Destinations & Articles
Chinese New Year
Published in the Spring 2006
Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Text & Photos: By
Kong is considered by many to be Asia's World City and it
certainly is the one place in the Orient that a genuine world
traveller would not want to miss, either as an exclusive
destination or as part of a more extensive pan-Asian tour.
is particularly true during the city's exuberant annual
celebration of Chinese New Year, which takes place in late
January and early February. According to the Chinese Lunar
Calendar, 2006 is the Year of the Dog. The traditional New
Year's greeting in Cantonese Chinese "Kung hei fat choi"
is literally translated as "I wish that you will be
15-day celebration includes the eclectic mix of colourful
parades, fireworks, banquets, fragrant floral and fruit-tree
displays, religious rituals, taboos and superstitious beliefs.
In stark contrast to the modernity of the city, these ancient
traditions are universally adhered to by Hong Kong Chinese
with such intense fervour that it makes our Western-style New
Year festivities seem pale in comparison. But
rest assured, Hong Kong, which means "Fragrant Harbour,"
is fascinating at any time of the year.
was intrigued by the fact that my 20-hour Cathay-Pacific
flight from Toronto included a short stop at Anchorage,
Alaska. It was only after referring to a globe that I
discovered that this is indeed the shortest route to Hong
Kong, the alternative being the much longer flight across the
flight, although long, was made very comfortable, due in no
small part to the amicable Cathay-Pacific flight attendants
who served our in-flight meals and drinks with impeccable
oriental efficiency and disarming charm. I also whiled away
the time watching movies from the excellent selection
available on my personal video centre installed in the back of
the seat ahead of me.
I realized it, we had started our descent to Hong Kong's
ultramodern international airport, now voted the world's best
airport for five years in a row.
The Airport Express, a
dedicated state-of-the-art airport railway, provides regular,
fast and reliable service to downtown Hong Kong is about 24
checked into the impressive 42-floor, 800-plus-room
Renaissance Harbour View Hotel. The hotel is built atop Hong
Kong’s architecturally distinctive Convention &
Exhibition Centre in Wanchai. Wanchai is the waterfront
district of Central Hong Kong, located on the northwestern
coast of Hong Kong Island.
The spectacular view from my room on the
31st floor was of the skyline of Kowloon, the northern part of
Hong Kong, which along with the New Territories, is situated
on the mainland across the city's picturesque Victoria Harbour.
However, it should be noted that all of Hong Kong boasts a
wide variety of accommodations to suit even the most
budget-conscious of visitors.
In the afternoon of my very first day in
Hong Kong, I toured the Temple of Tam Kung, where locals
celebrate the Tam Kung Festival. A patron saint of the sea,
Tam Kung is said to bring security and happiness to all
fishermen. Seafarers celebrate his birthday at the temple
(usually in May) in order to secure their safety and good luck
during the coming year.
day continued with a visit to the bustling Flower Market in
Victoria Park, where Hong Kongers were busy buying the
blossoms, bamboo and pine sprigs, oranges, tangerines and
assorted sweet dried fruits used to create the traditional
elaborate New Year's Eve decorations and the special offerings
to guests, even in the humblest of homes.
night, I was treated to a spectacular outdoor show called the
Symphony of Lights during which the famous Hong Kong skyline
and its harbour come alive with sound and lights. This show,
the largest and best of its kind in the world according to the
Guinness Book of World Records, takes place every evening at 8
First Day of
the Lunar New Year
By the light of day, Hong Kong's skyline
is just as impressive as at night. Three of the world's ten
tallest buildings, including the landmark Bank of China
Building, are located in Hong Kong. Once completed in 2008,
the 118-floor International Commerce Centre, now being
constructed in the Kowloon District, will become the city's
to fully appreciate the dramatic topography of the city, one
must ascend Victoria Peak, Hong Kong's number one tourist
attraction, which plays host to more than six million visitors
each year. It features the city's oldest and most reliable
mode of public transport – The Peak Tram, in operation since
1888. The scenic ride up from the city centre to The Peak only
takes 7 minutes.
the summit, visitors arrive at The Peak Tower, the city's most
unusual building and icon. The unique "wok" shaped
tower sits at an elevation of 396 metres. Viewing terraces,
located on different levels of the tower, offer spectacular
views of the Hong Kong and Kowloon skylines, with Victoria
Harbour stretched out between them. The morning I rode up to
the peak, the atmosphere above the city was a bit hazy, but
the views were still spectacular.
