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Whitefella Australian learning how to be gwai lo (鬼佬) in Hong Kong

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit

New Year lights in Central
One of the nice surprises here has been the buzz generated about New Year according to the Chinese calendar, which this year falls on February 3rd. This is sometimes called Lunar New Year, because it falls on the second new moon after the Winter solstice (December 22nd) and traditionally is the start of spring. Normally in Australia, the quite mild Melbourne winter can still be rather bleak, mostly because it is a time of year with no celebrations, no public holidays, and nothing to distract you from the bad weather except the thought of holidays in Queensland.
In Hong Kong serendipity and tradition have combined to make winter a celebratory time of year. The colder weather in Hong Kong only really seems to last for a bit of December, January, and some of February, but during that time there is a big fuss made over Christmas, and now, about the New Year. This means lots of decorations, and lots of coloured lights, which due to the early onset of subtropical nights, you get to enjoy for much more time than you do in summers in Australia. The photo to the left doesn't capture the real glamour of the lights, but may give some sense of how much effort goes into decorating large buildings across the city. Entire facades of many buildings are given over to huge lighting displays, this year commemorating the upcoming year of the Rabbit. Apparently this astrological sign is famous for its diplomacy, so perhaps we can hope for some resolution of existing conflicts between and within countries this year! Is it too much to hope for some progress on the Israel-Palestine issue, or perhaps a resolution of the schism over gay-rights within the Anglican/Episcopalian community?
New Year display in Landmark building, Central
I like the way that there are New Year displays everywhere, from the cheap and cheerful, to the more elaborate ones that can be found in upscale malls. Given that I will be beginning my research into a thesis about class issues in early childhood this year, it is hard not to read these displays through the lens of class, and see how 'good taste' is displayed and performed according to the presumed clienteles of the different malls. I liked this display in the Landmark building, but is that simply because it uses more naturalistic materials, rather than acres of plastic, and so appeals to my class-based preferences for these materials?
Mushroom theme at New World, Sha Tin

I assume I am capable of reading these class issues accurately, but is this really true across the cultural divide? How much of the presentation of these New Year themes is affected by the designer's own class, and their exposure to more global notions of taste or fashion? Do some of the Cantonese people who use these malls wish that the displays were more like those of their youth, which presumably were more traditional?
I myself have a lot of resistance to the Christmas traditions, now that they have become freighted with so much consumerism. This is compounded by being a teacher, and having the busy end-of-year time in December compounded by friendship and family obligations for Christmas. So as an outsider, Chinese New Year seems very benign and quite lovely. There are lights, there are fireworks, and lots of visiting with family and friends. I might almost feel a bit jealous. Perhaps though, from within Chinese culture, New Year can be every bit as wearying as Christmas often feels to me.
Maybe it even comes down to one of my favourite laws, the law of diminishing returns. Perhaps in an emotional sense, your favourite Christmas, or Chinese New Year, or whatever, will always be the first ones you remember celebrating, but the more you do it, the less joy it gives you, until eventually the 'work' associated with this, whether emotional or physical labour, overtakes the feelings of satisfaction and happiness that used to be there. Perhaps an overly sobering thought to start the New Year with!

1 comment:

  1. hope you have a happy new year - I think it sounds exciting to embrace some new traditions - though I also love my old traditions. While the commercialisation of Christmas often appalls me, I think that traditions can take on more meaning each year as they bring back the sum of the past years when they have been enjoyed.