FESTIVE

town
Celebrating ancient Chinese festivals in one of Asia’s most metropolitan cities
Text Jody-Lan Castle

Party

HONG KONG

The age-old saying “out with the old, in with the new” doesn’t apply to Hong Kong’s celebration of Chinese festivals. In fact, the very definition of “Hong Kong-style” is to merge tradition with modernity. Celebrate the Dragon Boat festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival or any of Hong Kong’s other exciting holidays this summer and autumn.

Clockwise from Main Picture:

The bright lights of Hong Kong evoke a city always ready to celebrate; throngs of worshippers offer incense sticks and prayers at Wong Tai Sin Temple; a glowing dragon ushers in Chinese New Year; mooncakes, the main event at the MidAutumn Festival.

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Hong Kong Tourism Board

Hong Kong Tourism Board

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Looking at the brightly decorated boats with dragons staring fiercely from the bow, one could not imagine that the origins of Hong Kong’s Dragon Boat Festival, known locally as Tuen Ng, were so gloomy. The legendary ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan was a statesman of the ancient state of Chu during the Zhou Dynasty. His loyalty had resulted in his strong opposition to the king’s decision to ally with the state of Qin, leading him to be dispelled. Decades later, when the Qin state eventually conquered the state of Chu, he drowned himself in the Miluo River in a fit of patriotism. As villagers heard of his fate, they hurriedly brought their boats to the river in search of his body. The striking of the drums – which is still practised during the dragon boat races of today – was supposed to scare off the fish that were waiting to consume his body. Other villagers tried to offer rice to Qu Yuan’s soul, as well as distract the fish. As the myth goes, his ghost later advised the villagers to pack the rice into three-cornered packages to protect them from the dragon. These later became the rice dumplings that the festival is renowned for.

Dragons and Dumplings

HONG KONG’s draGON bOat races Have mOved away frOm tHeir OriGiNal traditiONs, develOpiNG iNtO a HiGHly pOpular aNd cOmpetitive spOrtiNG eveNt.
In recent years, Hong Kong’s dragon boat races have moved away from their original traditions, developing into a highly popular and competitive sporting event. Each rowing team can vary according to a boat’s size, with small boats having sixteen people including a steersman, a drummer, a team leader and a coach. Big boats have as many as twenty-eight members. Throughout the day, a variety of championship categories compete in the races. There are the usual Open, Below and Left: The Tuen Ng Festival, Women’s, Mixed and Junior championships, but otherwise known there are some unusual categories too, including as the Dragon Boat Festival, is an the Media, Disciplinary forces, and Fisherman’s exciting spectacle championships. that assaults the Separate sets of races happen all over Hong senses – and serious business Kong, wherever there is a major harbour. Some of for the competing the places that usually host races are Stanley Main paddlers. Above: Glutinous Beach, Sai Kung, Aberdeen, Tai Po, Tuen Mun, rice dumplings Cheung Chau and Shatin’s Shing Mun River. are the traditional snacks The city’s most intense and exciting races are held accompanying at Victoria Harbour, setting off from Tsim Sha the dragon boat festivities. Tsui waterfront.

Drink, Dance and Dress-up

Hong Kong’s party district will be pulsing with life on the July 14 and 15, as the area hosts the Lan Kwai Fong Beer and Music Fest 2012. The Lan Kwai Fong district is made up of a block of streets, lined with bars, clubs and restaurants, and on this special occasion it will be clad with 50 marquees offering everything from German sausages and dim sum to Vietnamese and Mexican snacks. As you make your way round the square, you’ll have the chance to compete in drinking competitions and play interactive games. Local and international rock bands and R&B singers will be performing live, and pole dancers, belly dancers and martial artists will be showing off their skills. The party starts at 1pm and usually goes on until the sun rises the next morning. The summer season of fun and entertainment continues as the 14th edition of the Ani-Com and Right: An anime fan dresses up Games Hong Kong gets underway from July 27 as her favourite to 31 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre animation in Wan Chai. Gamers and animation-lovers will character. Below: The streets adore this fair, jammed-packed full of the newest of Lan Kwai Fong gaming technologies, as well as comics and are buzzing on a Saturday night. collectibles. Look out for your favourite manga Bottom: Bodies and anime characters in life-size incarnations as pack the Ani-Com and Games fair die-hard fans get suited up for cosplay, or costume at the Hong Kong play, and experience the Hong Kong youth’s take Convention and Exhibition Centre. on modern Japanese subculture.

