everyone, everywhere was in a flurry of movement. The year of the Dragon was
upon us. Row upon row of dragon-like flowers peered down from the shelves,
mouths wide open in determination to display their wealth of colors and
tantalizing petals while screaming seductions at shoppers as they bustled past.
Everywhere you looked red and gold dominated the landscape, with every stall a
mirror image of the other, all of them selling wine, flowers and boxes of finger
foods. The air was filled with the sound of children screeching happily, dashing
here and there in the delight of knowing full well what these symptoms meant –
the arrival of the Chinese New Year.
In the weeks
succeeding Christmas, the red and gold shops of the Lunar New Year plague the
downtown malls of Hong Kong, bringing with them gifts of food, sweets and red
laisee packets containing money that send all children into an excited
frenzy. The whirlwind of Chinese New Year had captured the immense population
and spun them into a mad trance of stocking up on gifts for every eventuality.
‘Another box of cookies?’ I asked my friend, Yi Ai, as she was queued to buy
what seemed like the tenth box. ‘What if uncle eleven comes visiting?’ she
responded with an anxious look on her face, before dashing out of line to grab
an additional box of goodies as she remembered yet another member of her
hyper-extended family who may or may not come calling during the three days of
celebrations and visitations. In a city of extreme wealth and excess, not having
a gift to present visitors (or to give hosts) was deemed unacceptable. And this
was on top of the laisee packets that married couples and parents were
expected to give children, employees and even the cashier lady.
considered too much for the longest and most important festivity of the Chinese
calendar, especially in honor the Year of the Dragon, the only legendary animal
of the Chinese zodiac. In the weeks preceding the festival, a country-wide
mission to find the most beautiful plum blossoms and the kumquat tree bearing
the most fruit dominates the minds of the competitors, all too eager to outdo
their relations by surrounding themselves with the biggest and best symbols of
luck and prosperity. Doors, windows and even ceilings become dotted with red
paper, with the characters for good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity
decorating them in shining gold calligraphy. Red lanterns hung from the roofs of
restaurants and street stalls, lighting up the atmosphere with their warm light
and letting good fortune rain down on all those touched.