Tuesday, 4 February 2014

a horse with no name

Firecrackers have been illegal in Hong Kong since the 1967 riots, when they were a ready source of gunpowder for those citizens of the territory who were intent on destabilizing the colonial administration by planting bombs (the Cultural Revolution was in full swing on the mainland at the time). It has always struck me as a pointless prohibition, partly because anyone who has passed O-level chemistry should be able to concoct an explosive mixture without recourse to ready-made materials, and partly because the law doesn’t appear to be enforced with any degree of vigour—over the course of the Chinese New Year celebrations, I hear firecrackers being set off at frequent intervals throughout my neighbourhood.

For those of you who don’t follow such matters, we have now entered the year of the horse, and if you do follow such matters, you will know that people born in the year of the horse…
…have ingenious communicating techniques and always want to be in the limelight. They are clever, kind to others, and like to follow adventurous careers. They sometimes talk too much, and they are cheerful, perceptive and talented, but they are also stubborn. They like entertainment and large crowds. They are popular among friends, active at work and refuse to be reconciled to failure, although their efforts cannot last indefinitely. However, they cannot bear much constraint, and their interest may be only superficial and lacking real substance. They are usually impatient and hot-blooded about everything other than their daily work. They are independent and rarely listen to advice. They have strong endurance but also a bad temper. They are flamboyant by nature but are wasteful, since they are not good in matters of finance. Some of those born in the year of the horse like to move in glamorous circles while pursuing high-profile careers. They tend to interfere in many things but frequently fail to finish projects of their own.
If you are a regular reader, you will also know that I don’t believe it possible to predict a person’s personality from the entirely arbitrary year in which they were born. However, my skepticism doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the celebrations that bring in the new year, which for me begins with firecrackers and a lion dance on the first day:

There is an octagonal box at the top of the string of firecrackers, clearly visible in the third photograph. It is packed with gunpowder, so its ultimate explosion brings the cacophony to a rousing conclusion, as captured by the fourth photo.

The following sequence of photos is from the lion dance. The character in the papier mâché mask appeared for the first time last year, and I do not understand his role in the ritual, but his presence does boost the entertainment factor:

On the third day, the main attraction where I live is the ceremony of the roast pigs, which can be seen on the temporary altar in the following photo:

Naturally, the ceremony is preceded by another string of firecrackers:

In case you were wondering, much of the roast pork is eaten on the spot—it’s delicious, by the way—and the rest is distributed around the village. And that’s what I like about Chinese New Year: it always comes in with a bang!

There is an urban legend, which I’ve probably done as much as anyone to propagate, that it is always cold in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year. Not this year, however, even though the holiday was earlier than usual. Thanks to a mild maritime airstream (unheard-of at this time of year, when the northeast monsoon is supposed to be in charge), the afternoon temperature in the Fanling area exceeded 26 degrees throughout the holiday period. I’m not complaining, by the way.


  1. The man in the mask is the Buddha and the lion (and dragon) follows his pearl

  2. My granny used to say that "stupid rules are meant to be broken!"
    I think granny was right, especially so when it comes to things like this. Traditions are part of history.
    Really nice photos Dennis!
    Hope all is well with you.

    1. Your granny was right Pat. But nobody round these parts pays any attention to the law regarding firecrackers, so everyone’s happy.

      All is well with me: lots of cycling, exploring new places, etc.

  3. Not everyone is happy Dennis, you should see my poor little fox terrier quivering and cowering under the bed when there are loud firecrackers going off outside


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