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. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Christmas Holidays in Singapore

I wasn't planning to return here anytime soon, but then they got Wicked the Musical on tour. I thought that's enough reason to go back.

That and exploring the museums, visiting an old friend, checking out the Christmas lights in Orchard Road, spending a day in Sentosa Island, and checking out the Peranakan culture in the East Coast.

Despite all of this, there's still that lingering feeling that I felt before: Singapore is boring - especially if you don't have much money to do stuff. I don't know, maybe it's too clean and organized for me that I'm finding it stale and sterile. There's a beach, and there are nature parks everywhere, but these are so artificially manicured that they have lost their magic on me.

Still, it's a very attractive country, and quite photogenic too. Thankfully I just got my Christmas money to burn.

The ArtScience Museum glows in glamorous red for the Cartier exhibit opening.

One of the spectacular highlights of my holiday is staying in this very cozy and chic hostel. It's quite cheap in Singapore standards. The hosts and guests are friendly and well-behaved, and everything is kept squeaky clean. But the best part I think is the unlimited Nutella that's on the free breakfast counter.

View by the hostel window. Another day in Singapore.

A very huge Christmas tree at ResortsWorld Sentosa.

The groovy escalator to the Singapore Flyer.

Beach bumming at Sentosa island for $1.00 (entrance fee). There are lockers where you can leave your stuff for about $2.00, but I didn't really want to stay long. The cargo ships in the horizon are ruining it for me. 

Marina Bay Sands on a blue sunset. What a very pretty and weird-looking architectural structure.

Real pine trees in the tropics. I hope they don't die in the sweltering heat.

Light rain while walking around the Chinatown district.

The rain oculus inside the ArtScience Museum

The Fountain of Wealth. Purportedly the largest fountain in the world.

The very posh-looking Louis Vuitton maison floating over Marina Bay. I went inside just to check it out and was almost mesmerized into buying expensive stuff by some of the friendly Filipino salespeople.

View from the Singapore flyer.

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

Officialy one of my favorite places in the world now.

A devotee meditates around the mezzanine of the Buddha Tooth Relic temple. Monks are synchronously chanting prayers below.

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in black and white.

Devotees in prayer at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

 Olympic circles at Marina Bay.

Enjoying my $6.00 scoop of ice cream on the beach.

The Gardens by the Bay. Still under construction.

An old man looks proudly at the skyscrapers.

 A flamenco show at the Esplanade outdoor theatres.

 Giant Salvatore Ferragamo pump inside the ArtScience Museum.

Singapore maybe boring (sometimes) but here, even the back-alleys are quite safe.

Beautiful capitol  building. Manila has got several of these Neo-classical buildings but now all of them are run-down and garishly colored.

Mall display. It's so Christmasy. 

A very busy Orchard Road. I just worn my new favorite jacket after watching Wicked the Musical at MBS. Thanks to Jeof for this photo.

Breakfast time at the hostel.  

Nutella and jam and cereal and Milo. Breakfast heaven.

Hainanese chicken rice. Recommended by Bourdain.

A very expensive Black Pepper crab. All for the sake of experience.

A Dali sculpture at the UOB Plaza.

The Titanic Artifact Exhibition was better than I expected. It wasn't merely a display of old junk. The music, the lighting, and even the temperature changes as you go through the exhibit and it contributes a lot to the mood. It was so absorbing that I actually took time to read all of the descriptions in each exhibit.

The ticket to the Titanic exhibit is a replica of the boarding pass. There is a name of a passenger at the back. Before exiting the exhibit, you get to find out whether that passenger has survived in the list of casualties and survivors that were on display.

At the Grand Staircase in the RMS Titanic.

Taking a break by the rain oculus. I love the very posh-looking paper bag which looks a lot more expensive than the souvenir magnet that I bought. 

Basbasan Nawa!

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