Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hong Kong during Lunar New Year

Hong Kong

For Lunar New Year, my friends and I decided to head to Hong Kong. There were many festivals and local events going on, and I had always wanted to go to Hong Kong Disney, so this trip was a wonderful breath of fresh air. 

We went to Tian Tan Buddha temple, which was especially crowded due to long lines of people who wanted to be there for the new year. There are a few different ways to get to the temple. You can take a ferry, you can hike, or you can take the cable car. We choose the cable car, which was extremely popular, and crowded, but I thought it was worth the wait. 

The cable car ride was really cool, and it was a beautiful view above the trees. This ride was the longest cable car ride I have been on, and you could see over parts of the water, the Hong Kong Airport, and the gorgeous hiking trail that lead into the mountains, which we flew over with mechanical ease. The ride stretched in the mountains, until we could finally see the Buddha temple, and the Po Lin Monastery that shone in sunlight across from it. 

The whole area was decked out for the occasion. There were pinwheels everywhere, each with different colors and shapes. 

The temple area itself was a big stone square with a circle of flags between the two big structures, and the area was smokey, due to the big pillars of incense that stood outside the temple.

We went to the big Buddha statue first. To get there you had to climb 268 steps to reach the temple.  Some people were dressed up for the new year and they walked in the temple quietly offering some money and praying in front of the big Buddha statue. The Buddha temple itself had a gallery of paintings and artifacts inside. No pictures were allowed, because it was a sacred place. 

Around the Buddha statue, they had other statues, showing offerings. My favorite was the statue of the lotus offering. 

The Po Lin Monasstery was across from the statue. It was decorated in red and gold, and many people were carrying incence sticks as blessings for the new year. They had big pillars of incence held by cauldrons with dragons on either side. 

Ribbons, banners and other decorations were lined along the path to the Monastary. Most featured a ram because it was the beginning of the year of the ram. The temple dogs were everywhere, just lying around, or walking past the thousands of people that came to the temple. I pet one that had Inu-yasha ears ^_^. 

It was a peaceful place, and a beautiful sight to see. I made wishes at each temple, and we left just in time for the rain to fall. 

Our next stop was the New Year's Parade, which was very crowded. To get there, we used the Subway, and we bought Octopus Cards, the simplest and easiest way to use the Subway if you're staying for a while in the country. 
The Subway stations are very nice themselves, with rules like "no spitting" and "no eating" they are very clean. We kept seeing this rule about no metallic balloons allowed on the Subway, and my friend found out that it was passed a year ago due to a Minnie Balloon stopping the subway traffic. The article was really funny, because originally the plan was to take the balloons from children, but the police didn't want to be a kill joy. 

The parade was anywhere along the Canton, Haiphong, Nathan and Salisbury roads, and it ended at the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and towers. 
It was packed, with people lining up on every corner and edge of the streets, while the onlookers were hurdled by police that kept us moving in different directions so we wouldn't get trampled. But it was worth it! We saw some dragons, pandas and lions, along with Mickey and Minnie. 

It was a sea of cameras and selfie sticks, when the dragons came. 

Once we saw the dragons and lions, we decided to beat the crowd by leaving early. Some of the Subway stations were closed during the parade to avoid rush traffic, but we found a station, and we were able to arrive at our hotel before the crowds got too crazy. 

The next day we went to Hong Kong Disney and saw the New Years fireworks. 

The fireworks were pretty crowded, but our view was worth it :) The clock tower added to the atmosphere. 

The next day was the horse race at Sha Tin Racecourse. We got in for free with our passports, and two of us won a gold horse statue that symbolized good luck for the rest of the year. The Racecourse had pinwheels set up at the entrance gate, and people spun them for good luck. 

The winner's circle was also dressed up with lions at the gate, and a wishing tree surrounded by the statues.

 The horse race was fun, and each horse had an interesting name. We all chose horses to cheer for, and my friend Miriam picked one horse called Thor the Greatest, who won the race. A few of my favorite horse's names were Novel Start and Enchanting Diamond.

After the Horse race, we headed to Lam Tsuen wishing square. We took a bus from the Lam Tsuen station, and we joined a line of many people that were waiting for bus after bus to escort us to the festival. The buses were huge double decker vehicles that carried a lot of people. 

When we arrived at the festival, all the floats from the parade were neatly lined up and people were taking pictures with them. The floats were really detailed, and some of the performers from the parade were doing Lion dances and entertaining shows near the plaza. The first stand we came across had wooden locks on it, and there were wishing trees everywhere! We found the food market and bought some really good rice noodles, fish cakes and sausage with peanut butter sauce.  After the meal, we bought a big stick with sugared strawberries on it. Those were delicious, and very sweet. 

Around the food market were more souvenir stands, with medallions, lion puppets, lanterns and pin wheels. The temple gate was really cool, and a lion dances were parading through the streets at random times. 

We went over to the wishing tree, which was huge, and covered in paper and fake tangerines. The both near it offered a wishing package for a tangerine and a lantern, so we did both. It was a lot of fun. They even had a checklist for you if you couldn't decide what you wanted to wish for. First you wrote the wish on the paper, then you tied it to the red ribbon on the tangerine.

After that, you went to the wishing tree and threw it, trying to catch a branch. Once the wish hung on the branch, it should come true. My wish took a few tries, and I got hit by fake tangerines a few times. But it was fun, and I won't forget how excited everyone was as the tangerines went flying. 

Next was the lantern, which was much easier. All you had to do was write your wish on the paper tucked in to the lotus lantern and place it in the water. The lanterns were very pretty, and they all had little candle lights, to represent the wishes. 
Close to the water, there was another area of hanging lanterns, which I later discovered was a place to announce the birth of a new baby. For each lantern, a drummer announced the event. The lanterns looked very traditional, and they surrounded a lotus lantern in the center. 

After making our wishes, we went to the Lam Tsuen temple, and we each got our fortunes told. It was a very interesting practice. There was an altar with a cup that held wooden sticks with numbers on them. You knelt at the altar and shook the cup until the sticks fell out, and each number represented different pieces of paper. Then you went to the fortune teller with the papers, and you decided what kind of information you wanted to know. The choices were Career, Happiness, Love and Self. 
When my fortune was finished, I walked outside the temple to see that a lion dance was going on! It was the closest I had been to a lion! The dance ended with the lion holding a scroll in his mouth and the people cheered!

Our last meal in Hong Kong was dim sum at a place called DimDimSum Dim Sum Specialty Store. The steamed buns were delicious, and we got custard filled buns that looked like pig faces! 

Hong Kong was a really cool place to visit. I liked how clean the subway stations were, and how they organized the New Years events. It was a wonderful visit, and I made a few new friends. All in all a great trip! ^_^  

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