Also held during the event, the Hong Kong Figure Design Competition gives both professional designers and students the chance to demonstrate their creative abilities, while those who see themselves as the Asia’s next top dancers can take part in the Dance Power competition. Budding entrepreneurs can even set up a stall among the hundred others, and sell their art, gadgets and products. Japanese doujinshi, or self-published work, is also for sale, usually in the form of artwork or novels. If you fancy getting a taste of the city’s top local bands, on August 11, the Coliseum, tucked at the back of Lan Kwai Fong, will be blaring out the tunes of “Summer Pop – Live”, Hong Kong’s signature summertime gig.

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John Stanmeyer/VII/Corbis

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Chen Xiaowei/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Chen Xiaowei/Xinhua Press/Corbis

FESTIVE

Hong Kong Tourism Board

Stilt walkers wow the crowds as Hong Kong pulls out all the stops for the mind-blowing Chinese New Year parade.

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Mooncakes and More Dragons

The main symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival has become the mooncake, so much so that it is often referred to as the “mooncake festival”. Occurring in late September or early October, it marks the harvest season on the lunar calendar, and one of the nights the full moon gazes down over the Earth. One of the variations of the Mid-Autumn Festival story tells of Hou Yi, an archer, who saved the Earth from scorching by shooting down nine suns from the sky. After falling deeply in love with the beautiful Chang’e, he dreamed of an eternal life with her and went in search of the elixir of life. As a reward for saving the Earth, the Queen Mother granted Hou Yi his wish, but before he could drink it, he was murdered by Feng Meng, an evil man who stole Hou Yi’s part of the elixir. Knowing she couldn’t beat Feng Meng, Chang’e hurriedly drank the other half and became immortal. From then on, the moon became her home.

Another of the festival’s folk tales takes us back to the 14th century Yang Dynasty, when the Chinese overthrew their Mongol rulers. Knowing that the Mongols were not fond of mooncakes, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang gave one to every Chinese person in the

city, hiding a note inside each one. The note told them to rise up against the Mongols on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The rebellion succeeded and saw the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. Aiding the takedown of tyrannical rulers is just one of the benefits of the mooncake; these ubiquitous treats also come in a range of delicious flavours. And the traditional fillings of lotus paste, red bean paste or egg yolk aren’t the only ones you’ll find in the ever-modernising city of Hong Kong. Tiramisu, chocolate, green tea, durian and coffee are just some of the contemporary flavours available. Häagen-Dazs has even caught onto the craze and brought out ice-cream versions. One can only wonder what pioneering Hong Kong marketeers will come up with this year. Traditional mooncakes can be found in Kee Wah bakery or Maxim’s all year round, but the festival’s more unusual collections are only sold seasonally. One of the highlights of the mid-autumn holiday takes place in Tai Hang, southeast of Causeway Bay, for three nights straddling the festival. Local legend has it that at mid-autumn one hundred years ago, Tai Hang, then a small fishing village, was hit by a typhoon, and a huge python ate the entire village’s livestock while the residents were rebuilding their homes. Believing that the python was the Dragon King, the villagers decided to stage a dragon fire dance to scare it away. Ever since then, the spectacular Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance has been a Mid-Autumn Festival favourite. The dragon – 65-plus metres in length, made out of straw and lined with incense sticks – dances to beating drums all the way around the streets of Tai Hang, reappearing at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay the following day. Whilst you’re in town for one of Hong Kong’s festivals, you’ll find plenty more to keep you entertained. Visit Stanley or Shek O for a relaxing day on the beach, go trekking to Tai Long Wan for breathtaking unspoiled nature or grab a bargain and some tasty street food in Mong Kok. With its unique take on tradition and modernity, Hong Kong has an almost inexhaustible range of activities and festivities on offer virtually any time of year. aGp

aidiNG tHe taKedOwN Of tyraNNical rulers is just ONe Of tHe beNefits Of tHe mOONcaKe; tHese ubiquitOus treats alsO cOme iN a raNGe Of deliciOus flavOurs.

