Kung Hei Fat Choy: Our First Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

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Since we touched down in Hong Kong almost 3 months ago, we’d been feeling Chinese New Year brewing. Even though the Christmas lights and decorations dazzled, and holiday tunes were blaring in department stores and coffee shops, it was repeatedly hinted to us by locals and ex-pats that this was just the build up to the Big Daddy. Just wait for Chinese New Year, people would tell us, as we stood there holding our Chocolate Oranges, holding a 3-foot plastic, neon Christmas tree (the only tree we could find), wearing Santa hats, like Westerners. Or idiots.

Oh yeah, we had been looking forward to CNY (what the cool kids call it) hoopla, since we’d arrived. And we got to see what this CNY was all about last week. And we were not disappointed.

Can we first talk about how scared I was about not having enough food in our apartment to get us through? Everyone told us to make sure we went to the grocery store at least 2 days before the holiday to avoid insane crowds and also because everything shuts down for CNY. “Right. OK,” I’d say while sharply nodding my head wearing a very serious, pursed lip look that said, “no no, I’m not going to let that happen.” Well, the thing is, we totally let that happen when we somehow found ourselves too busy to not starve, because WE DIDN’T MAKE IT TO THE STORE! OMG! Peter! What are we going to do? What will we eat? It was like Y2K was about to hit all over again! But like for reals, this time.

So we did what any other totally clueless ex-pat would do, we went to 7-11 and stocked up on Doritos, instant noodles, milk and Red Bull. Oh, and gum. And we did it all without even checking to make sure our grocery store, which was just another 4 blocks away, was closed. In fact, it wasn’t (I know, pathetic).

Chinese New Year officially began on February 19, the first day of the lunar calendar, and though it technically continues until March 5, the first 3 days are celebrated as an official holiday in Hong Kong. There are celebrations including dragon and lion dances all over the city. We even came across a few in our neighborhood.

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lion dancers

We opted out of watching the famous parade in Tsim Sha Tsui on the first day, mostly because dude, toddler.

We did, however, have the absolute pleasure of watching the spectacular fireworks show over Victoria Harbor on the Second Day from the comfort of our friends’ James and Irene’s sweet Tin Hau pad. Their place looks right out at the harbor and their windows open all the way across which gave us a killer view from the comfort of their big, cozy couches. Stella gave the show 7 seconds of her attention, and then gave the rest to the delicious homemade chicken strips in their kitchen for the rest of the time, which was only about 30 seconds more than the amount of attention Peter also gave to the chicken strips.

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Evan had the whole week off of school, and Peter had two days off of work, so in general, it was a week of some really nice family time. It seemed like it was the first time since we’d moved here that things actually slowed down a little, and we were able to really chill.

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We eat baguettes when we chill.

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So chill.

We met up with some friends for a barbecue in Discovery Bay on CNY eve.

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Getting off the ferry.

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Evan and his fountain face.

We took a nice walk/run/jog/mosey down popular Bowen Road, a 4K running trail in the hills above the city with gorgeous views.

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We didn’t starve!

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We met some good friends Ben, Michelle and their adorable son Leonidas for brunch in Kowloon on the third day. And then walked around Tsim Sha Tsui. Peter used to work at the Kowloon Hotel back in the day.

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And we finished off our weekend with a family run around the Happy Valley race track, where we then all engaged in some typically stupid Davies Family competition.

One big Chinese New Year custom which the kids were super stoked about was the customary exchange of Lai See, which are little red and gold packets or envelopes full of money signifying prosperity and good luck. You fill the envelopes with 20, 50, or 100 HK dollar bills (which is like around 3, 6 and 12 US dollars) and you give them to children, to people like your building’s doorman or cleaning person, or to young, single friends (who are like “thanks, and I’ll see you at da cluuuub!”). But also, there are all kinds of rules to the whole Lai See thing- you should only give one note per envelope, don’t give coins (duh), never give $40 or $400 (4 is considered bad luck in Cantonese), the total amount should be an even, not odd one (odd numbers are for funerals) and you must use two hands when you exchange the packets. No, Lai See don’t mess around. And I am sure there are probably more rules that we definitely broke. But truly, it was a nice custom to participate in, and we were so touched by all the people, friends and even strangers, who gave Lai See to our children.

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Oh, and I also spent a healthy chunk of CNY time making these sheep cookies wearing bowler hats and scarves for Peter’s work gathering. That was, uh…fun.

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The Year of the Ram is supposed to be a good one. One full of prosperity, peace and dreams-fulfilled. That sounds good to me. And I couldn’t be more excited to live this wooly year here with my family as we continue to explore this amazing city. Here’s to a big year full of love, happiness, prosperity, and abundance!!! Kung Hei Fat Choy (Happy New Year)!!!!

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About Andrea Wada Davies

Ninja by day, flying squirrel by night.