Ni hao and Gong Hey Fat Choy from Hong Kong!
This week is the celebration of the Lunar New Year and where better to celebrate it than in Hong Kong? In terms of my goal of visiting every country, Hong Kong is not on the list, but who could miss it? While it operates as independent, it remains part of China. Though I am told to expect China to be worlds different. In addition to celebrating the new year, I intend to use my time in Hong Kong to get some important stuff done – like Chinese and Russian visas – as well as leverage strong Wi-Fi and workspaces to do some work on the blog design, a photography page and a few other projects I have up my sleeve.
But first, Chinese New Year.
Lunar New Year, commonly known as Chinese New Year (though don’t say that to the Koreans) is unlike what we traditionally think of New Year – a one night celebration where we stay up to watch the ball drop and cherish having January 1st off if we’ve got it. Here, the celebration is totally different. It is, at minimum, a week of celebration with family and food.
First up was the parade. Which was different than what I expected. Thinking about traditional parades like the Thanksgiving Day Parade in the US, I expected it to be packed with families and kids, maybe with some seating. Now, I didn’t go to the area where you could buy seats because it was sold out, but I saw hardly any kids. A sea of adults – locals and travelers – out to celebrate the New Year, markedly devoid of vendors and people pushing stuff in your face. Like, hey, let’s all watch this parade and have fun. It was full of performances, costumes and floats.
I decided to call it an “early” night after the parade ended around 11:00, but heard my stomach growl on the subway back to my hostel. Fortunately for me, when I got out, there were street vendors lining the streets. Everyone was out, having a good time and I had some who-knows-what-on-a-stick (standard Asian street food fare) and shared some laughs with the vendors and other people out and about. I took a picture excited as I watched the line for one of the street vendors wrap around the open, empty KFC on the corner.
I went up to bed and happily crashed. I woke up around 3:30 to the sounds of people still out on the streets. I kicked myself for going to bed too early. It’s Chinese New Year after all! “It sounds like they’re having so much fun. Should I get back up and go back down? Am I missing out on a Hong Kong thing?” I asked myself; but I was too tired and went back to sleep. Around 4:00 and 4:30 I woke up again and again to the noise, but it sounded different. It didn’t sound like fun. It sounded scary.
I was up early the next morning to be on an HOA conference call (could there be anything more exciting than to set an alarm to get up for that?) and hit the streets, headed to a Starbucks that I had eyed for a quiet spot with Wi-FI. The streets were a stark contrast to the night before. Empty. Quiet. I noticed some trash and thought that it’s a bit expected after a night of revelry. Then I noticed that there was no one else walking on the part of the street that I was. I looked up and police, with riot gear, were diverting people from walking there (I just happened to be staying in a place that put me out on the street there). Lines of police cars were on the streets. The Starbucks definitely wasn’t open. I walked around as much as they would let me and started pairing the destruction on the streets with the noise that I had heard in the early morning hours.
Even the subway station was shut down. I watched police guard the entrance as I heard dogs down the stairs, assuming they were looking for someone. People were so scattered that I watched as a driver drove straight into the back of an ambulance. Not hard, but come on people, get it together. I found internet to get on my call and instead of paying attention, hit Google to find out what happened.
Watching the video, I’m happy I didn’t get up and only later read about what’s being called the “fishball riots.”
And then, after a little over an hour, I went back out into the same streets and it was as if nothing had happened at all. The streets still wet from being washed down and an occasional police officer walking around, but otherwise no trace.
There is still debate over whether it was caused by tensions with the police and street vendors or if it was an organized demonstration, but it did at least make me feel better about my decision on sleep over what “sounded like fun” happening on the streets below.
The second night of the New Year celebrations was the famous fireworks show. I researched which side of the harbor to be at, where to get a good view and hopefully not too many people. I ended up at the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade with shockingly few other people. We had a great view of the spectacular show, against the water and skyline of the city. I had a front row view and a family behind me looked dumbfounded when I offered for their kids to stand in front of me. I don’t think they’re used to the idea that someone offer up their space for someone else.
The third day of celebrations is marked by horse racing. I did not participate in any part of this because horse racing isn’t usually my cup of cofee. Sure, I like to get dressed up, wear a weird headpiece, have mint juleps and run around Denver the day of the Kentucky Derby, but I’m not sure how I would feel about attending.
I spent the rest of the week exploring Hong Kong and working on boring blog/behind the scenes stuff. The Chinese visa application process was so much easier than I made it out to be in my head. I went prepared, got in the line before they opened (I was nervous that it would look like the DMV after a holiday weekend) and was done in 10 minutes. 4 days and $140 later, a shiny 10 year, multiple entry visa would be all mine. The part I didn’t quite think through was that I couldn’t go to Macau or anywhere else nearby to Hong Kong while I wait, because I of course don’t have my passport.
So far so good in Hong Kong. Modern and FUN. But I do have one gripe. I’m sorry Hong Kong, but I have to tell the truth. You are slow-walkers. Actually, the slowest walkers I have ever seen. And this is coming from someone whose brother nicknamed her Pokey because she walks slow (in my defense, he was about a foot taller than me at the time, so how was I supposed to keep up?!?). But. Seriously. You walk so slowly that I don’t think that it’s actually called walking. I think you are just lifting your feet up slightly and wait for the Earth to rotate underneath it. One day I even put on slow music and tried to take it as an opportunity for a calm, relaxing stroll around the city. Nope. Not relaxing. The worst of it? While you are moving at the pace of gelatinous blob on its crawl down a slope, all that you will see around you is sneaker stores selling running shoes. What, on Earth, could people in this city be using running shoes for?
Ok. End rant. But seriously guys. Can we make a slow lane on the sidewalk or something? I still love you.