Monday, January 30, 2006
Chinese New Year and Traditions
Kung Hei Fat Choi! That is Chinese for Happy New Year. Since a lot of the Chinese culture is based on the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year was celebrated on January 29th. Birthdays, weddings, openings and other important events, are based on when there is a new moon, not a specific date. For instance, if your birthday is July 7th, it may not be celebrated until there is a new moon which could be July 19th. It is a little confusing.
Several weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, things were being sold everywhere for people to prepare for it and buildings were being decorated. Chinese culture is hugely based on symbolism and myth, so all of a sudden, everywhere we look there are orange trees, firecrackers, fish, dogs (this is the year of the dog), dragons, long flowers plus so much more. There is meaning behind every one of these things. Such as firecrackers and dragons makes a lot of noise which scares away the bad spirits, oranges are a symbol of fortune, Koi fish represent prosperity, long flowers represent longevity. Everything represents something. Also, red is a very lucky color so there is red EVERYWHERE!
Hong Kong had a huge parade to celebrate the new year. We were able to buy tickets to the spectator stands to watch the opening ceremony and then we had a good seat to watch all the parade participants go through. It was a very culturally diverse parade. There were dance, acrobats, cheerleaders, bands etc from Venice, Mexico, South Africa, China, Japan, Korea, Czechoslovakia, and USA. USA had the marching band from UCLA and the Philadelphia Eagle's cheerleaders. Along with them were several mascots from other football teams, including the mascot from the Denver Broncos!!! That was the closest we got to a Bronco game all year plus being the highlight of the parade for us! The cheerleaders were also dressed in their usual skimpy two piece outfits. You could just hear the Chinese people around us gasp as the girls start groovin it to the music and you know they are saying things like "Good Gawd, is that what the Americans make their women wear?"
A huge Chinese New Year tradition is to give out Lai See envelopes while saying "Kung Hei Fat Choi" (happy new year). These are little red envelopes filled with money that you are to give to children, single Chinese friends and anyone of service. Troy and I decided to partake in this tradition because we didn't want to make anyone angry because we didn't give them money (the Chinese are very serious about this). So we gave envelopes to the doormen in our apartment building, one cleaning lady, the newspaper delivery man, the Starbucks guy who always remembers Troy's drink, Troy's travel agent (she got a lot!), and the dry cleaning lady who always remembers my name. The hard part was figuring out how much to give. We didn't know if $100HKD (about $12USD) is too much or too little. It actually caused us a little stress. A friend of ours told us to also have several envelopes with $20HKD in our pockets because in our apartment building and around the complex, children will run up to us and yell "Kung Hei Fat Choi" at that point you are suppose to give them a Lai See envelope. Troy says if a kid ran up to him and said that to him he would tell him "My name is Troy, not Choi and stop calling me fat!" We then found out we made a big Chinese boo boo.
The number 4 is very bad in their culture because in Catonese it sounds like the Catonese word for death, (buildings don't have floors with 4 in the number) where as 8 is a very good number because it sounds like prosperity . We made the big mistake of giving two of our doormen $40HKD! So I think we accidentally wished death upon them. The whole envelope giving thing was also kind of sad because as we would come out of our elevator the cleaning ladies would just be hanging out cleaning the same window over and over again hoping someone would give them something.
Over the weekend our apartment complex had a "Year of the Dog Spring Party". It was mostly kid activities but there was a lion dance at the beginning. From my understanding, these dances are performed at grand openings, weddings, and important events to scare away the bad monsters and spirits. The dance is accompanied by loud symbols and drums to help scare away the bad spirits. After the opening ceremony the dragon would go around to each building and basically bless it, bringing in good luck for the new year. Above the door way of each building, a bundle of vegetables would be hung for the lion to reach up and grab and eat. This symbolized feeding the lion to keep him happy to continue to keep the people and farmers safe.
It is all very confusing but very interesting at the same time. We try to ask as many questions as possible but sometimes people just don't get what we are saying and either look at us funny or give us directions to McDonalds (they obviously think that is what we are asking for).