It is now well into the Chinese New Year holidays and I felt it was about time to share my good wishes for the coming year of the horse with all of you. May you have good fortune, excellent health and double happiness this year!
Chinese New Year is, of course, the biggest of big holidays in Hong Kong. When we first moved there in September 1992, we had yet to experience what this period means to all residents of the Fragrant Harbour, as Hong Kong was known.
Our first Chinese New Year was in 1993, when we were beginning to get the idea that, in spite of the heat and humidity we had been learning to live with, this was a period that heralded truly cold weather; bone-shiveringly chilling, the air seemed to change very quickly through January and the apartments, which are designed to get rid of heat as efficiently as possible, turn into ice-blocks. Our flat had no insulation in the concrete walls or floors, no carpets and very few curtains and we quickly learned that the shops sell out of heaters PDQ just prior to the holidays. Now we knew why!
The other thing that struck us was how empty the vibrant, bustling city seemed. Overnight, as families converged on their ancestral homes, usually on the mainland, the entire population departed through Kai Tak or Lok Ma Chau/ Low Wu and by New Year’s Day there were fewer than 2 million people left in a city of 6 million. It was amazing! For the first time since we had arrived, you could walk around the streets and hold your arms out wide without touching another human being. You could get served at the bar (at least those few, mostly run by Gweilo’s, that remained open) in a flash – there was no-one else there. The place developed the feel of a ghost town – it was eerily quiet and I almost expected to see little roundels of straw blowing down the middle of the road, like in those old westerns, films that entertained us when we were young.
Of course, the place was well decorated with red and gold lanterns, as well as some beautifully colourful calligraphy decorations. The Christmas lights were seamlessly morphed into brilliant traditional and modern versions of these decorations and were (still are, I suspect!) a true sight to behold.
In later years, when we lived way out of town, up in the New Territories, Chinese New Year was always heralded by the constant serenade of firecrackers, loud, incessant explosive sounds that individuals used to ward off the Kitchen Monster, for fear that he would bring bad luck to the newly-swept homes. Funnily enough, in spite of my personal hatred of all fireworks displays, I do actually miss this!
Another tradition is to bring flowers and fruit trees into the home – if they can be persuaded to bloom on New Year’s Day, it is considered extremely auspicious, the harbinger of prosperity and good fortune for the coming year.
So, imagine how pleased I was then that our kumquat tree, purchased last week in London’s Chinatown, bloomed beautifully and the fruits began to colour lovely bright oranges yesterday morning, in perfect timing for the Year of the Horse. It could be a good year! Kung Hei Fat Choi!