Posts Tagged 'snake'

A Westerner in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year

So, first time in Asia, first time in China, Chinese New Year comes around, beginning on 10th February 2013 to welcome in the Year of the Snake. Before February hit, the only thing this meant to me was ‘Great, a week off work!’. Festivities began way early in February with supermarkets selling boxes of chocolates and biscuits that are wrapped up in red and gold paper as gifts; and now the week is here are everyone’s in party mode!

But what is it like for a guy from the north-west of England in the middle of all the celebrations? Have to admit, the closest I got to Chinese culture before August 2012 was at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Manchester’s Chinatown. “You want soy sauce with that, mate?” doesn’t really scream lanterns, red envelopes and all other things Chinese though. This blog will show some of the things I’ve noticed about the holiday and how a Westerner’s, particularly British, eyes see it.

The first thing I realised was it was similar to a British or Western Christmas holiday in that the preparation is huge and incorporates very, very similar ideas. The mix of tradition with modernity is obvious with the old traditions of the elderly or married couples giving red envelopes with cash in, to young or single people; while the CNY Parade down Nathan Road saw tens of thousands of people brave the crowds, and whack out their Samsung Galaxy S3 phones to take a photo/upload/Facebook/tweet/Instagram/send to family.

At work, my colleagues went and spent hundreds of dollars on decorations – plants, flowers, red  transparent messages for the window, fake firecrackers, huge lanterns, candy bowls and gold containers that look like these. Having candy available just chilling on the table is very much like tins of biscuits or chestnuts or chocolate coins on a table during a Western Christmas.

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We even had to take part in a inter-campus greetings video with the Head of the department and colleagues. Suited up for the occasion. Like a very American ‘Holiday Photo’….

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The week before CNY, there was a huge Flower Market in Mong Kok and one in Victoria Park selling flowers, plants, decorations, gifts, promotional freebies and food. Definitely the Eastern version of German Christmas Markets – a most see for everyone visiting during this holiday.

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There were also mandarin trees being sold everywhere – a lot on the street, outside the shops, which is really like Christmas trees being sold on streets and petrol stations in Britain.

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On Friday night, there were Chinese New Year messages on all private business, informing people of when they reopen, and goodwill messages. They even had handmade red postboxes on the doors. Reminds me of wreaths or door decorations at Christmas also.

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On Sunday night there was also a huge parade in Tsim Sha Tsui down Nathan Road. It had a similar ‘Carnival’ atmosphere – everyone celebrating, bands and acts from all over the world including accordion players, pipe bands, African drummers, ballet dancers and roller-skaters.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wouldn’t be complete of course without the Lion Dancing – a very special thing to witness – lots of skill in that!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clearly, it really struck me how similar all these traditions are similar to Western Christmas. Families get together for big meals, gifts are given and received, there’s a huge happy mood that’s different to rest of the year, there’s songs and music and people greeting each other in ways they wouldn’t during the year. Makes me think that society likes (almost needs?) these goodwill routines, traditions and annual repetitions to rejuvenate our ‘happy mood’ and ‘feelgood’ nature towards others. 

So as a Westerner in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year, although it’s a pretty new concept for me, and I’m very impartial to the traditions and what is going on. But gotta say, it’s pretty cool to see the similarities to Christmas – meaning this is probably more like the Eastern ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ (thanks, Andy Williams).

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy??

One thing we realised really early on was how important and how big smart phones are here, far much more than back in Britain. Here’s some things I’ve noticed:

  • Everyone’s got one! Even the old geezers on the MTR whack out their mobiles and play snake. Most people have either an iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy like thisImage
  • There’re so bloody huge – a kid in our Language Centre brings his in and its the size of a hardback book. He answers it with 2 hands and might as well use a towel to clean it. Really don’t understand how the size is such an issue here. No pun intended.
  • Teachers phone students – this was a weird one to grasp when I first got here. Teachers would say ‘Oh just ring him’ and my colleague and I would avoid it at all costs, its just well weird. Started to now every now and then if it’s urgent but weird how it’s a social norm here. Maybe cos we’re at college level they’re not really ‘school pupils’ anymore.
  • They’re a second camera. Granted the cameras on them are decent enough so it sorts of fits in with the whole idea that photography is so huge here. Our computer tech guy, who’s great guy and comes to talk to us all the time, comes and shows us his latest pictures on his phone and they’re all mint, artistic photos.
  • Wai – you never go long on the MTR or the street before a ringtone goes off and you get the Cantonese greeting of ‘Wai’ (said like ‘Why-eeee’) but maybe that’s with living in a city not necessarily Hong Kong. Everyone does have a phone though…
  • You can only buy 2 latest apple products if you are a resident. This is a huge issue. There are touts outside all the main electric goods store, selling iPhone 5s or the latest iPods that they brought in from the mainland. Turns out you have to apply into like a lottery to get the latest iPhone and only get 1 or 2 if your number is selected. No idea why this is the case, might be something to do with tax, limited availability or the fact that if the techno-loving population of 7.3 million people all had an iPhone 5, Hong Kong’s GDP would quickly become Apple’s profits.
  • We all got the shitest Samsung $189 phones when we arrived, which came with a $100 top up when we bought them) – so about £16 for all this. Worst phone ever that I luckily lost on a night out and now get to use my old Blackberry. Kids at school laugh that I still have a Blackberry. Bit harsh, kids, bit harsh.