I was meeting my good friend Sara for a long overdue run this morning. Our favourite route at the moment is a 2.5km cycle track that loops around the high rises and shopping malls of Hang Hau. However, when we rocked up at 7.30, the little carpark nearby at Hang Hau old village was roped off.
In an age where nothing much is sacred any more, I love that Chinese culture is still richly littered with festivals and tradition. Closing an entire car park or main street to build a temporary Cantonese Opera hall several times a year is considered perfectly acceptable.
These structures are made entirely of bamboo and are incredible to behold. They are whisked up in a matter of days, and deconstructed at the end of the festival with equal levels of lightening speed and dexterity. Apparently there are only a couple of companies in Hong Kong with the skill to construct them, so these guys must be working flat-out at certain times of the year.
With both Western and Eastern cultures on the go, Hong Kong allegedly boasts more public holidays per year than any other country. Looking at my calendar, I think this morning’s efforts are for the birthday of Tin Hau (the god of the sea), which falls on 29 April this year. Further festivities in 2016 will include Buddha’s Birthday, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Tuen Ng (a whole day off to watch the dragon boat racing), Establishment Day, Festival of the Hungry Ghost, the mid-autumn Moon Festival, Cheung Yeung (one of two designated grave-sweeping days, when families traditionally hit the mountains to honour the graves of deceased ancestors), not to mention Western favourites Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year (not to be confused with the three-day long festival of Chinese New Year that falls in January or February). And then we’re back to the Western chocolate-worshipping festival of Easter. All in all, it’s a pretty packed schedule.
Adding to the drama at the car park this morning was a surge in little old ladies paying their respects at the small altar by the carpark entrance. These small structures are found all over Hong Kong, where locals come to light an incense stick (sometimes even a small fire) and food (especially oranges) is left as an offering for deceased ancestors. Chinese religion revolves around the ritual veneration of ancestors and their ghosts or spirits, as well as various gods.
Chinese festivals and traditions are a fascinating and very real part of life in Hong Kong. Last year I was lucky enough to interview a very talented and interesting Western artist, Theadora Whittington (www.theadorawhittington.com), who bases a lot of her work on this area of Chinese life. I have one of her colourful interpretations of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival currently hanging on my living room wall. Please see my Published Work section on this blog for the full interview.