I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written, but this girl has been busy! So, please forgive me for the tardiness of this update.
February 2016~A time for new beginnings
One of the weekends leading up to the Chinese New Year, our apartment complex held a get together for its residents to help celebrate. At the celebration, a man was showing people how to do Chinese calligraphy. A few of us tried it, though our talents were far from those of the calligrapher. He said I actually did pretty good, though I’m sure he was just being nice. They also handed out some paper lanterns for us to keep. It was such a lovely gesture of our complex to set the gathering and celebration up for us.
During the time leading up to the big Chinese New Year, there were some traditions (and a story or two) that were new to me that I want to share…First, there is this red envelope tradition. This is where you buy a red envelope, fill it with with a certain amount of money and then hand it out. My friend and I decided to go halfsies with the ones to our apartment guards. So, the morning before we were let out for our break, I held out the envelopes for the guards at the gate. This guy in plain clothes was talking to a couple of them and he started to go for one of the envelopes. Without thinking, I simply slapped his hand and said no. They all looked at me, most likely in shock. I said I didn’t know him and therefore no red envelope for him. We all laughed awkwardly then (I’m sure the guards laughed at this blonde hair girl slapping the hand of someone and my friend laughed because she didn’t know what else to do) and went about our way. Another tradition I noticed is tangerines everywhere. They’re a sign of prosperity and luck, I think. The girl at our school’s Dragon Cart was kind enough to offer me one. And the final tradition is the damn firecrackers. They go on for days…at all hours of the night. I was under the impression that they were not suppose to be set off in the city limits, but I guess some things can be overlooked for the sake of tradition…even if it’s a friggin loud one.
For our week off during Chinese New Year, I was invited to spend time in Hong Kong, a short ferry ride from where I currently reside in Shenzhen. Part of me wanted to jump onto a plane and fly somewhere I had never been before, but the idea of spending a Chinese holiday in China, with the cliched images of dancing lions and dragons, also appealed to me. So, in the end, Hong Kong won.
Sunia and I took the ferry the morning of Sunday, February 7th. That night, we met up with some friends to view the Victoria Harbour Light Show. Now, I’ve seen the light show twice now, and in my opinion, it does not live up to its hype. But this time, we weren’t going to be pushed or shoved to get a chance to see the lights because we were going to be on a junk boat for the show. Junk Boats are old traditional fishing boats with large fin-like sails. The red sails of the junks sailing around Hong Kong provide an iconic image of this bustling city. I was super excited about being able to do this, as I have wanted to do this since reading about Hong Kong when I learned I was going to be living so close to the city…plus, I figured it would improve the light show for me. The boat pulled up to the dock and passengers had to climb up a small set of portable stairs, a man on each side took our hands and helped us jump onto the red-sail boat, that was swaying along with the waves. When the boat swayed relatively close, we quickly moved onto the boat. Once on the rocking vessel, I headed for the top deck, with red lanterns hanging from the ceiling. We enjoyed one free beverage (wine, beer, soda) as our boat sailed along. Now, it didn’t improve the actual light show, but I did enjoy sailing about Victoria Harbour for the hour even though it was quite breezy.
The next evening, Sunia and I met up with another friend, Joscelyn, and her sister, Jenn. There was a parade scheduled and we wanted to see it! Another image I associate with China and celebrations are vibrant dragons and dancing lions; this parade was sure to have both in it. Though the parade was to start at 8pm, the four of us made camp around 5:30pm outside Joscelyn and Jenn’s hotel room since it was right on the parade route. Hong Kong is usually crowded, but the parade was ridiculous in terms of crowds. I have already learned that the locals do not appreciate the idea of personal space, but seriously. It took a couple of hours for the middle-aged lady next to me to realize that I wasn’t going to budge to the right anymore. We finally came to an understanding that she wouldn’t push me and I wouldn’t glare or elbow back. And I am pretty sure the twelve year old behind me had his hand on my butt for the majority of the parade. Despite the lack of room or space, I enjoyed the parade and would not mind going back the next year. Before the parade, as we waited, the time went by quickly as performers went down the route entertaining those of us waiting for the real show. Finally, shortly after 8pm, the parade approached, and it did not disappoint! The floats came from all over the world and were full of color and sparkle and pizazz and life! Performers danced and sang…floats dazzled the crowd. And most importantly, dragons and lions soared. The moment the parade was over though, Sunia and I headed back to our hotel, which was only a couple of blocks away. I would love to report that it was easy to navigate through the herds of people, but then I would be lying; people pushed and shoved to try to get to their destinations. I did not, however, let it dampen the spirit and excitement of the night.
