Chinese New Year - Monday 8 February 2016
Welcome the Year of the Fire Monkey! I feel an auspicious year ahead. 1908 was a Monkey year when my Glaswegian grandfather enjoyed the celebrations in Hong Kong on his world tour. And I landed in Hong Kong myself, sixty years later, in another Monkey year.
Anything can happen!
Chinese pundits say anything can happen in a Monkey year. Breathe deep for a hugely lively time of opportunity. Leap in and embrace innovation and creativity! With breathless speed, a dollop of humour and quick wit, it’s a time to dare to be different, be flamboyant, shake up your life and take a risk. But don’t be gullible or you’ll get peanuts!
So mercurial and quirky are the ways of the Monkey, one horoscope warns iron-fisted bosses may go belly up, pitched out in the melee.
That’s just what happened to my Hong Kong boss in 1968 – my quintessential Monkey year.
Chinese New Year in Hong Kong swept out the turgidity of Christmas celebrated by Europeans on a monsoon island far from home. Down came soggy Santa and up went red and gold banners heralding exuberant celebration - an unrestrained eruption of discordant noise and colour, indulgence and togetherness.
A Resilient Festival
Successive revolutions on the Chinese mainland, Sun Yat-sen in 1911, the Communists in 1949 and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, tried to extinguish everything old and interesting and especially riotous festivals. So the spirits channelled Hong Kong – or that’s what it felt like to me when I was there.
A month of double pay. A time to eat, drink and embrace. New clothes, new starts, new possibilities. Dragon dancers wound the streets with cymbals and gongs, cheered by onlookers, ignoring the drippy, oozy weather that heralds Spring in the South China sea.
Markets, massed with flowers, opened until the wee small hours. Row upon row of pink cherry blossom branches signified, beauty, prosperity and growth. Potted white narcissi marched shelves of bamboo scaffolding. Miniature kumquat trees were sold in pairs. Put at my doorway, their golden fruit jostled glossy green leaves, assuring a year of joy, abundance and wealth.
Chinese New Year on the Water
Businesses were shut-up, bedecked with flamboyant red paper notices wishing their patrons happiness and riches. And in particular, the huge fishing fleet that set out daily from Aberdeen, a village in the South of Hong Kong Island, stayed home. All the junks were arrayed with red flags. In the dawn they flapped wettish in the muggy chill, until the fires on board got going to roast whole suckling pigs, and the warm, greasy smoke wafted up, stirring the bunting. Whole families prepared a feast together, joyous with raucous noise, Incense and drumbeats. Grinning pansy-faced children jettisoned red envelopes to float enlivening the harbour swill while they clutched their lucky money.
Firecrackers made the old men start and smirk and the children squeal with delight. Illegal after the riots the year before in 1967- the prohibition made the explosions all the more exciting. The noise heralded good luck and prosperity, frightening away evil, shaking the ground, acrid spitting smoulder drifting into smoke and misty weather.