HOW WE USED TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS
We got off work early for Christmas Eve. Some restaurants were about to close as we picked up our takeout from a small Japanese restaurant in Tai Hang. In Hong Kong, no restaurant is allowed to serve customers (except takeouts) after 6pm. No countdown events, Christmas parties or family gatherings. Just a simple dinner at home for the two of us seemed to be the most appropriate Christmas Eve celebration for this unusual year. 2020 is an extraordinary year. I can hardly recall another incident in my lifetime that has simultaneously affected virtually every single human being in the world. The terrible pandemic is forcing all of us to face the same fear, frustration and isolation. Most planes have been grounded, borders shut, and international tourism has almost come to a complete halt. This abrupt disruption to our lives lead us to realize that celebrating a festive moment with families and friends or spending the holiday season at a foreign land shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Memory is interesting when it works with time. At this bizarre moment of frustrating lock downs and social distancing, a recollection of how we had spent Christmas and New Year in the past two decades remind us how we used to freely experience the world and appreciate every little things around us. Looking beyond the vivid fireworks and lavish parties, it was our curiosity, freedom and gratefulness that allowed these joyful moments to simply make us happy in different stages of our lives. At this time of physical restrictions and emotional stress, looking back at these little moments of ours have become more precious than ever. Everyone deserves memories of celebrations that worth cherishing. Hope our little sharing would remind you some of your own best moments of Christmas.
We wish you Merry Christmas and good health for the upcoming 2021.
LUNAR NEW YEAR FAIR, Victoria Park, Hong Kong
Going to a flower fair (花市) or new year fair (年宵) on the Lunar New Year’s Eve is a common tradition in Hong Kong. Among all flower fairs in the city, the one at Victoria Park 維園 in Causeway Bay is the biggest and busiest. Nowadays, all sorts of merchandises are being sold in the flower fair, from fresh flowers to traditional snacks, classic New Year’s gifts to trendy toys, and just about anything that may make one laugh. Never mind the crowd. The later it gets into the night the more fairgoers flock into the park. It’s the joyful atmosphere, the sense of participation and the feel of being jammed in the mass that draws friends, families and couples to visit the fair every year. It is the prelude of Spring holiday, and the biggest party in Hong Kong to welcome the lunar new year. Floral colour was the first thing that caught the eyes of fairgoers when entering the park. Peach blossom has always been the most iconic flower of the Chinese New Year. Other than peach, water narcissus, pussy willows, lilies, and orchids were among people’s favorites. New Year Fruits might look funny but its golden colour made it a delightful New Year’s decoration at home. Shoppers often compared prices and the qualities of flowers from one vendor to another. Traditional snacks and sweets attracted both tourists and local visitors. The fair get much busier as the clock edged closer to midnight. In recent years, the Lunar New Year’s Fair at Victoria Park has become a testing ground for young entrepreneurs and amateur designers, many of whom are students from universities or secondary schools. Stuff toy and cushions are common in the fair. Young vendors make their best effort to capture fairgoers’ attention. Popular slang in Cantonese inspired a whole lot of fair merchandises. Some vendors positioned themselves in the middle of the aisle to advertise their booths. To stand out among the vendors was not an easy task. Among all the new merchandise this year, the cola-like stuff toys with trendy slogans made the news by walking the thin ice of copyright infringement. Other than young vendors, many politicians and political parties also had booths set up in the fair. Some politicians made new year couplets as free gifts for supporters. Satirical merchandises targeting the chief executive of Hong Kong CY Leung could be found throughout the fair. Merchandise related to the Umbrella Movement (Occupy Central) reminded us the delicate political situation of Hong Kong in recent months. Other politically charged merchandise include the inflated fence (related to the protests of Umbrella Movement) and the thick toast (related to a recent conflict between the locals and visitors from Mainland China). Many merchandise reflected a considerable level of disapproval of the current government. Nonetheless, most fairgoers did put aside their political differences and anguish in order to enjoy a night of joy. The fair at Victoria Park lasted until dawn of the Lunar New Year’s Day.
DAY 87 (1 OF 1) – NEW YEAR’S FIREWORKS, VALPARAISO, CHILE
Tonight, about a million of locals and visitors gathered in Valparaiso and neighbouring Vina del Mar to watch the largest fireworks display in South America in celebration for the arrival of 2014. Starting from late morning, people on Cerro Artilleria had already begun to claim their best ocean-facing spots for tonight’s fireworks. They put chairs, benches, portable tables, and even ropes to mark their temporary territories on the sidewalk. By midday, vendors at the port were busy cashing in people’s money by selling all sorts of celebration merchandise from party hats to colourful fluorescent bracelets. Supermarkets were pushing the sales of sparkling wines at their entrances. We got some groceries and returned to our B&B room to set up our tripods and “snack table” for the night. As night fell upon, myriads of lights were in place of the yellow sunlight illuminating the famous hills of Valparaiso. But tonight, the starry skyline of the city was a mere backdrop for the most anticipated moment of the year. Live music from the main square could be heard almost immediately when the sun was down. Traffic got diverted. Boats kept going in and out of the port. Crowds of people gathered on the main streets, hillside lookouts, apartment balconies, and any public spaces where the sea could be seen. Upbeat music, laser beams, amateur fireworks, illumination flares continued to lift up the atmosphere of the night. As time approached, we looked at the time on our laptop and waited patiently by the window with our camera and wineglass in hand. As the clock struck midnight, the magnificent fireworks display began shooting up high above the city. We could deeply feel the shake every time the firework exploded in front of us, as if situating in the midst of an air raid. The display lasted for about 25 minutes. Music was loud and every balconies and roof patios seemed occupied by partying crowds. We retired to bed at around 4:30am, while our neighbours were still dancing on roof patios under disco lights. They showed no sign of slowing down. Valparaiso’s magnificent fireworks display did not only signify the closure of 2013 and the opening of 2014; to us, it also drew an extraordinary conclusion to our three-month journey in South America. Tomorrow we would be on our way back to the frozen continent of North America. Under the warm breeze of the Pacific, tonight’s Valparaiso was remarkably bright and beautiful.
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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:
Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso
The spectacular fireworks conclude our memorable journey to South America in 2013. Click here for the afterthought of our 87-day journey to South America.
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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought