Wednesday, 13 February 2019

new year flower markets

One interesting feature of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is the flower markets that operate during the run-up to the festival itself. I don’t make a point of checking them out every year—we don’t buy flowers—but for a one-time visitor to Hong Kong, they are a must-see attraction.

Of course, if you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all, so we took cousin Dave to the temporary flower market in Mong Kok, which is the largest in Kowloon. There is a larger one on the island* (Victoria Park), but it is also further to travel from Fanling, and you aren’t going to see anything that is radically different.

The main market in Mong Kok is located on what for the rest of the year is a large sports ground, but the streets leading there are also full of temporary stalls selling flowers–and of people who are on their way home with their purchases:

I took the next two photos from an elevated walkway:

The remainder of the photos were taken in the sports ground/market area:

Cut flowers such as gladioli are popular at this time of year, but so are bulbs in plastic or ceramic bowls. The previous photos illustrate this—the flowers are narcissi. I don’t know what the pink/purple flowers in the background are, but they may be orchids.

Another popular purchase at this time of year is small citrus (tangerine, kumquat) bushes. They symbolize prosperity, as you might guess from the superficial resemblance of the fruits to balls of gold:

If you look closely at the next two photos, you will notice that the first was taken from below the red sign just right of centre, looking towards the camera position in the second photo:

One thing that I didn’t see during my tour of the flower market, which is nevertheless extremely popular, is pots of chrysanthemums, so I’ve included the following photo, taken in the village where I live, to conclude my report on the Chinese New Year flower markets of Hong Kong:

* ‘the island’ is Hongkie-speak for Hong Kong island. Cf. ‘Hong Kong side’; ‘Kowloon side’.

Monday, 11 February 2019

latest news from ghost alley #2

When I cycled through ghost alley at the end of January, I hadn’t done so for more than two months, and I quickly discovered that a spectacular new mural had been added in the interim:

“I have to stop and take some photos,” I said to my companion as soon as I saw it.

I reported the results in Latest News from Ghost Alley.

However, I missed another, almost equally impressive, mural, solely because we didn’t pass it when cycling. The next photo, from my first report on this remarkable location, illustrates the problem:

When cycling, I follow the path to the right of the painted house, but when I brought my cousin Dave here (on foot) about a week later, we left the area via the path to the left of the house because our next destination was a nearby Taoist monastery. This mural is located about 10–15 metres along that path:

I’ve included a view from both ends of the mural because it isn’t possible to include it all in a single front-on photograph. However, this is a front-on view of the central section to provide more detail:

The previous three photos were taken yesterday because I wasn’t happy with the ones I took when I first saw the mural. And I’m wondering how, on that earlier visit, I managed to miss this butterfly:

It is, of course, possible that it hadn’t been painted when I first passed this way—it is, after all, right next to the mural!

Incidentally, this rather quaint construction is located directly opposite the mural:

The Taoist monastery that I mentioned above can be seen in the distance.

*  *  *

A note on names: this location is identified as ‘Ping Yeung Mural Village’ on Google Maps (Ping Yeung is the nearest village), but the group of artists responsible for all this imagery clearly considers it to be ‘Ping Che Mural Village’:

‘Ping Che’ appears to be a general name for the entire area—Ping Che Road is the main road through the area—but I’ve never been able to locate a village with the name ‘Ping Che’ anywhere hereabouts. In any case, I will continue to refer to this outdoor art gallery as ‘ghost alley’, for reasons that I explained in Ghost Alley.

And if you’ve checked the links that I’ve provided here and would like to see more, then Ghost Alley Revisited and More from Ghost Alley will also be of interest.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

pig in the middle

Yesterday marked the start of a new year, the year of the pig. I’ve written previously about how pigs tend to be viewed in a negative light in Western culture, but this is not the case in China. In fact, people born in a year of the pig are seen in an extremely positive light:
Pigs are diligent, compassionate and generous. They have great focus, but they never suspect trickery, so they are easily fooled. They are relatively calm when facing trouble. No matter how difficult the problems that they encounter, they can handle things properly and carefully. They have a great sense of responsibility.
Of course, I don’t believe any of this nonsense, but if you really want to strain my credulity, remind me that superimposed on the cycle of twelve zodiac animals is the cycle of the five elements, and this is a year of the earth pig. All this allegedly affects the personality, but if having twelve animals is an arbitrary number, then the designation of five elements is completely untenable.

