“Those of you wondering what I was up to during Chinese New Year, that’s the next entry. I’m waiting for the photos to surface for illustrative purposes.” – Me, 20th February
Turns out the photos surfaced almost immediately after I wrote that but unfortunately I am astronomically lazy. I fully intended to write this exactly a week after the last piece but I guess 9 days after is just as good right? Don’t look at me like that.
This is what I had been waiting for. An honest to god Chinese New Year celebration in a place where that means something huge and not just a new calendar from your local Chinese delivery place. Culture. Spectacle. Food. Dead seals? This one’s got it all. It’s the onset of the Year of the Tiger folks and since everyone has left Hong Kong for families in the mainland during the festive season, there was going to be no masses of humanity clogging up the pavements and walking into us. We would have the best of both worlds, all the excitement with less people to share it with. For the most part that’s what we got. I just didn’t factor Ocean Park into the proceedings. But first, a little back-story.
All the photos I’m using here are courtesy of my good friend Vicky, the first person to come out and visit me here. I couldn’t have asked for a better companion photo-wise seeing as I never remember to take my camera anywhere and she has an itchy shutter finger. She took a total of 127 photos according to Facebook. Don’t worry I won’t use them all. For a while though it seemed she’d just have to take all her photos in the airport as I, quite masterfully, managed to go to the wrong arrival gate when she got here. Showing trademark paranoia and panic I arrived at the airport a good hour before the plane landed, decoded the information board and ascertained her point of exit. Easy. Plenty of time to get a good spot so she could see me as soon as she turned the corner, enough time to get her a ticket for the airport express into central to really make the transition smooth. She got off the opposite end of the frigging warehouse arrivals land in obviously. Instead of walking out and immediately seeing me instead there was a flurry of phone calls along the ‘where exactly are you?’ lines. Not perfect but whatever, here she was, let the festivities commence.
I’d forgotten how overwhelming it can be here the first time. I’m marching around Central at the pace of a disgruntled rhino expected Vicky to remember exactly which way we’re going. It took me a ridiculously long time to figure out the best way to make my way around the island (notoriously bad sense of direction, thanks Google maps) and here I am dragging her around and reeling off places like she’s been here as long as I have. At the end of the week I was actually a little dismayed at how easily she adjusted. Apart from the sleep pattern which sadly never came. The first day was the only day she surfaced before me. We went to the zoo just outside the building that day because I’ve walked through it every day since getting here in October and never even knew they had a massive orang-utan in there.
But you don’t care about any of that. The zoo, that’s just teasing. You want to know about the parade. Tsim Sha Tsui’s Chinese New Year parade was the event we were both looking forward to the most. After getting off the ferry and grabbing something to eat we tried to stake out a spot along the parade route but it seemed like everyone who didn’t leave the island for the festive period had got here before us. We couldn’t stand anywhere near where the floats set off from but we did manage to get a decent view from the first street they turned onto. By some incredible stroke of luck I have discovered a video of parade highlights that was shot almost exactly across the way from us. Feast your eyes and thank you Youtube user webgates.
Pay special attention to the Swiss Tigers and their percussion on wheels. Doesn’t get much more awesome than that.
As you can see there was plenty of confusing displays. Even reading the signs preceding the floats or marchers didn’t necessarily clue us in. We still haven’t managed to work out why there was a parody cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (or something) or what the hell these things were at 2.31 – 2.44:
Being an ignorant Westerner I couldn’t quite wrap my head around all of the displays but there were emissaries from all around the world here. We had the Notting Hill Carnival guys and some American football team’s cheerleaders and who doesn’t like cheerleaders right?
The best bit though was clearly when the big dragon tried to eat everyone.
Good times were had by all. I’d never seen anything like this and I’m glad I got to be here and experience my first ever Chinese New Year parade especially since I’m a Tiger and this is therefore my year. In a way it was my parade (me and all the other ‘natural born leader’ Tigers) so really I should have had more input. That terrifying Dutch(?) monstrosity would have gone for starters.
