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"In nearly every flat, you will find a game of Mah Jong in progress. If not, you can count on one being started soon."
- Randall van der Woning

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China

Kung Hei Fat Choy!
by Randall van der Woning, Hong Kong
Feb 24, 2000

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Custom #5: Flower Markets. During the holidays, there are many large markets that sell seasonal flowers, potted plants, and trees. One of the most popular purchases is a tall tangerine tree planted in a pot, which signifies long-lasting relationships. For married people, it also means the marriage will be 'fruitful'. At $250 and up per tree, it certainly makes the flower vendors fruitful.

Custom #6: Fireworks. The city put on another impressive show that ran for 23 minutes. The fireworks are a large-scale version of the loud red firecrackers that are set off in the streets to send out the old year and bring in the new year... and to induce deafness.

Custom #7: Mah Jong. In nearly every flat, you will find a game of Mah Jong in progress. If not, you can count on one being started soon. Since I recently learned how to read the tiles and how to play, I practiced in anticipation of New Year. I was ready to play. I was looking forward to it. And what happened? Many of our cousins went traveling, so there was no one to play with. Curses, foiled again!

Custom #8: Verbal Taboos. Speaking of curses, you should never curse during the holidays, and you should always avoid references to unlucky words and death. The number 4 (which sounds like the word for death), should never be said.

As we passed a Mah Jong game in progress on our way home late one evening, I clearly heard a very bad word yelled out by one of the players. I guess he isn't superstitious. And yes, it was in Cantonese. What, did you think I wouldn't know some cuss words? Geez, aren't they always the first words anyone learns in a new language? Why should Cantonese be different? Hey, it isn't taboo to know it, just to say it.

Custom #9: Fai Chun. Lucky Wall-Hangings are four-character phrases set against red backgrounds which are meant to ward off evil spirits. People buy the scrolls with phrases that have the most personal significance, and up they go. Wait a second, how can they be lucky if there are four characters? Will someone explain this to me please? Ah well, superstitions never made much sense anyway.

There are many other traditions, but certainly we do not follow them all. And no matter which traditions you observe, this holiday is like no other. If you plan a trip to Hong Kong, Lunar New Year is a great time to do it. And so the Year of the Dragon is finally here. Kung Hei Fat Choy! May health, wealth and prosperity be yours!

Adventures of a big white guy living in Hong Kong - Randall's website

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