A Tale of Two New Years

Red pocket money It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...

Oops, wrong tale. New Year's Eve: what to do, what to do? After travelling over the Christmas holidays, we didn't know what we wanted to do for the final night of the year 2000. We left the decision until the last minute.

We went to Mid-Levels, a two-minute walk from the Central MTR station. We arrived at 8.00pm and walked up the steep slopes of D'Aguilar Street, where it meets a small lane called Lan Kwai Fong. The two streets converge again higher up the hillside, forming a tiny square of restaurants, bars, pubs, and other trendy nightspots which make up the area known as Lan Kwai Fong.

It was supposed to be the hippest area in Hong Kong. TV crews and newspaper photographers were there in force. Cops stood everywhere; I'd never seen that many police officers concentrated in one place. Ever mindful of the 1993 New Year's Eve tragedy at Lan Kwai Fong in which 22 people were crushed to death from overcrowding, they were taking no chances.

"... turned off by the snotty attitude ..."

We walked about the narrow lanes, looking for a place to sit and enjoy a drink. We encountered a collection of stiffs who stood in the street with drinks in their hands and looked down their noses at passers-by. We were turned off by the snotty attitude that oozed from each face and from every turn. If this was what these so-called society people called entertainment, we wanted nothing to do with it.

We found a small bar, sat for a drink, and watched as people streamed into the area. The atmosphere was all wrong; it didn't feel like a party. People were there to show off their clothing. Colour me less than impressed.

After our drink, we bailed out before the streets became choked. It took a long time to get back to Causeway Bay: the police were on full crowd-control alert as tens of thousands of people poured into the area, headed for Victoria Park and Times Square.

We went to a favourite local pub to see what was happening there. If it didn't look like fun, we'd rring in the new year at home.

When we arrived, the place was hopping. People were blowing horns, wearing party hats, making noise and having a great time. No pretense; no attitude: just a fun bunch of people having a big party together. My kind of place.

We ordered our drinks, along with party favours provided by the pub for a small fee. Included were several noise makers, masks, glowsticks and a can of silly string. At 11.45pm, a massive silly string fight broke out on the patio. People sprayed it everywhere. Silly string dangled from the lights, hung from the palm trees and covered every person, table and chair.

Inside the pub, people sprayed the servers and each other. Silly string was even stuck to the ceiling. It was two minutes of complete chaos; how they were going to clean the place the next day was anyone's guess. but man, it was fun!

As 2000 closed out, everyone counted down the final seconds. I'd never made a countdown in Cantonese before, but I felt comfortable, as though I'd done it all my life.

When 2001 hit, everyone went crazy. The noise was a jumble of cheering, party horns and shouting. Nothing is more interesting than hearing inebriated Chinese singing Auld Lang Syne. Afterward, we finished our drinks, shot a few photos and left for home feeling great.

That's the way New Year's Eve should be celebrated.

· ƒ ·

Three weeks later, we prepared to celebrate another New Year. The Year of the Snake was upon us; the Year of the Dragon was about to end.

"... I passed on the sliced pig tongue."

We ate the traditional family meal at our flat. The meal was wonderful, but I passed on the sliced pig tongue. We played Mah Jong after dinner, and I took an ass-whooping.

Two days later I cleaned the flat, top to bottom. I was supposed to have done it the day before, but I'm not superstitious. After cleaning, all brooms, mops, dustpans and knives are to be put away and left untouched during the first day of the Lunar New Year, so as not to sweep or cut good fortune from the home.

Over the next three days we made visited Mabel's many aunties and uncles, observing the customs of gift giving, eating special (read fried) new year foods, drinking tea and giving out Lai See. Aside of playing many games of Mah Jong, we watched the fabulous fireworks over Victoria Harbour.

It was fun, but exhausting. Lunar New Year is seven days long, but I don't think I could handle much more than the first three days. By then I wanted to kick back and rest. No buses, no trains, no crowds and no noise. I didn't even want to play Mah Jong. What I wanted was a good, stiff drink.

I hope next year the holiday comes in February.

Observing Christmas, New Year's Eve and Lunar New Year within 30 days has given me an overdose.

January 29, 2001

Next Tale: Oh, Shut Up!