idea that flowers were also a popular gift at this time of year. We went to this outdoor fair at Victoria Park, one of many fairs occurring all across Hong Kong (but also, as Pui informed us, one of the largest fairs in Hong Kong). There were thousands of flowers everywhere, of every type and color. They were beautiful, and though my allergies didn’t allow me to get any up-close sniffs, they smelled lovely too. It’s such a nice tradition! It seems like everywhere we’ve gone–on the city streets, in the subway or on the bus, people are carrying giant bouquets of fragrant flowers, and they’re on their way to deliver them to a loved one.
2. Saw (and tasted of) the mini orange trees. Flowers weren’t the only popular plant life around Hong Kong. We also saw many of these miniature orange trees for decoration in shopping malls and banks and for sale in the Flower Market. Pui explained (though I didn’t completely understand the concept) that these trees have something to do with pride in one’s family generations. I hope I didn’t insult anyone’s family by trying one of the oranges! I was sneaky about it…I don’t think anyone caught me.
3. Ate traditional Chinese New Year food. Just like we have special food that we only taste of at Christmas time or Easter (so many colorful boiled eggs!), the Chinese have special food that they only eat at Lunar New Year. Some of them I really liked, and some of them were not so palatable to my American tongue.
4. Participated in some “good luck” superstitions. Chinese people can be very superstitious; however, their superstitions tend to be different than American ones. For example, Americans think that thirteen is an unlucky number. In fact, some of them might not want to stay on the thirteenth floor of a hotel (I only mention this because during our stay in Hong Kong, Justin and I are staying on the thirteenth floor of our hostel. The only bad luck we’ve encountered so far is a poor WIFI signal). Chinese people think that four is an unlucky number, owing to the fact that the Chinese character for “four” looks almost exactly like the Chinese character for the word “death.” Many Chinese people might be unwilling to stay on the fourth floor of a hotel for this reason.
We participated in many superstitions that would supposedly help us gain health, wealth, and romance in the New Year, though it seemed that the majority of the New Year traditions had to do with gaining wealth. We went to an observation tower on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre (incidentally, only two meters shorter than the building we visited in Shanghai), and they had many little activities for us to try. One was an artificial cherry blossom tree. One of the staff members working on the 100th floor informed Justin and me that if we walked in a circle around the cherry blossom tree, we would have “good luck in romance” in the New Year. We started walking arm-in-arm, counter-clockwise around the tree, and the man on staff started waving and shouting for us to stop. He told us that counter-clockwise was bad luck, and we needed to walk clockwise around the tree instead. Justin said, “Uh oh…I wonder what will happen to us now?!”
5. Attended a New Year’s parade and a fireworks display. Of course, our Chinese New Year wouldn’t be complete without going to a parade! The march through downtown Hong Kong was a much bigger deal than I realized. It was broadcasted on national television, and it played host to floats and performances from organizations from all over the world! Everytime the camera man walked by, we waved our arms and smiled at him, so we may have been on TV in Hong Kong! We arrived at the parade route two hours early so that we could save a good spot on the sidelines to watch. I was really upset when my camera battery began to die (and my memory card was full!) halfway through the parade, but I still managed to get some great shots!
The night following the parade, Pui’s friend Andrew invited us to his office building (called The Centre) situated in an ideal location along the river where the fireworks display would be. It was very cold and windy (and there was that ever-present misting rain going on), but we were warm and comfortable and far from the crowds on the seventy-seventh floor of Andrew’s office building! Hurray for Pui having some great connections!
6. Received some red pockets. Okay, this was only going to be a list of five, but the pockets are a really important part of Chinese New Year! Gifts can be exchanged for New Year (just like Christmas), but traditionally, all children and unmarried adults are the recipients of red pockets during the holiday season. This is basically a decorative envelope (they don’t even necessarily need to be red) filled with cash—who doesn’t like that?! According to tradition, if you are a married couple, you are really obligated to find someone to give a red pocket to; not giving any money at New Year’s is considered a major social faux pas (and it’s probably bad luck, too)! Justin and I were excited when one of Andrew’s co-workers who met us for the fireworks display unexpectedly presented us with two red pockets each. Even though this goes against tradition (since married people don’t receive pockets at New Year), we were thrilled!
Wherever you are around the world, I hope you had a wonderful Lunar New Year! Xinnian Kuaile!