Blessing of the Year
enjoying a traditional Lion Dance in the hotel lobby, I made
the pilgrimage to Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple to witness
“The First Blessing of the Year.” Located on the outskirts
of the Kowloon District, the temple is packed with worshippers
all year round, but it is especially busy at various festival
times. On the eve of every Lunar New Year, worshippers queue
for hours just to light up the first joss sticks of the New
Year at midnight.
This ritual, believed to bring good luck
for the coming year, continued unabated during my visit on New
Year's Day. The hoards of pilgrims also brought offerings of
fruit and flowers for Buddha, along with their lit incense
sticks. It was hot and the air was thick with smoke, but I
revelled in this spontaneous explosion of joyous worship, even
though I must have smelt like a camper after this memorable
important aspect of the celebration of the New Year is to
visit to one of the more than one hundred fortune-tellers,
lined up at one side of the temple. For a small fee, these
colourful seers tell pilgrims, as well as tourists through
translators, what they can expect in the coming year. This
mixture of religious fervour, tradition and superstition never
failed to amaze me.
unexpected treat was the Cathay Pacific International Chinese
New Year Night Parade. That's quite a mouthful to say, but the
parade was quite interesting. Participants hailed from such
diverse countries as Japan, Italy, Mexico and Canada, which
was proudly represented by a contingent of RCMP officers in
full Mountie regalia!
is the largest of the outlying islands of Hong Kong. Lying due
east of Hong Kong Island, Lantau is almost twice its size.
However, more than half of the island has been designated as a
Its tranquil and green environment makes it a
popular spot for nature lovers and hikers. Honk Kong's new
international airport, glimpsed in the distance to the north
on its own island and connected to Lantau by a bridge, is in
stunning contrast to the peaceful charm of this idyllic rural
and Martial Arts
34-metre-high Giant Buddha, located at Ngong Ping on Lantau
Island, is the world's tallest, outdoor, seated, bronze Buddha
statue. It sits on a lotus throne above a three-metre platform
altar and weighs 202 tonnes.
At the nearby Po Lin Monastery,
set amid spectacular mountain scenery on the 520-metre-high
Ngong Ping plateau, I was treated to a riveting display of
martial arts preformed by monks from Mainland China dressed in
their traditional bright, saffron-coloured outfits. To cap it
all off, I savoured a delicious vegetarian meal at the
monastery's spacious restaurant.
O is located just west of Lantau Island. Dubbed the Venice of
Hong Kong, it is one of the city’s most famous outlying
islands. It is special not only for its traditional fishing
village, but also for its unpolluted rural lifestyle. Most of
the tiny population of Tai O are fishermen. In the past, they
earned their money chiefly by fishing and the salt industry,
providing a wide variety of marine products such as fresh and
salted fish; shrimp and shrimp paste; and squid for Hong
Kong's ever-demanding markets.
however, the people in Tai O earn their income mainly by
tourism, even though they have managed to maintain their
centuries-old customs. Most families in Tai O own a boat
because the principal means of transportation is still by
Their houses are called 'pangwu' or 'stilt houses',
because of the style of their construction. Originally made of
wood and leaves, 'stilt houses' are now built with wood and
metal sheets. A visit to Tai O takes you temporarily away from
the hustle and bustle of Central Hong Kong and transports you
to a simpler and more serene time in the city’s long
in Central Hong Kong, New Year celebrations continued unabated
for a second night and were quite literally going off with a
bang, as one of the most impressive fireworks displays I have
ever witnessed exploded in long, colourful bursts over the
General’s Wheel of Fortune
in most former rural centres in the New Territories, located
north of Kowloon, Sha Tin features a range of temples with a
rich history. Perhaps the most unusual of these is the Che
Kung Temple in the Tai Wai area, which looks more like a
Japanese shrine than a traditional Chinese temple. Today, the
temple is housed in a modern building (completed in 1993),
which stands in front of the original temple, built more than
300 years ago.
temple is dedicated to Che Kung (General Che), a great soldier
who achieved fame by putting down a rebellion in South China
during the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1279). He is said to have
accompanied the Emperor when he fled south to Hong Kong before
the fall of the Sung Dynasty. After his death, Che Kung was
raised to the status of a deity because he had saved the
inhabitants of the Sha Tin Valley from an outbreak of the
the third day of the Lunar New Year, the day I visited the
temple, crowds of worshippers flocked there to wish Che Kung
happy birthday and to venerate his giant statue located in the
main worshipping hall. Next to his statue was a fan-bladed
wheel of fortune, which I couldn't see because of the crowds,
but which worshippers believe brings them good luck when
turned three times.
at Sha Tin
business know-how is world-renowned, mostly for its sheer
audacity in taking risks and this seems to have translated
itself into the leisure activities of Hong Kong residents.