The next morning came early, though, as we prepared for our day tour of Lantau Island, courtesy of Grayline Tours. When I first learned I was moving close to Hong Kong, I researched things to do and see…one of the things that came up was a big Buddha on the island of Lantau. It was on my list of Top 5 things I wanted to do while I was living here. Since her sister was visiting for the first time, Joscelyn asked if Sunia and I wanted to join them for the tour they had signed up for. I could find no reason to argue so we agreed to join them. Our tour guide was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio (in fact, he is probably going berserk since Leo just won the Oscar), but he was also informative. After a few stops at the clock tower and a jewelry store (with gorgeous jewels and diamonds), we took a van to Lantau Island where we would take a cable car to the big Buddha statue. The lines for tickets and the cable car were super long and looked as if it would take hours to get through. Fortunately, the tour company treated us like VIPs and we did not have to wait in line like the other people. In fact, we only had to wait for maybe 10 minutes.
When we signed up for the tour, we decided to take the crystal cable car over the hills towards the Buddha area. The particular cable car is like glass. You can see through all of the walls, the ceiling, and the floor! It was completely worth the extra cost for that car. Finally, after about 15 minutes, we disembarked the cable car and we headed towards the temple and monastery.
The monastery has a restaurant where we ate soup, rolls, vegetables, and more! It was much more delicious than I had anticipated.
Next, our group was bused up to the giant Buddha. Once we joined the other masses of people already there, we were given a few minutes to walk around and take pictures. We didn’t stay long at the big Buddha.
The tour had multiple stops and the schedule was packed! Our last stop for the tour was going to a stilt village. The smell was…overwhelming, and not in a good way. The stench of fish filled the air as we walked through the alley towards a waiting boat. The boat took us out into the bay for a chance to spot pink Chinese dolphins. It felt good to be on the water, the sun was out and not many clouds in the sky…a beautiful day. Suddenly, our boat captain pointed to somewhere not far off. A dolphin appeared! It wasn’t exactly pink, but it was a nice opportunity to see this sea creature rolling through the bay’s waves and a wonderful way to end the tour.
Once the tour ended and Sunia and I were dropped off back at our hotel, we tried to plan for the Hong Kong’s biggest fireworks show of the year. The hotel we stayed at had boasted on its website that one could see the Victoria Harbour from one of its lounges. Well, the fireworks were scheduled to be lit from there so we assumed there would be no problem seeing the display from the comfort of our hotel. We were wrong. The hotel, The Salisbury, failed to tell us that you needed to make reservations or that one lounge had been rented out, so our plan did not come to fruition. We tried walking across the street, but hordes of people had the same idea. After much deliberation, we decided to head back to our room and see if by any luck we could see any of the display. We were in luck…we could see 1/3 of the display from our window! Needless to say, next year we will plan accordingly so we can see the other 2/3 of the show. I will say the 1/3 we did see was beautiful!
Sadly, our time in Hong Kong ran out the next day as we took the ferry back to mainland China. The few days we spent in the exciting city, though, were filled with energy and excitement of the new year. I’m glad I was able to experience it with good friends. And as I look back on this past year, I find myself so grateful this opportunity. I cannot wait to see what this year brings!
How cool you rode in a Chinese Wonkavator! Better you than me w/all the crowds though. Love that you slap and elbow through lol