Chinese New Year is fast approaching! The year of the tiger is coming to an end, and the year of the rabbit is upon us. There are rabbits all over the city—statues in the malls, posters on the walls, bunny-shaped lights on the outside of the towers, even people dressed up in rabbit costumes or wearing ears and cottontails! One of my friends, unaware of the approaching event, wondered, “Why are they decorating for Easter so early this year?”
"Year of the Rabbit" display I bought for our apartment door
In addition to the unending array of bunnies, there are also countless shops selling decorations, hundreds of flower markets pushing the iconic mandarin orange plants, and blood-red paper lanterns hanging from trees and streetlights.
Lanterns in Tai Po
It's a lovely time of the year in Hong Kong—the vibrant colors of the flowers, the shimmer of the lights on the harbor and the intricate displays are truly breathtaking. Last night, I went to the Chinese New Year Fair in Victoria Park with my roommate Pietro and two of his friends visiting from Italy, Fulvio and Juri. It was about as crowded as humanly possible, but it was still a very cool sight to behold.
A flower shop at the New Year Fair in Victoria Park
Chinese New Year is the biggest of the festivals celebrated in this part of the world. This year, it starts on February 3rd—this Thursday! It is a time for people to retreat to their ancestral homes, spending time eating and bonding with family.
A lantern display by the clock tower in TST Waterfront
But for expats in Hong Kong, it's time for vacation! After all, it does get us two or three public holidays, depending on when it falls. To boot, the weather in Hong Kong during Lunar New Year (as Chinese New Year is called here) is about as low as it gets, which is to say about 60°–65°. It might actually feel cold if I hadn’t spent December in New York! I have to laugh at the locals, busting out their scarfs, hats, coats and gloves every time the mercury falls below 70. They go a little overboard, but it isn't exactly beach weather. So we expats take the chance to go somewhere warm—Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Malaysia, or, if you're me this year, the Philippines. I leave the day after tomorrow, on Wednesday morning!
Store in Tai Po selling New Year-related items
I’ve been looking forward to my ‘spring break’ for a few weeks now, but, as luck would have it, the part of the Philippines where I am going is projected to have an off-season typhoon right when I am trying to fly in!!! The first typhoon of 2011, and it has to come months before it’s expected, and during the only vacation I’ll have for some time! Oh well, fingers crossed I make it down safely! Typhoon or no typhoon, I am determined to enjoy this trip!
Young ladies with 'bunny ears' at the Victoria Park Chinese New Year Fair
With Chinese New Year barreling towards us, the time was ripe last weekend for my first trip to China. That’s right… I’ve been living in Hong Kong for fourteen months, and I’d still never crossed the border into Mainland China, even though it’s a mere seventeen miles north of where I live! I’ve flown to Thailand twice, made a trip down to the Philippines, visited Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, gone to Singapore and spent plenty of time in Macau, all further away than China. But for some reason, I never made it to Mainland. Finally, last weekend, I changed all that.
View of the Shenzhen from the 69th floor, the Meridian View Centre, of the Shun Hing Square skyscraper
I signed up for a Gray Lines day tour of Shenzhen, the border city closest to Hong Kong. The day included a guided bus trip around town, a visit to the tallest building’s observation deck, a stop at a local museum, lunch, admission to Window of the World theme park and, of course, a shopping stop at the famous Lo Wu Commercial Center, where high quality fake purses, watches and clothes are sold for a fraction of what they should cost.
Confused? You should be.
Look at the photo above, and for a few seconds, I'll bet you though I inadvertently put a photo from Europe in this blog. Think again!
What about this one?
Although I enjoyed the whole day, the highlight for me was without doubt Window of the World, a well-known theme park in Shenzhen that recreates dozens of the world's most iconic structures.
The "Louvre Pyramid"welcoming visitors to Window of the World
The main entrance to the park
When friends described a park that recreated some of the most famous attractions from around the globe in miniature, I pictured truly tiny structures. I mean, in my head I imagined diminutive models you could pretty much hold in your hands. So you can imagine my surprise when a three-hundred-foot tall Eiffel Tower was staring me in the face as our bus rounded the corner towards the park! A few sights were truly minuscule but many others were huge. And the attention to detail was often stunning.
Saint Mark's Square in Venice
Another view of St. Mark's
I went on the day trip with Paul, the American from our New York office who is spending some time with us in Hong Kong. We walked around the park, from Asia to Africa, next on to Europe and then to the States, all the while viewing intricately recreated wonders and landmarks, both natural and man-made.
US of A....Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol Building and Mount Rushmore
Versailles, with its impeccable gardens and fountains, with Rome's St. Peter's Basilica in the background
One of the most impressive, most detailed recreations was St. Peter's Basilica....note the Chinese children on the steps!
The Cathedral of Notre Dame, one of my favorite sights in Paris
It was surely the most surreal experience I’ve had out here, or anywhere, and I was delightfully surprised with how much I enjoyed the park. Although a few of the sights, most notably Big Ben and Tower Bridge, were disappointing and rather phony-looking, the vast majority were exquisite in their detail, scale and presentation.
Surreal... the Eiffel Tower looms near the Taj Mahal
Transported to the Black Hills of South Dakota
It’s difficult to say whether I preferred seeing the sights I’ve personally visited in the past, or if it was cooler to see in three-dimensions things I’ve only ever seen in photographs before. I guess I’d have to go with the former, because standing before each model brought back a flood of memories from previous trips, stretching all the way back to family vacations when I was barely three feet tall, to my first trips overseas during high school, to my study abroad adventures in Europe while at Villanova.
In front of the 'miniature' Eiffel Tower, which is over three-hundred feet tall
View of the park from the 'Eiffel Tower'
The many Parisian monuments made me nostalgic for my semster abroad in Spring 2007.
Although I won’t be rushing back to Shenzhen for awhile, I would definitely consider joining the organized tour when family or friends are out to visit in the future. It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had since returning from my trip home. And finally I've been to China!
L'Arc de Triomphe
Now I’m just counting the hours until I head down to the Philippines and crossing my fingers that some good wind blows Typhoon Amang away from Cebu, so I can linger on the beach during my upcoming trip.
Kung Hei Fat Choy from Hong Kong!