This explains why horseracing is such a popular local sport.
But I also discovered on my visit to the Sha Tin Racecourse in
the New Territories on the 3rd day of the New Year, that it is
customary on this day for Hong Kongers to go to the races to
avoid any arguments with family members, which could result in
bad relations during the entire coming year!
Kong's original, highly successful racecourse Happy Valley was
built in1846 on Hong Kong Island. The surplus revenue it
created over the years was used to build the second racecourse
at Sha Tin in 1978.
Today, Sha Tin is one of the best and most
exciting racetracks in the world, seating up to 85,000
enthusiastic Hong Kong fans and visitors from around the
world. Incidentally, the equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing
Olympics will be held in Hong Kong because of its superior
Long’s Walled Villages
Yuen Long District in the northwest New Territories lies at
the centre of Hong Kong's largest alluvial plain. To some,
Yuen Long conjures up pictures of a busy main street; the
fast-growing new town area of Tin Shui Wai; and the
district’s finely constructed, secluded period mansions.
However, beyond these modern-day developments are the area’s
fascinating ancient walled villages and important historic
Hing Wai in Kam Tin is one of the district's best-known walled
villages. It is the ancestral home of the Tangs, a famous clan
of the territories. Built by the family 500 years ago, it
served the Tangs well over the centuries. In the Kang Xi Era
of the Qing Dynasty, when bandits were a menace, a five-metre
high blue brick wall and four cannon towers were added to the
village to fend off invaders.
Kat Hing Wai, traditional village houses are neatly arranged
and separated by narrow lanes, some of the houses dating back
to the Qing Dynasty. Over the years, the village has seen the
addition of several more modern villas. Some say these modern
structures ruin the old village charm, while others say this
case of "East meets West” adds a new and welcome
dimension to the village.
Choi (Big Bowl Feast) is a dish served in wooden basins rather
than in the usual porcelain or metal bowls. It has become so
popular that many Hong Kongers and visitors alike travel to
Yuen Long and other historic New Territories districts
specifically to savour this age-old delicacy.
Poon Choi tradition, which is particularly popular during New
Year and other festival times, dates back to the late Sung
Dynasty (AD1270s), when the Yuen army invaded China and the
imperial family was forced to flee south to Hong Kong.
Villagers in the New Territories had to use big wooden basins
to serve the imperial entourage, as they could not find enough
large porcelain or metal containers to serve the elaborate
The emperor was doubtlessly satisfied
with his meal, but it certainly couldn't compare with today's
Poon Choi, which often includes layers of pork, beef, lamb,
chicken, duck, abalone, ginseng, shark's fin, fish maw, prawn,
crab, dried mushroom, fish balls, squid, dried eel, dried
shrimp, pig's skin, bean curd and radishes. This exotic dish,
meant to be eaten in layers, not stirred, is perhaps a bit
challenging for the uninitiated, but definitely worth a try,
as I discovered in the Ping Shan Ancestral Hall dining room in
in the morning of my fifth day in Hong Kong, I participated in
my first Tai Chi class held by the city's waterfront.
Sometimes called "Shadow Boxing", Tai Chi balances
the Yin and the Yang, doing as much for the mind and soul as
for the body. The graceful and leisurely-looking movements are
a favourite means of keeping fit in Hong Kong, especially
among the city's golden-agers.
is part of the popular Cultural Kaleidoscope Program offered
free to visitors, who can also join other classes on Chinese
tea appreciation, antique Chinese furniture, pearl and jade
grading and traditional Chinese clothing, as well as sessions
that demystify “feng shui” and Chinese martial arts.
the way, feng shui is very important to the Chinese in the
design and positioning of everything from their furniture and
their homes to those of public places and even high-rise
commercial buildings. It can mean the difference between
success and failure. The phrase translates as "the way of
Wind (feng) and Water (shui)" or "the natural forces
of the universe." According to the Chinese, everything in
one’s life should conform to the scheme of these powerful
of Hong Kong-made movies should take a stroll, as I did, along
the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. This
attraction, the first of its kind in Asia, pays tribute to
Hong Kong stars of the silver screen, including actual
handprints of stars such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The latest
addition to the avenue is a two-metre-tall bronze statue of
the legendary kung-fu action star Bruce Lee, who was named
"Star of the Century" by the HK Film Awards
Association in 2005, the 65th anniversary of his birth.