What next then? How to top that dizzying blend of colours, excitement, music and abject horror? Fireworks of course! The annual fireworks over Victoria Harbour were just the following day. It was drizzling a little bit so we decided to stock up on food that was bad for us and watch the fireworks go off from the apartment. After all it’s a fantastic view and you can see straight across to where the parade was from here. Can you see where I’m going with this?
Yep. David ballsed up. A lot of the astounding fireworks (and we could see on the TV that they were indeed astounding) were obscured by the buildings. In fact the one that blocked most of the fireworks was the ruddy HSBC building. Thanks a lot Dad!
Squinting at fireworks couldn’t hold us back though, we had touristy things to do. Everyone I know here was amazed to find out I’ve never been to the Peak. It’s such a touristy thing to do I decided to put it off until I had a visitor and therefore an excuse. The tram ride up to the Peak was alarming. Once seated you have absolutely no faith that the cart will be able to chug up a nigh on 45 degree incline, rattling and shaking its wooden fixtures as it goes. Seatbelts? Shut up. Just cling onto your seat for dear life. At one point I honestly thought I might topple backwards over the back my seat and go flying out the back window. One German tourist held onto a pole and took his feet off the ground so he looked like a bizarre Chaplin movie, all dangling in the air at a strange angle. His mate laughed his arse off and took pictures while I smiled politely and quietly had a coronary. The really super long queue, the shuffling in a massive ground of zombified tourists, the brush with our maker travelling there, they were all worth it in the end.
And then there was Ocean Park. Ocean Park is like Flamingo Land for those of us far enough North to remember/know about Flamingo Land. It has rides, dance shows, multiple eateries, roller coasters, animal exhibits and the biggest aquarium I’ve ever seen. Vicky took loads of pictures from the aquarium and they were all marvellous. I haven’t put any photos up here because they give me panic attacks just looking at them. You see I was in my own personal hell at the time. The thousands of crazy looking fish were mind-blowing, don’t get me wrong it was amazing to see so many different types I’ve never even heard of before all milling around in the world biggest paddling pool but the crowds… my god the crowds…
The queue was like nothing I’d ever see before. A heaving mass of humanity constantly surging forward along a dirt track, round a corner and down another track and then doubling up on itself three of four times over before you even get a good view of the damn aquarium. I was beginning to wonder what magnificent acts these creatures were capable of in there. Was there an octopus continuously handing out ice creams and high fives? Was there a puffer fish with an abundance of lipstick that could make you forget all your worries? I had to know! There hasn’t this many panicked people literally pushing and shoving since the evacuation scenes in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The constant urge to punch every face that pressed itself against my own kind of took the edge of the wonders of the deep. I couldn’t wait to get out. It’s not just that I hate people, it WAS as bad as all that!
We spent a lot of time going up and down the mountain Ocean Park is built into determined to see the pandas wherever the hell they were. When we got to the very top, spied through some small windows in a large wooden fence were the most forlorn zoo exhibits I’ve ever seen. The weather was a little on the miserable side and the fine spray meant no one wanted to hang around and look but I swear that seal was dead.
It didn’t move all the time we looked at it. We could have taken ten pictures every five minutes and they would all look exactly like that. Seals are boring man.
We eventually found those douchebag pandas at the bottom of the mountain again. The entrance built them up like something epic. Every corner was ‘you are about to encounter… the pandas’ and ‘prepare yourself for… the pandas’ or maybe ‘I don’t think you’re ready. Come back when you’re man enough to handle… the pandas’ but when we got there two smaller than expected pandas were sleeping and chewing on some crap it shouldn’t have been.
We took our leave. Vicky bought a soft toy of a red panda dressed up like a tiger and we signed our names on the walls where people sign their names, letting future visitors to Hong Kong know that yes, we indeed ‘woz ere 2010’.
And so there we have it. A picture diary I suppose of what I did on my holidays. I eagerly await what the year of the Tiger has in store for me and all the other millions of natural born leaders (some competition I’ll bet) and I’m taking bookings for anyone who wants to experience next year’s festivities. I guess it’s time to start working again now then eh?