The only reason for there to be five ‘elements’ is that it is impossible to construct a lo shu square (a magic square in Western mathematics) with any other number in the centre. And although earth, fire and water coincide with three of the elements designated by the ancient Greeks, Chinese astrologers failed to identify air as an element, instead deciding that wood and metal are elements. Now I can understand the Greek system, because all four Greek elements are elemental, but I would judge wood to be an earth/water hybrid and metal to be a combination of earth and fire. In other words, they are not elemental but have been included because of the need to fit a lo shu square, which is the basis of fung shui.

However, despite my skepticism, I can still enjoy the festivities associated with a new year. I had planned to include some photos of exploding firecrackers at this point, but for reasons that I’m unaware of, we didn’t have any this year, so I’ve included a photo of my neighbour’s firecracker vine, which is at its best for several years:

We did have a lion dance though, and for the first time ever, I was asked to help to bring the lions to life:

The process involves placing a little dab of red ink on the right eye, left eye, forehead, mouth and back—in that order.

When the dance was over, I was asked whether I would like to try my hand at ‘playing’ the big bass drum that is the principal accompaniment to the dance. I think that the dance troupe’s sifu (behind me in the next two photos) was impressed by my attempts to juggle the drumsticks while playing!

These photos were taken by friends whom I’d invited because they had never previously seen a lion dance performed ‘live’. The gweilo in the third photo is my cousin Dave, who is staying with us for a few weeks.

I didn’t take any photos of the lion dance, but I did shoot an extended video, which I will need to edit before posting it on YouTube (with a link here). Meanwhile, here are some stills from that video:

I will close with a traditional salutation for Chinese New Year:

Kung hei fat choy.

It doesn’t mean ‘happy new year’ but is a wish that you will be prosperous in the coming year, which, to remind you, will be the year of the pig.

Oink! Oink!

Sunday, 3 February 2019

the chinese zodiac

Fung Ying Seen Koon is a temple complex on the hillside a short walk to the south of Fanling railway station. The buildings are modern, so there is little of historical interest here, but my cousin from the UK is staying with us at the moment, and there is plenty to see here, so I had no hesitation in placing it on his itinerary.

Of course, I had looked around the complex before, but I don’t recall seeing sculptures of the twelve animals that comprise the Chinese zodiac:

Most people will already know that unlike the Western zodiac, which is based on the motion of the sun and the planets, Chinese astrology is based on a repeating sequence of animals, each of which holds sway for a year. The changeover from one animal year to the next takes place on the second new moon following the winter solstice, the sequence being left to right in the above photos.

If you look closely at the photographs, you will see that each animal is identified in both Chinese and English. And if you’ve read any of my previous New Year reports, you will know that I consider this identification to often be incorrect. For example, this coming Tuesday marks the start of the year of the pig, yet the animal here is labelled a ‘boar’:

Am I being overly imaginative here, or does this ‘boar’ look surprisingly feminine for a male of the species?

Other examples of inappropriate sex-specific usage include the year of the chicken being mistakenly labelled ‘the year of the rooster’ (it’s identified here as a ‘cock’), and I’ve seen the year of the sheep described as ‘the year of the ram’. Yet none of the zodiac animals should be identified by such sex-specific names!

However, there are a couple of animals where some confusion is probably unavoidable. The most obvious is the sheep:

I have seen sheep with horns like this, but to me this looks more like a goat. And this is where the confusion arises, because Chinese does not distinguish between sheep and goats. The same word (yeung) is used for both.

I’ve always wondered how one particular animal made it onto the list: the rabbit:

Actually, this sculpture is labelled ‘hare’, which I’d not heard of previously. but here’s the rub: as far as I’m aware, neither hares nor rabbits are indigenous to China, which is the only plausible reason for thinking that the words ‘hare’ and ‘rabbit’ are somehow interchangeable.

The question of the eligibility of hares/rabbits to be included in the twelve begs an important question: how were the twelve animals chosen in the first place? And who decided? To my mind, the most important omission is the bear, but lions and elephants are also strong candidates. Even though neither is native to China, both play important roles in Chinese culture. And there are no birds in the twelve. Why?

Finally, I’ve included images of two sculptures that to my eyes don’t look even remotely like the animals they are supposed to represent:

I don’t propose to identify them. See if you can.