I often say that the best time to be in Hong Kong is Chinese New Year—if you’re a resident. If you’re a visitor, it’s the worst time—everywhere (apart from the big hotels) is closed. The Hong Kong Tourist Board did initiate a New Year’s Day parade through the main entertainment district in Kowloon a few years ago, but this is Chinese New Year for tourists, and we don’t bother to attend.
However, the second day is different: we always travel into town for the New Year fireworks display over Victoria Harbour. The Chinese invented fireworks, and the only place that may conceivably put on a better display is Beijing. Hong Kong’s display lasts 22–24 minutes, during which time more than a thousand shells per minute will be fired up into the night sky from three barges moored in the middle of the harbour. The marine police, with their customary efficiency, maintain a strict exclusion zone in the central harbour for a couple of hours before the display is due to start.
You have to get there early if you want a good view, because up to half a million people will be lining the harbour on both sides. Two years ago, we found quite a good vantage point and had to wait more than an hour for the display to start. My younger son, Tristan, had never seen the display before, but when I asked him whether it had been worth the wait he agreed that it definitely was. Last year, our friend Barry from the UK was staying, and we wanted to get the best possible view, which meant a two-hour wait. You can judge whether it was worth the wait on this occasion by Barry’s comment after the fireworks had finished:
“That was bloody excellent!”
The people on Hong Kong side never learn though: the wind at this time of year is always from the north or northeast, and smoke from exploding shells will drift in that direction and obscure the second half of the display. And if you think that a fireworks display is a purely visual experience, think again. You might as well be watching it on TV, with a cretinous commentator repeating endlessly “Ho leng, ho leng” (‘very beautiful, very beautiful’). However, real aficionados will tell you that the feeling of pressure waves from the explosions hitting you in the chest is an integral part of the experience. You have to be there.
And when it’s all over, the crowds disperse in a remarkably orderly way. But we always go to Chung King Mansion for a curry after the fireworks. You may have heard of Chung King Mansion, and there is one rule that you must always follow: never use the lifts. The place is like a rabbit warren, and it is a serious firetrap. However, the Indian restaurant we go to is on the third floor, and we can walk up the stairs. My wife and I have been going there since the 1980s, and in those days we were usually the only customers, but the restaurant has now been discovered by local Chinese, so we need to get there quickly or risk having to wait for a table.
Finally, in my post for New Year’s Eve, I introduced you to the common greeting at this time of year: kung hei fat choi (‘may you be prosperous in the year ahead’). However, there’s an even better one, which I learned from my wife only today: lung ma tsing san (‘may you have the health/energy of a dragon or horse’). I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have good health over great wealth any day.