Avenue also offers incredible panoramic views of the city's
famed Victoria Harbour and the stunning Hong Kong skyline. It
is also the perfect spot to watch the previously mentioned
nightly Symphony of Lights show.
After my stargazing experience, I
visited a goldfish market with its incredible arrays of every
imaginable variety of goldfish. Next, was a jade market where
vendors were selling all sorts of rings, bracelets, pendants
and statues, all intricately hand-carved, at amazingly
& Wishing Trees
1984, the Man Mo Temple, located on Fu Shin Street in Tai Po,
became the first structure in the New Territories to be
declared a national historic monument. The Tsat Yeuk villagers
built it in 1891 and their present-day descendants go there
for reflection, or to seek guidance and peace and ask for
blessings for their loved ones and themselves.
Built in the style of a centralized
walled compound, the temple emphasizes seclusion. Inside the
building, the main hall is used for the worship of two Taoist
deities from the Warring States Period (403-221 BC): the God
of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo).
touring the Man Mo Temple, I made a delightful stop at one of
the Wishing Trees that stand outside the Tin Hau Temple in the
Lam Tsuen area of Tai Po. Famous throughout China, these two
banyan trees, are a favourite with local villagers and the
many Hong Kongers who make a special New Year pilgrimage to
burn joss sticks and incense papers in front of the trees, all
hoping their New Year wishes will come true.
in the heart Hong Kong, I visited a traditional teashop called
Lock Cha, which translates as “the pleasure of, or love of
tea.” The surrounding office towers dwarfed the tiny shop.
Here I learnt that there are six colours of tea: one for each
colour of traffic lights (green, orange and red); two for yin
and yang (white and black); and one green/orange colour of
only did I enjoy sipping tasty tea in an English-style
setting, I also learnt about its many varieties, its proper
preparation and the rudiments of the age-old etiquette of
tea-drinking. A visit to Lock Cha, included in the free
Cultural Kaleidoscope Program, makes you see for yourself why
the ancient Chinese saying holds true: "Life is like tea.
The longer it steeps, the richer it becomes."
Known as "Hong Kong's Garden",
the rugged Sai Kung peninsula and its islands that lie along
the southeastern coast of the New Territories, are remarkably
only a few miles east of bustling Kowloon. The district,
characterized by its Mediterranean-style low-rise houses and
villas, offers locals and visitors alike a wealth of
sightseeing spots; secluded beaches; water sports centres and
a wide variety of first-rate restaurants.
the evening I visited a seaside fish market in Sai Kung, fresh
local catches were being sold from a dockside fishing boat.
The overwhelming choice was from its offering of fresh
lobsters, shrimp, scallops and a myriad of other exotic fish
and seafood. An upstairs waterfront restaurant cooked my
selection of lobsters to my liking while I waited in
breathless anticipation. What a scrumptious meal that was for
the avid local and visiting seafood lovers, who dined in large
groups, both inside and outside the restaurant!
Beach & Market
great independent mini-excursion on Hong Kong Island is to
take a bus across the island to Stanley, which lies on the
southern coast that faces the South China Sea. The morning bus
ride I took only lasted about 20 minutes but the views were
breathtaking, as most of the route hugged the rugged cliffs
that bordered the legendary sea.
scenery reminded me of the French Riviera on the Côte
Equally stunning were the houses of well-to-do Hong Kongers
and the tall luxury apartment buildings, which were built on
steep embankments overlooking the area’s picturesque coves
was fortunate to meet local actress-model Ella (who appears on
the cover of the Spring 2006 Issue) and her manager while they
were doing a photo-shoot for Jaguar automobiles right there on
legendary Stanley Beach. Like all of the other Hong Kongers I
met on my trip, she readily agreed to let me take a few
pictures of her and publish them in this magazine.
has the feeling of an English seaside town, a legacy of its
rich colonial past, which the locals openly celebrate rather
than resent. There are lots of English-style pubs and
restaurants along the beach, but the town is foremost a
shopper’s paradise. Its huge
open-air market sells traditional handicrafts, paintings and
sculpture, Chinese costume jewellery and beautiful silk
articles, at very reasonable prices. The market alone makes it
definitely worth the half-day or so it takes to visit Stanley.
returning to my hotel in Central for a brief rest, a shower
and a change of clothes, I took the ferry across the harbour
and walked up Nathan Street, located in the heart of
Kowloon’s shopping district. Nathan Street is justifiable
called The Golden Mile of Hong Kong. This busy, broad avenue,
that runs north from Kowloon’s waterfront, is lined with a
kaleidoscope of shops and restaurants.
flashing neon-lit signs on either side of the street almost
turned night into day. Camera and electronics stores were
everywhere, as were shops selling clothing, luggage,
souvenirs, and anything else you could think of. For even the
most determined non-shopper, Nathan Street is definitely worth
an evening’s leisurely stroll.
Street Night Market
my walk along Nathan Street, I felt I had to take a side trip
to Hong Kong's most famous open-air night market, located on
Temple Street just off Nathan Street in Kowloon. It opens at 2
p.m. every day but really only comes to life at dusk. Its
astounding array of stalls sells everything from watches and
leatherwear to sports apparel and souvenirs.
perusing some of the enticing merchandise on display, I
decided to indulge in a quick meal at one of the market’s
many outdoor restaurants and was pleasantly surprised to find
that my selection of a tasty noodle and vegetable dish, plus a
large beer, only cost me $5.00 Canadian, which included a
my second-to-last day, I visited the impressive and very
comprehensive History Museum, which vividly portrays Hong
Kong’s storied past. Exhibits, some of them life-size
replicas of entire scenes, follow the city’s growth and
development from a tiny fishing village, to a British Crown
Colony, to its present-day status of as a modern world-class
Chinese metropolis. If you visit only one museum in Hong Kong,
make it this one.
the afternoon, I decided to take the self-guided Central &
Western District Walk following the excellent illustrated
guide published by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Along the way,
I meandered through the Antique Market on Hollywood Road,
where I haggled for and bought a genuine antique copy in the
original Chinese of the famous “little red book” entitled
The Thoughts of Mao Tse-Tung.
this interesting and well-thought-out route, I also visited
the famed herbal medicine shops on Ko Shing Street; strolled
through Hong Kong’s colourful SoHo District located south of
Hollywood Road and famous for its great cafes and funky bars;
and rode the world’s longest covered escalator. At 800
metres long, the escalator is a convenient and inexpensive way
to view the bustling hillside cityscape that lies below its
A Honk Kong
the morning of my last day in this remarkable city, where
“East meets West” is an everyday occurrence, I walked
through the Wan
Chai area just south of my hotel. This area was actually Hong
Kong’s waterfront before additional land was reclaimed in
1921 from Victoria Harbour.
That morning, as is normal, the
area was crowded with people and the roads were busy with
traffic, but the pedestrians and drivers were unbelievably
courteous, patient and friendly to each other, unlike in many
other large cities.
same was equally true on all modes of Hong Kong’s excellent
public transit system, from the efficient and spotless subway
system and the numerous London-style double-decker buses to
the very affordable easy-to-find taxis and the ferryboats that
crossed the harbour at regular intervals.
my return Cathy-Pacific flight, which seemed a breeze at only
17 hours, I couldn’t help thinking of the pleasant, polite
and always helpful people of Hong Kong.
authorities of the People’s Republic of China had obviously
recognized a good thing when Hong Kong was amicably handed
over by the British in 1997. The new administration wisely
decided to leave almost everything wonderful that Hong Kong
has to offer to the world intact, and for this, avid world
travellers can truly by thankful.
my recent trip, I felt that I had travelled both into the past
and into the future, at the same time and in the same place,
in fascinating, tradition-bound but ever-evolving Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Tourist Bureau
9 Temperance Street, 3rd Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5H 1Y6
Tel: (416) 366-2389
Toll free: 1-800-563-4582
Fax: (416) 366-1098
Embassy of the People's Republic of China to Canada
515 St. Patrick Street,
Ottawa, ON K1N 5H3
Tel.: (613) 789-3434
Fax: (613) 789-1911
Cathay Pacific Airways
Lester B Pearson International Airport, Terminal 3
PO Box 59,
Toronto AMF, ON L5P 1A2
E-mail: See Website
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