Saturday, January 28, 2012

Greeting the Year of the Dragon in Hong Kong

What better place to greet the year of the dragon than in the land of the dragon itself?

The Chinese New Year's celebrations actually take a week long, but the main events happen around the first three days. It's actually a very quiet and solemn period, and many of the shops in the cities are closed - much like the Holy Week period in the Philippines. The only firecrackers I ever heard and saw was the fireworks display at Victoria Harbor at the second day of the New Year - and what a display it was! I had to camp by harbor at the Tsim Sha Tsui side for more than 4 hours, despite heavy rain and cold, just to get a nice view of the fireworks. The fireworks start at 8PM, but both sides of Victoria Bay were already jam-packed early in the afternoon.

It was my first time to experience winter (without snow, that is). I knew it was going to be cold, but I had no idea it would drop as far as 7 degrees. My polyester jacket didn't do much so I had to buy some winter accessories at the Ngong Ping village. For $200, I got a scarf, a pair of mittens and a winter cap. But despite that my fingers have become so frozen it was difficult for me to take photos on many occasions.

I decided to go to the less visited areas this time, since the touristy areas would most likely be very crowded during these holidays. I actually made a research about how Chinese New Year are celebrated in Hong Kong a few weeks before I arrived, so I already get have an idea which places I needed to visit for the cultural stuff. Many of these locations are quite far from the city center, requiring a bus ride or two, and many times I end up being the only tourist in the area. Thankfully I have finally put my knowledge of Chinese characters in practical use by writing down the names of places and asking for directions.

I unexpectedly fell in love with HK when I came here last year to watch the Riverdance show. At first I thought that it was just a bunch of concrete and steel, and Disneyland and Ocean Park which holds no appeal for me. Well, it is, though it is more than that. There are also gorgeous mountains and seas and raw nature. And that lovely, chaotic Cantonese noise of the streets, and that smell of cured meat and Chinese medicine and temple incenses, and the hot, delicious food at the dai pai dongs. All of which I dream about  once in a while, especially when I'm stuck sitting in my office cubicle.

Lion dancers at the Tin Hau temple at Fong Ma Po.

A 20-minute long fireworks display at the Victoria Harbor.

The serene and glorious beauty of the Yuen Yuen temple complex, 
home of the ruling deity of the Dragon Year.

A little boy tries his luck on the wishing tree with the help of his daddy at the Lam Tsuen well-wishing festival.

By the entrance of the ancient walled village of Kat Hing Wai.

Lanterns on display at the Well-Wishing festival at Lam Tsuen.

Lucky charms in auspicious colors of red and gold.

A huge brass dragon guards the gates of the Wong Tai Sin temple, crowded with pilgrims at the first day of the Lunar New Year. 

Illuminated display depicting the Chinese zodiac signs at the Hong Kong culural center.

Riding a cable car with a see-through floor didn't help with my fear of heights.

 Taking a break from the chaos of the city.

Scary dolls I met on the trail.

I like this place. It's very zen.

By the entrance of a Chinese restaurant.

 The crowd prepares for the Chinese New Year parade.

Dragon float from the Chinese New Year parade on display at Lam Tsuen.

The garden of Guan Yin at the Yuen Yuen temple institute.

Thousands line up along the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui in anticipation of the Chinese New Year Parade. 

More crazy fireworks.

The crowd disperses after the fireworks.

A very misty morning at Ngong Ping.

The very quaint fishing village of Tai O.

My wishes: wisdom and happiness. (Although the Chinese characters have nothing to do with 'wisdom and happiness'.)

Worshippers at the Tin Hau temple at Fong Ma Po.

Mong Kok district, known for its huge bustling crowd, was very quiet at the first day of the New Year.

Scenes at the Victoria Park flower market.

Lunar New Year display at the IFC mall. 

Lanterns underneath a dragon's belly. 

The scenic train ride to Lo Wu. 

I met a pair of bulls while hiking in a misty mountain, of all things.

The festival at Lam Tsuen. 


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