The Lunar New Year festivities are mostly over in Hong Kong now. Today, in fact, they’ve been comprehensively swamped by some seriously cheesy Valentine’s Day drivel. But I digress. There were just a few other little Chinese-New-Year-related snippets that I wanted to share before moving on to other things.
Dim Sum and Lai See
On New Year’s Day, the first morning of the Lunar New Year, a few of us were planning to head out to the Peak – one of Hong Kong’s ‘must see’ tourist attractions. Unfortunately the weather was terrible, so we revised the plan and instead headed to a nearby town centre area called Tsing Yi.
Expecting all the shops to be closed, I was surprised as we wandered into the big shopping centre that (a) Marks and Spencer was open, and (b) there were a surprising number of people about. I couldn’t quite work out where they were all coming and going from, as Marks and Spencer clearly wasn’t attracting a great deal of business at that time of that day.
It wasn’t until we found our way to Starbucks (I know – the Canadian with us was overjoyed though), and took a seat near a railing overlooking the lower ground floor that it became clear… The lower floor of the centre was a large restaurant, and it was packed with Chinese families out for their New Year’s Day dim sum!
Big tables, lots of dishes, endless tea, scurrying red-coated waitresses, a large crowd waiting with varying degrees of patience at the front desk, and lots and lots of families sharing meals together.
Just by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, I watched as one family arrived in a couple of separate groups, exchanging new year greetings with each other by standing and clasping their hands together, then sitting and passing out lai see – the red packets containing lucky money that are given according to convoluted hierarchical rules. It was a lovely moment.
Dragons in the market
I looked this up, and I think what’s in the photo here is a lion (because the dancers are hidden inside and are on the ground). But there were definitely dragons too (with several dancers mostly up on poles – which apparently makes the animal in question a dragon). I’m happy to be corrected however, so feel free to set me straight in the comments and save me from appalling cultural insensitivity.
Anyhow, several days into the new year, I took a day to wander the markets of Mong Kok. I spent a very pleasant morning wandering Flower Market St, the bird street, the goldfish-and-every-other-aquatic-pet-you-can-imagine street, and finally came to the Ladies Market. It’s a colourful, lively place where you can haggle over bags and scarves and slippers and sunglasses and wallets and shirts and trinkets and baubles and … you get the idea.
In the Ladies Market were three traditional dragons (or possibly one lion and two dragons, but to avoid further confusion from here on I’ll just call them all dragons). I could hear them well before I could see them, as they had the usual entourage of drums, cymbals and general accompanying noise makers. They were moving very slowly through the market and it took me a while to work out what they were doing.
Finally I was close enough to observe that most stall holders had put out lai see (the red packets again), and some also had bunches of carrots / cabbage / other edible greenery hanging in their shops. The dragons were working their way down the market, with a helpful spotter going ahead, and entering each stall where they danced a bit and tossed their heads and batted their eyelashes (I love that bit!) before eating the red packets and any available greenery!
This could be quite a delicate operation given the limitations of a puppet-type head and mouth arrangement, and depending upon where the stall holder had chosen to put the red packet. There were dragons of three heights (one on the ground and two on poles of varying heights) to cater for all situations. The taller dragons in particular were doing some impressive athletic contortions to achieve the packet eating!
I didn’t actually get to full story on why this happens, but it seems that it is another Chinese New Year tradition for good luck in the year ahead, and I was just fortunate enough to happen upon it as I was passing by.
Spring Lantern Festival
Finally, thanks to a tip in the guide book (hooray for Lonely Planet), I discovered that the official New Year festival celebrations ended this year on February 6th, with the spring lantern festival – supposed to be the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day.
Assuming that would mean there must be lanterns about somewhere, my flatmate and I did a bit of internet research and ended up heading home from a big day at Ocean Park (that’s another story) via the cultural centre forecourt at Tsim Sha Tsui. There we found all the brightly lit goodness we could have hoped for, and some bonus Cantonese opera excerpts being performed before appreciative crowds.
It was a good way to end my quest to experience all the Chinese New Year festivities I could manage during my time in Hong Kong. Happy Dragon Year!
Well Anna, all I can say is move over Lonely Planet!!! What a great description of the final Chinese New Year festivities – very well researched and photos to accompany the report too.
Love the photos of the dragons and athletic lions, especially the one at the top!
Happy Dragon Year to you too!