Monday, January 26, 2009

Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

Image of the entry to Ocean Centre Mall in Kowloon, Hong Kong, just before the Spring Festival starts.Dear Gentle Reader,

Xin nian kwai la! (Mandarin in pinyin transliteration for China, Taiwan, and Singapore...)

Gung Hei Fat Choi! (Cantonese for Hong Kong and Canton Province, China... no easy, standard transliteration that I know of.)

Happy New Year! (in English.)

The old lunar year is finished. The new one has just begun.

The Kitchen God went off a week ago, with lips smeared with wine and honey, to make a report on the family to the Jade Emperor.

He (the Kitchen God, a handsome young chap whom women are not allowed to worship[!]) had so much wine that he was befuddled and forgot all our misdemeanours; we also kept his mouth and tongue sweet with the honey.

Bribing the Kitchen God, or any Chinese God, is the name of the game.

Make an offering, get a good result. Make a better offering, get a better result. Actually, it can work in a similar way with governmental officials too, but not in Hong Kong...

In the Spring Festival, which is what follows (and is kicked off by) the Lunar Chinese New Year, do not even bother going to the shrine of the Wealth God unless you have bought a lot of expensive incense to burn.

Everyone knows that the Wealth God has nothing to do with paupers who cannot make extravagant offerings.

We worked this all out when we lived in Taiwan.

Everyone else gave their House Gods cheap cooking alcohol and old fruit. We offered ours German schnapps and girls (Spice Girls coasters that came inside a CD we bought for the House Gods because the rest of Taiwan sure liked them a lot...).

All our Chinese friends agreed that, with an offering of nubile young rockstar glamour girls for the house gods' pleasure, we were set for fortune each coming year with the Chinese gods vying to bless us, our home, and to give us what we needed.

Anyway, the Kitchen God is back, and there have been no repercussions from the Jade Emperor, so all is well in the Middle Kingdom (China) for us.

Red lanterns, hanging outside a building, for luck in Kowloon.
Red, a lucky colour, is festooning everything in Hong Kong right now.

The apartment has been cleaned and the pauper has been shown to the door, so that wealth will not feel uncomfortable about visiting us for the new year.

Sorry for the squeaking though... it is all those bats hanging around everywhere...


Well, the character for luck, 'fu' (in pinyin Mandarin), means blessings and happiness and fortune and luck...

And classical Chinese has all these great expressions like "Happiness is Wealth" and "Happiness is Longevity and Wealth" and "Happiness is Richness"...

(Are you starting to see a pattern regarding money in China?)

But why the squeaking?

The character for bat, (as in the blind, flying mammal, order Chiroptera, the only Earth mammal capable of sustained flight) is a homonym for "fu" (happiness and blessings, as discussed above), so people decorate furniture or advertisements with bats to slyly connote luck, and fortune, and wealth.

Even our New Year's fu card (from an insurance company) has bats...

Fu (mandarin character) meaning blessings and happiness and wealth and fortune...
At New Years, everyone hangs the character (the ideogram) for "fu" that represents happiness outside their apartment.

But, at New Years, we hang our 'fu' character upside down. (Just like the way a bat hangs upside down)...

Image of an upside fu (fu is approaching) for the Chinese Lunar New Year...
Why do this? (Besides being able to see the lucky bats better...)

Two reasons.

First, you don't want your luck to empty at the start of the year, so you hang it upside down so that it won't leak away. (?)

Second, an inverted ideogram for "fu" is a homonym for "fu is approaching"... and approaching fu or happiness and wealth and richness is what you want for the coming year, most especially if you are Chinese.

So that is why we do that.

Actually, there are lots of other homonyms that we have to deal with here. For example, the last course of the last meal of the old year should be fish, ideally river carp, because fish (in Mandarin) is "yu" which is a homonym for abundance, which you want for the new year because more is better...

Similarly, you ought to always have chicken "ji" because that is a homonym for auspiciousness...

But enough of the word games, this New Year is the Year of the Ox.

The last time the Year of the Ox came around Hong Kong started off the year in British hands and ended in Chinese hands. So this Ox is the first fully Chinese Ox year in Hong Kong since the handover.

Close-up image of a cherry blossom tree festooned with money for Chinese New Year.My apartment building is well into the spirit of things.

We have a massive cherry blossom tree, a real tree, in the entrance festooned with lucky money and money envelopes to bring wealth and prosperity in the New Year to all of the tenants.

We also have an upcoming lion dance, and both miniatures and full-size lions throughout the apartment building.

Thank goodness there is no ox in the building. Yet. It might drive the lions to distraction.

