So, I have just experienced my first Chinese New Year, in Asia- and it was pretty cool!
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the lunar new year celebration, particularly after the build up to Christmas was so big, but then the day itself barely seemed to be noticed by the ordinary citizens. But I had a good time being culturally educated about the biggest event in the Asian calendar.
Firstly, Chinese New Year is a time to be spent exclusively with your family- and it seems the larger the family gathering, the more legitimate your celebration! I was lucky that my mum arrived in Hong Kong just in time for new year, so although it was only the two of us, we could celebrate together.
On New Year’s Eve all the shops closed early, except for the flower market which was in full swing, selling bouquets of beautiful flowers, plus tangerine trees (with golden fruit, signifying prosperity) and trees I don’t know the name of, but which have bright pink blossoms on the end of their spindly branches. We saw people wrestling with them on the train, trying to get them home without them being crushed in the crowds! People were already wishing each other ‘happy new year’- Kung Hei Fat Choi!- and buying last minute gifts and red envelopes. Mum and I cooked ourselves a family dinner in my hall and ate together, which was really nice :)
On New Year’s Morning, I went into Central to check if the buses were still running (luckily they were)- and the place was a ghost town. I’ve never seen Hong Kong so quiet; almost all of the shops (except 7/11, naturally) were closed up, shutters down, as were all the banks in the financial district. There were virtually no people on the streets, except Filipino workers with the day off, and very few cars, taxis or buses on the roads. The markets in Wan Chai were all shut, except for a few Indian hawkers, and Causeway Bay looked like a scene from a zombie apocalypse, it was so quiet. My mum and I headed off to the East of Hong Kong Island to hike the Dragon’s Back trail (appropriate in the year of the dragon) and while we saw a few Chinese hikers, almost everyone on the trail was an ex-pat. That evening, we headed to Tsim Sha Tsui to see the New Year’s Day parade, but it was so busy we couldn’t see anything.
The first day after New Year’s Day was also a public holiday, with many of the shops still shut, plus all of the museums and attractions. We ended up sitting in a cafe for much of the day as it was absolutely arctic outdoors, and neither my mum nor I had the clothing to keep us warm! In the evening, we headed to Wan Chai to watch the fireworks over the harbour- braving the crowds yet again! Luckily we could see a bit more this time, and were pretty amazed by the full 20minute display which lit up the water and the skyscrapers.
The second day after New Year’s Day was the final day of holiday for most people- but by this time, many of the shops had reopened. We headed to Sha Tin Racecourse to watch the first horserace of the year, and to have a flutter. I managed to win on horse number 8 (auspicious or what!?) which I presume means I’ll have fantastic luck for the entire rest of the year…let’s hope so! This year apparently was the coldest new year in Hong Kong since 1996 -it certainly felt it, as we sat in the stands waiting for the races to begin, being whipped by an arctic wind. I was wearing 7 layers of clothing- new record. We had a giant hot-pot in the evening to warm up, which eventually did the trick!
Sadly I didn’t get any red envelopes (traditional packets that older people give to younger generations of the family, or to friends- generally containing lots of cash) but I did have a nice new year with my mum :) I didn’t expect Hong Kong to be so quiet or to shut down the way it did, but it was quite nice in the end- to see everyone together with their family, enjoying some quality time together, and forgetting about the outside world for a few days.