It was a week away from the Chinese Lunar New Year. Tourists from all over the world, mainly from mainland China, has begun flocking to the city centre of Hong Kong, each and everyone alive and full of enthusiasm. Fascinatingly, these throngs of travellers, undeterred by the chilling breeze from the South China Sea, were gearing up for the Hong Kong’ annual Lunar New Year night parade where the streets would be jam-packed with festival-goers and performers.
The Chinese community is the largest ethnic group in Hong Kong, which explains the grand Chinese Lunar New Year celebration. The event is an important Chinese festival, celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar. In China, it is also known as the Spring Festival, the literal translation of the modern Chinese name. Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Eve, the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month, making the festival the longest in the Chinese calendar.
Hong Kong is frequently described as a place where “East meets West”, reflecting the culture’s mix of the territory’s Chinese roots with influences from its time as a British colony. This unique cultural blend has propelled Hong Kong to become a global financial centre along with London and New York, a regional hub for logistics and freight, one of the Four Asian Tigers (fastest-growing economies in Asia) and the world’s exemplar of laissez-faire market policy.
Hong Kong is blessed with an impressive night-view, overseeing the Victoria Harbor amidst the modern sprawling city. This has earned Hong Kong its nickname as the “Pearl of the Orient”.
For travellers that do not have the opportunity to join in the party for the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, do not despair. Hong Kong has plenty more to offer. Here are a few places worth visiting when being in Hong Kong:
Nature’s Gift at the Flower Market
Living up to its name as the ‘Fragrant Harbour’, the homes and offices in Hong Kong are decked with the freshest and most colourful flowers to welcome the Chinese New Year. Follow that smell and it will lead you to the street aptly named the Flower Market at the Prince Edward street in Hong Kong.
Here is a place where locals would flock to get their regular dose of flowers comprising orchids, bougainvillea, sunflowers, and all sorts of other house and garden plants. The Flower Market is an immersive jungle of exotic blooms and scents. The rows of stalls, shops and stands brimming with fragrant blooms and sellers incessantly cajole customers into buying auspicious blossoms and luck-bringing houseplants.
Nearing Chinese New Year is when things really heat up, as families, businesses and corporate clients flock towards the market to carefully select flowers and greenery that attract good luck and fortune as a new lunar cycle begins.
Bird Watching, or you could even sing along
Surprise, surprise – Hong Kong is a haven for appreciating birds, especially those that sing. A popular haunt for songbird enthusiasts is the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, designed in the style of a traditional Chinese garden. The park has dozens of stalls selling exotic birds, beautifully handcrafted bamboo cages, porcelain water dishes and other bird-care paraphernalia.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll be purchasing a few Chinese thrushes as mementos of your Hong Kong trip, the garden is a pleasant place to witness this age-old Chinese hobby in action, where elderly men feed (some with chopsticks) and preen their feathered friends in exchange for sweet songs. Some birds are talented indeed!
The 36 Dancing Lions Culture
Lion dance is synonymous with Chinese culture. The style of dancing lions originates from the heroes of a famous Chinese novel called the Three Kingdoms. The blueprint in designing the lion heads, including the mastery in lion head needlework, are inspired from and based on the characters in the novel comprising one King, Liu Bei and five Tiger Generals: Guan Gong, Zhang Fei, Zhao Zilong, Ma Chao and Huang Zhong. Nowadays, traditional artistry of lion head sewing and binding seem to be fading away. The lion’s knife pattern and design have to be exquisite without compromising the graceful movement of the lion’s head and body.
Eager visitors to Time Square shopping mall Hong Kong have the opportunity to appreciate the lion dance culture up close. The exhibition called The Legend of Lion Dance Exhibition presents a total of 36 dancing lions, including the work of renowned needlework masters from the 1950’s, the 1980’s and up to the present day. More interestingly, the exhibition showcases Malaysia’s very own Lion Head Needlework master Lao Fu Zi that demonstrates traditional sewing and binding artistry.
Times Square, located on Matheson Street, Causeway Bay is one of the more frequently visited mall in Hong Kong. The ceiling of the mall is festooned with banners and lights, symbolising grace and harmony for the new year season.
