Archive for February, 2008

Kung Hei Fat Choy

February 11, 2008

Or as it translates in english – ‘Happy New Year’. My knowledge of Cantonese has expanded by a massive four words. It felt very weird to be celebrating a new year at the start of February, and we’re now into the year of the rat. There have been quite a lot of decorations up celebrating this fact, although some of the designs depicting rats looked more like mice to my eye. I checked this with one of my colleagues who is a local, and it was explained that rat and mouse are the same word in Cantonese, and I would guess Mandarin also. My attempts at trying to explain the differences between rats and mice weren’t particularly successful. I wonder if hamsters and gerbils fall under the same word?

New Years Day was on Friday 8th February and was marked by a fireworks display over the harbour, much like the 10th anniversary of the British handover was marked last July. They certainly know how to put on a good fireworks display over here, and I had a good view with a group of friends from the rooftop of one of their apartments in Causeway Bay. One nice part of Chinese New Year (abbreviated nearly everywhere to CNY) is the public holidays – Thursday and Friday of last week making for a long weekend. In fact, much like the UK at Christmas there’s a general slowing down of work in the lead up with noticeably less people about when going to and from work. A lot of businesses shut down as well and the whole city feels somewhat quieter. A lot of expats will book holidays round this period (the public holidays and booking extra time off make this an attractive option), and for the locals it’s a chance to spend time with their families. I’m already thinking that for next year I’ll be booking holiday, although I’m told it can be more expensive to travel at this time of year.

Apparently this Wednesday is the best luckiest day to return to work, according to some feng shui master anyway. Or so I was told this by a colleague from my office shortly before CNY. And walking into work this morning still didn’t seem to be back to it’s busiest on the streets. Needless to say, I’m back at work today as I can’t say I buy into all this feng shui stuff. Other local traditions seem to involve the giving out of red envelopes. Primarily, these are supposed to be given from married couples to the single people they know and should contain money. The act is supposed to be passing on good luck, or should that be fortune?, to the person receiving the envelope. Although it is also more of a general well wishing act to give out these red envelopes – I received one from a bookshop after buying a magazine. Sadly, the envelope did not contain money, but did have various coupons/vouchers to use. There are also quite a lot of small orange trees to be seen at various places. That’s trees with small oranges on them, as well as the trees being quite small themselves… In the local culture the colour gold is a sign of good fortune or prosperity and as oranges are close to gold in colour (yes, seriously, this is how it was explained to me) the small orange trees are meant to bring good fortune/prosperity for the year ahead. The significance of the colour gold also helps explain the number of jewelry stores with large amounts of rather brash gold jewelry in their windows. All very bling!

The whole envelope, gold, orange tree, feng shui stuff really does emphasise how superstitious the Chinese culture can be. I’ve also noticed an increase in the number of people burning stuff at the shrine outside my apartment block. I did look up my Chinese star sign. Being born in 1975 made me (just) the year of the Rabbit with the elemental sign of wood. Rabbits are indecisive, secretive, hyper-sensitive, complicated, aloof, gossipy, hypochondrial, naive, timid, gullible. At least those are the negative traits- on the positive side we’re the luckiest sign, creative, and sensitive to those around us. Although I was born on Chinese New Year’s Day of that particular year, so maybe I’ve gotten some of the previous year’s traits. I think everyone who knows me wouldn’t necessarily list creative as one of my traits. Just to show how inaccurate these things are; wood is negatively associated with anger and depression, but positively with patience and altruism.

If you’re suitably interested to find out your Chinese zodiac stuff, look here (new window). I’ve also applied to get my visa extended which will require a trip to Macau or elsewhere outside of Hong Kong once that is done. I’ll have to go through some kind of interview process though, as I’m replacing a short term visa (6 months) with a longer term one (2 years). With hindsight it probably would have been less hassle to apply for a shorter term extension and go through the process every 6 months or so. Still, at least this way once it’s done, it’s good for the next 2 years.