Here are the miniatures.

Image of tiny Chinese lions on the coffee table where guests wait in the foyer.

I will show you the big lions when the dance actually happens.

Now it is time to go out and enjoy more fireworks.

Last night fireworks were set off to scare all the ghosts away.

This morning fireworks are set off because they strew red paper everywhere; cacophonous confetti--but red is lucky and might bring you wealth.

Only here, and only in Chinese New Year, do you actually want to be "in the red"...

Welcome to my town.


Postscript. Ooh. One of my favourite words in Mandarin is the word for fireworks..... bian pao.

To pronounce that in English, if you don't know the specialised transliteration system, is "Bee"+"eN"..."Pow!". What a great, onomatopoeic word for fireworks.

OK, I am off now.

Oh, and I think that Travis is going to be online today with MTM links.

Welcome back, Travis.


debra said...

I love the opportunity to celebrate multiple new years. The opportunity to start anew several times. Here is to another happy new year!
And thank you, Chris, for managing MTM while Travis was otherwise occupied.

Junosmom said...

Happy New Year, Chris! I cannot hear the fireworks from here, but I can imagine. A new year right now might help bring us from our winter doldrums here.

Travis Erwin said...

I hope this New Years starts out better for me then the other one.

Barbara Martin said...

Happy New Year, Chris! Great post, and what sign are you under Chinese astrology? I'm a Tiger.

Barrie said...

Bonne annee! And you know what language that is! Oh yeah, and I have a child born in the year of the Golden Dragon. Woooo!!

David Cranmer said...

Happy New Year and what a great post!

Cloudia said...

"cacophonous confetti"

I'm SO jealous of that cool phrase Chris!
We too have gutters full of red paper; why didn't I come up with it? My lion head is off to you! I hoped you'd blog New Year. Monday I'm showing Honolulu's version.
Aloha and "Shi Shi"

Cloudia said...

Oh, I'm a Serpent Gal married to a Dragon!

jjdebenedictis said...

Lychee dao loy? (I have no idea if I'm saying that even close to correct.)

Happy New Year! (And what a fun post!)

Sepiru Chris said...


Multiple new years of course means multiple old years. I try to calculate the differential of days between the standard gregorian year -end and the 'new' year end, and add or subtract that to my birthday to get more prezzies and more years of age.

The Heroine is not buying what I am selling, however...


Your cochlea thanks you, Junosmom, for not being near the fireworks.

While the concussive air blasts from the fireworks could easily sail a boat, and thus move it out of the doldrums (region of no air movement) they might also unbalance your inner ear. Who knows where you would sail off to?

(Check with Cloudia, she is a boat babe and will know much more about the effects of cacophonous confetti on sail boats migratory patterns.)


One can only hope it helps. Otherwise you would be seeing red.


What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Well, a loyal dog might...


Merci beaucoup, madame auteur, et même à vous. The Heroine and your humble scribe have no wee readers, only the Hero who reads by osmosis when I type, but we think he is a Dragon or a Snake (SPCA foundling, so no one knows for sure, but we are tending towards Dragon)...


Thank you very much.


Bu ke qi... (to your xie xie...)

Oh Cloudia, my countenance is red, you flatter me so... You are probably disoriented from the aural salvos if your gutters are full, that is all. Feel free to borrow the phrase. Your hands are safe, I am sure.

The Heroine would be a rat... (it so great to be able to write a Cagneyesque line like that and not get into trouble!)

Looking forward to see Honoloulou's twist (or should that be hulu?) on the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival...


Sorry OxyJen, but while my Mandarin is OK, my Cantonese is practically non-existent, and that is definitely Cantonese...

...And the Heroine thinks I am spending too much time here (in Blogovia) so I a certainly not asking her...


pattinase (abbott) said...

As usual a lovely post. I do wish we had been able to go to Hong Kong in 2004 but life intervenes.

Lauren said...

What a great post. Happy New Year!

As always, very informative. Thanks for the new information.

That's so funny about the Spice Girls coasters. I started giggling at work and got weird looks. :-P

bindu said...

Hilarious post filled with very interesting details! Your writing kept me smiling through the post even as I learned something about Hong Kong. :)

Jenn Jilks said...

I taught a great many multicultural home room classes. One of our best times was celebrating the Chinese New Year. Terrific shots!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

A wonderful mix of information and humour!

I love the idea of putting bats on the furniture ...

'Neckst Year already?!' ('Happy New Year' in Giraffe.)

Mary N. said...

Lovely post as always, Chris. I love seeing Hong Kong through your eyes.