Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lunar New Year

It's been a while since my last post.  The fact is, my dorm room is not a very pleasant place to spend time, but it's currently the only place where I can conveniently connect to the internet (most of the university being closed for the Lunar New Year).  Thus, I'm spending most of my time out of my dorm, and am usually too tired when I get home to take time to post.  So, until classes start again on Monday I'm likely to be behind on emails and posting infrequently. 

After a mere four days of classes, the university closed for the Lunar New Year.  The dorms emptied of students, most businesses closed for the entire week, and expats left Hong Kong in droves for Southeast Asian vacations.  A few of us stayed in town, though, and got to see a very different Hong Kong.  Still busy by any objective standard, the city is more or less dead compared to any other time of year.  A few of us left a bar at 9pm the other night, a reasonable hour, and the streets were empty - ordinarily that doesn't happen until 2:30 or 3am.  It was actually a bit eerie.  

To celebrate the Year of the Ox, a few of us - along with apparently half of Hong Kong's population - paid a visit to the Tian Tan Buddha (pictured) on Lantau Island.  85 feet tall, weighing 250 tons, this giant bronze buddha was completed in 1993.  The fact that it's not all that ancient in no way diminishes the statue's grandeur, though.  It's truly awe-inspiring.  The weather was not very pleasant, and we didn't have much time, so we chose to take a cable car ride instead of hiking.  Even the cable car ride took about 25 minutes, and offered some great views along the way.  The buddha itself is large enough that it came into view about 10 minutes before we actually reached the cable car terminus.  Allegedly it's visible from Macau on a clear day.  The place was very crowded, almost entirely with families.  Small children were decked out in their holiday finest, which ranged from bear costumes to faux-Qing dynasty imperial outfits, complete with queues.  We caught one of the last cable cars back to civilization, and enjoyed a fairly sizable New Year's banquet at an elegant, surprisingly affordable restaurant at the IFC.  

The next evening I watched the fireworks at Victoria Harbor with a few friends.  The display was impressive, but nothing mind-blowing.  All in all, the Lunar New Year in Beijing is much more of a spectacle.  The biggest difference is that Beijingers apparently aren't subject to any laws regarding fireworks, or at least no laws that are actively enforced.  People set off fireworks wherever and whenever they feel like it: in the courtyards of apartment complexes, on the sidewalks near crowded streets, leaning out of high-rise windows, etc.  Basically, the city starts echoing with what sounds like gunfire around 3 pm.  The noise picks up significantly as it gets dark, and continues until the early hours of the morning.  In Hong Kong, by contrast, it's been very quiet.  The official display at Victoria Harbor were the only fireworks that I've seen or heard all week.  All in all, Hong Kong is a much more orderly city than Beijing, so that's not too surprising.  

Yesterday the weather was finally warm and sunny again after several overcast days, so a friend and I took the bus to Stanley.  It's a smallish town on the south side of Hong Kong Island, with a pleasantly uncrowded beach and a fairly laid-back seaside promenade.  After exploring the town for a bit, we went hiking on the nearby Wilson Trail.  Rather than winding back and forth across the hillside, the trail simply went straight up the side of it - it was a very steep hike.  However, the view from the top was well worth the effort.  After our hike, we picked up a couple of cans of Tsingtao and relaxed on the beach for a while before getting dinner on the promenade and catching the bus back to the city.

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