Hong Kong Tourism Board

ESSENTIALS

HOW TO GET THERE: Hong Kong International Airport is a major airline hub and sees traffic from across Asia and the world. Upon arrival, there are local buses going directly to every part of the city. The Airport Express train goes all the way through to Central and takes about 25 minutes. The Octopus smart card (available at stations, 7-Elevens and Circle Ks) can be used on all forms of public transport and in many supermarkets and restaurants. WHEn TO GO: June, July and August are the hottest and wettest months in Hong Kong, though the summer months are also some of the most exciting in terms of activities and events. Temperatures stay up in the 30s until October and November. In 2012, the Dragon Boat Festival races take place on July 2, 4–8. The Hong Kong Summer Spectacular is from June 22 to August 31, 2012. The Mid-Autumn Festival is on September 30, 2012, with the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance on September 29, 30 and October 1. Check www.discoverhongkong.com for details. WHERE TO sTay: For a chic hotel in the heart of the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui, try the Luxe Manor (www. theluxemanor.com). Nestled between three major shopping areas, the Novotel (www. novotel.com) in Yau Ma Tei boasts picturesque city views, while centrally located Island Shangri-La (www.shangri-la.com) oozes sophistication. The Peninsula (www.peninsula. com), Tsim Sha Tsui’s subtle but elegant reminder of colonial Hong Kong, is a grand work of art offering high-tech facilities. WHERE TO EaT: At any of the city’s four branches of Tai Ping Koon (www. taipingkoon.com), try the much-loved Swiss chicken wings and Portugese chicken rice, as well as the signature dishes of smoked pomfret and roasted pigeon. Fook Lam Moon (www.fooklammoon-grp.com) in Wan Chai offers a wide range of authentic dim sum, from barbecue pork buns to steamed shrimp dumplings. At Azure (www.azure.hk), on the 29th floor of Hotel LKF, enjoy the modern fusion of flavours while overlooking a panoramic view of Victoria Harbour. In Kowloon, The Kitchen at W Hong Kong (www.w-hongkong.com) has an impressive all-you-can-eat buffet that brings together the best of Europe and Asia.

Hong Kong Tourism Board

Opposite Page (Top): With

incense sticks ablaze, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon winds its way through the streets to the thump of beating drums. Opposite Page (Center): Along with mooncakes, brightly lit lanterns feature greatly in the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Hong Kong BooK Fair
july 18–24, 2012
from writing tips on getting published, to insights into the minds of famous writers, this event has something for all ages, with both readers and writers benefitting from the fair’s extensive range of seminars. it is held at the Hong Kong convention and exhibition centre.

Seven SiSterS FeStival
august 23, 2012
chinese folklore has it that a weaver (with six older sisters) and a cowherd fell in love and married, but when the girl began neglecting her weaving duties, her father only allowed them to reunite once a year. expect to find lover’s rock in wan chai chock-full of lovebirds on this chinese version of valentine’s day.

MonKey goD FeStival
October 1, 2012
Hong Kong celebrates the birthday of the monkey God, a mischievous character from the classical ming dynasty novel journey to the west, by heading to the monkey God temple at po tat estate in sau mau ping, Kowloon, to burn incense and paper offerings as tributes to the deity.

CHineSe new year
february 10–13, 2013
witness Hong Kong usher in the coming year with good luck and happiness – and a sea of red. watch in awe as fireworks explode across the skyline, and catch the eye-popping chinese New year parade and traditional lion dance. make sure you reserve tickets and tables well in advance, as this is the busiest time of the chinese year.

CHeung CHau Bun FeStival
may 14–18, 2013
residents of cheung chau thank the god pak tai for eradicating a plague during the qing dynasty by holding several days of festivities. the main event (and the origin of the festival’s name) involves a race to snatch buns from three giant “bun mountains” constructed in front of pak tai temple using bamboo scaffolding.

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