Hong Kong Exchange, Travel

Visiting a Chinese New Year Flower Market

Today is New Year’s Eve in the Chinese lunar calendar, and festivities have been ramping up throughout Hong Kong. One tradition is that nighttime markets pop up all across the city, and I visited the largest one this week.

Nighttime flower markets are a staple for ushering in the New Year, with various ones appearing in the week or two leading up to New Year’s Day. The one in Victoria Park is the city’s largest, and I visited twice: once with a group of exchange students on Monday night and again with Sam on Wednesday night. All sorts of vendors sell their goods at the park, often staying open until 3 a.m. or later to accommodate the masses. Think of it as a farmer’s market, state fair midway and craft show rolled into one. The stalls sell such a wide variety of goods that it’s impossible to list them all. You can find plushes from popular media, phone accessories, tote bags, kazoos, action figures, vibrating neck pillows, socks, shirts, stickers, political materials, bright red house decorations, flowers and various plants, and tons of food items, just to name some.

On Monday, some students and I bought mochi and shared it. If you’re not familiar, mochi is glutinous rice paste, which is sticky, gooey, somewhat gel-like, and is often used as a standalone dessert or stuffed with sweet fillings. We had four rolls of unfilled mochi about the size of Twinkies; we had sesame (bland), banana (understated, but with a good aftertaste), melon (refreshing), and mango (my favorite). I also picked up a Star Wars sticker and VANS sticker for my laptop, plus another for a friend at home. On Wednesday, I snagged an awesome cloth map of Hong Kong that I now have hanging on my dorm wall, as well as a dessert that I don’t know the name of. It was basically a handmade candy bar with a crunchy, nutty center, wrapped in mochi, then rolled in sesame seeds. It had an interesting texture and awesome flavor.

But what really stood out to me about the market was the crowd. I thought it was fairly crowded on Monday, but it was packed to the brim on Wednesday, which was both Valentine’s Day and the penultimate day of the market. The crowd was so thick that the only way to get from Point A to Point B was to slowly shuffle while getting pushed, jostled and nudged in every direction. Imagine the density of an elevator filled to capacity, but everywhere. The market had hundreds of stalls, each with people holding signs, waving their products around, or shouting through microphones and megaphones to be heard above the clamor. The scene was a bit chaotic and disorienting. Being in a crowd is one thing, but between all the unfamiliar smells from the food stands (like the “stinky tofu”) and the fact that I couldn’t understand anything being shouted from any direction, it was a lot to either process or block out. But at the same time, it was a really cool experience and a fun way to usher in the New Year.

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Wednesday night in particular, there were countless couples snacking on frozen strawberries from the food vendors, picking out various gifts and just enjoying the evening. I’ve noticed that couples here generally don’t shy away from PDA; they’re usually wrapped up in each other’s arms and kissing in elevators, on escalators, and at seemingly any moment when they’re not walking or moving. Couples hold hands virtually at all times, even in the market crowds when it must have been uncomfortable. In short, intimacy and affection have been on full display this week. I write this because I assumed before coming here that locals would be less likely to show affection in public than Americans, but the opposite seems to be true. You know what they say about assuming…

On that note, Hong Kongers celebrate Valentine’s Day like we do in America: Couples go on dates, guys buy flowers, and so on. But they also celebrate an Asian holiday similar to Valentine’s day called the Spring Lantern Festival, which always falls on the last day of Chinese New Year celebrations. This year, it’ll be March 2nd, so locals essentially celebrate Valentine’s Day twice in a matter of two weeks. Lanterns will be on display throughout various gardens and parks that day, so hopefully I can find a good place to see some of them; I love Chinese lanterns.

Today is New Year’s Eve, and the festivities continue tomorrow with a parade downtown. There should have been a fireworks display at the harbor today, but officials cancelled it in a demonstration of citywide mourning of the victims of a fatal bus crash that occurred over the weekend. If you didn’t hear, it was the deadliest vehicle crash in almost 15 years here. 19 passengers died and over 60 were injured, so the fireworks organizers decided to take the money that would’ve been spent on the display and donate it to the victims and their families. The city has a history of cancelling fireworks displays in relation to tragedies, so while I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to see the fireworks, I also understand. Incidents like this are relatively rare in Hong Kong, and I’m glad to see that the authorities are addressing the situation quickly and tastefully, from the decision to cancel the fireworks, to the decision to create a committee to investigate bus safety in Hong Kong.

Anyhow, I’m excited to go to the parade tomorrow, which is supposed to be a big deal. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some good pictures! Downtown will be packed, so we’ll see how it goes.

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