Celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong
By Gay Courter
Three versions of Hong Kong churned in my subconscious as we sailed there on the Diamond Princess in January 2020. We were anticipating celebrating the Lunar New Year in that iconic city famous for its elaborate fireworks over the harbor and exuberant parades. There were scenes from my childhood of sampans in the harbor and the views from Victoria Peak; the center of the opium trade at the end of the 18th century, which I wrote about in my novel "Flowers in the Blood"; and the modern metropolis featured in the book "Crazy Rich Asians." I hoped for clarity instead of the hazy images seen through the blurred lens of memory and embroidered by my imagination. What I hadn't expected, though, was that the day would be laced with a frisson of fear.
Only a few weeks earlier we heard reports of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, but we had no worries since the closest we would get was 500 miles away. A day before our arrival we were disappointed to learn that the typical festivities were canceled due to both the pro-democracy demonstrations and to avoid crowds. The officials were being extraordinarily cautious, so we had our temperatures taken as we went through the immigration area -- the first but far from last check of the voyage.
We were traveling with two other couples and had hired a private guide with a van to help negotiate what we had assumed would be a crazy quilt of traffic and parades.
"You're in luck," our guide, Amy Overy, said. "We're going to be able to do far more than I thought."
A few minutes later, she dropped us off at the entrance to the Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon. Celebrants were converging from every direction and circled the exterior.
"What are the pinwheels for?" I asked.
"In Chinese, the word spinning means change, so the pinwheel can change your luck from bad to good," she said.
Huge Chinese lanterns alternating in yellow and red were hung from wires between the buildings. Part of the temple was built around a vast courtyard that was filled with worshippers -- mostly older women who knelt on red cushions while bowing and gesticulating to the heavens. Many held up burning incense in supplication.