I checked my watch for the fifth time since boarding the MTR. 9:56. I wanted to arrive early at Wong Tai Sin temple. On Chinese New Year’s Eve this Hong Kong temple welcomes thousands of worshipers, all seeking to make an early offering - the earlier, the more luck in the New Year. This would be a New Year of new traditions.
On arrival I was relieved to see only a few hundred people in attendance and spent time circling through the temple complex. Statues adorned with lucky red bows were flanked by Kumquat Trees, a golden, lucky citrus fruit. On my third loop security closed the gates to the temple and I found myself waiting in a pen with a growing crowd of worshipers.
It was 10:45 and figuring it was over an hour before the celebration I reflected on the events preceding New Year's Eve. House cleaning and shopping activities went into overdrive. Couplet writing tables, using traditional Chinese black ink and brush, appeared on street corners. Office supply stores sold red envelopes - the Chinese pioneered the art of holiday cash gifts. Lanyards hung from Wishing Trees and New Year’s music played from mall and shopping center loudspeakers. It is the most auspicious time of the year.
Loud bells and chanting interrupted the wait. The gates opened. It was 11:02, so much for waiting until midnight to get the good luck wishing started. A flow of people holding burning joss sticks and pinwheel prayer wheels ascended the temple stairs and headed to the prayer area. Once the joss sticks were placed in position, a rocking prayer was performed, and then security ushered the crowd away to make room for others.
Good luck in the New Year assured, I rode the MTR to Prince Edward to secure a seat at one of the bars along Tung Choi street. The bar scene seemed odd...too many seats were available. Two blocks over a steady stream of people walked to Fa Hui Park Flower Market. Beer in an empty bar or join the crowds to a Flower Market...a new tradition was born.
Forget watching TV at a bar or a friend's house, waiting for a ball to drop with champagne in one hand and a noisemaker in the other...Chinese New Year's Eve is all about the Flower Markets. At Fa Hui Park the crowds were so tight you could barely see the green of the park’s sport courts under your feet, let alone raise a glass to celebrate. Flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, and food - everything imaginable was on sale. Attendees were too busy celebrating with friends and family to worry about waiting in long lines or a countdown to midnight.
Exhausted from the marathon of events I returned to Tung Choi street for a New Year’s Eve beer before catching the MTR to Causeway Bay. New traditions are nice, however, there are some old one’s I’d like to maintain.