The Observation Wheel for Breathtaking View
If you are afraid of heights, you may wish to skip this one. A trip to the Observation Wheel will promises the most striking and sweeping view of the Victoria Harbour and the majestic skyline towering above. One useful tip is to try to catch the ride during sunset or at night. You will bear witness to the city that gradually and glitteringly comes to life as it gets dark.
The Observation Wheel is 60-metre high, has 42 luxury gondolas (including one special VIP gondola equipped with high-tech safety and super-fast Wi-Fi communication systems), with each gondola holding eight comfortably-seated passengers. This eventually becomes Hong Kong’s newest waterfront icon, offering an estimated 1 million passenger rides per year, all day panoramic views, in world-class style and comfort, with air conditioning during summer and heating during winter.
Hong Kong Observation Wheel operates between 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. throughout the year for the 15-20 minute journey. Accessibility is easy: it is surrounded by public transport facilities including the Outlying Island’s ferry piers, the Star ferry, Exchange Square’s bus and minibus interchange and Hong Kong MTR Station. Taxis and access for visitors with private cars are plenty and it is barrier free for visitors with disabilities.
The Wheel site include an event plaza showcasing a variety of events throughout the year for all ages, complete with stalls selling food and beverages and other public amenities. The fees for Observation Wheel is fairly reasonable: HK$100 per adult and HK$70 for persons with disability, children under 12 years, full-time students and senior citizens.
Eccentric Deco at Harbour City
As the Chinese Lunar New Year was approaching, Harbour City, one of Hong Kong’s largest shopping destinations, set up a festive Chinese New Year decoration based on the concept of the Chinese character along the Ocean Terminal Forecourt of Harbour City. To usher the Year of the Sheep, Harbour City worked with Hong Kong’s well-known spatial and interior designer to stage a festive decoration with ‘Double Happiness’ as the theme.
The Ocean Terminal Forecourt & Main Entrance of Harbour City will set up a series of ‘Happiness’ characters in pairs with red and orange as the main colours to symbolise double happiness that the new year will bring. Each ‘Happiness’ character is further ornamented by a traditional Chinese screen with different patterns, fusing the whole set with the beauty of Chinese calligraphy and sculptural art. The main highlight of the decoration is a gigantic 20-feet tall ‘Double Happiness’ arch at the main entrance.
Make a Wish!
When entering a new year, resolutions quickly come to mind. For many visitors, it is one of the most crucial time to make wishes for good luck and fortune. Tin Hau temple is one of the places where visitors get to find their resolve, especially when the temple is where the ‘wishing trees’ are located.
In the past, whenever there was a festival, villagers would throw joss paper into these two trees and make wishes. The higher the branch the joss paper landed on, the more likely it was the wish would come true.
People from all over Hong Kong still throngs the temple during festivals. Due to the overwhelming response, measures have been introduced to protect the wishing trees from becoming buried in paper. Nowadays, wishes are more tidily made by tying joss paper to nearby wooden racks or imitation trees. Yes, there is an imitation tree which attracts visitors all the same.
New Year at Che Kung Temple
Che Kung Temple is one of the many temples where visitors come to offer prayers during the new year. Worshippers come in groups, some asking to be guided on their prayers by the monks, hoping for good luck and fortune. Prayers will then be complemented with fortune-telling, a long tradition practiced in and around temples. Visitors opt to have their fortunes read by fortune tellers using variety of methods of fortune-telling including examination of the hands, ears and use of Chinese astrology. They even use bird in fortune-telling, where a small caged bird will select a card from a large pack, and on that card will be signs that describe your fortune.
Special Delicacies for a Good Closure
After a hard-day work and play, a hot meal of Poon Choi will be a good closure for the day. Poon Choi is known as pun choi or Big Bowl Feast – a traditional type of dish originating from Hong Kong village Cantonese cuisine. Poon Choi becomes popular mainly due to media publicity in placing it as a signature dish of Hong Kong, served in wooden, porcelain or metal basins due to its size and communal style of consumption.
Since Poon Choi is a large portioned dish suitable for a communal meal, it is served during rituals, weddings, festivals, ancestor worships and other local events. Muslim travellers should be mindful that this is usually a non-halal dish. In Hong Kong, a popular place of choice to savour this dish is Shanghai Min Restaurant, located at Times Square, Causeway Bay.
This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 10.2. Read the magazine is HERE.