I’ve now spent two Christmases (Christmasi?) away from the UK. My first ever Hong Kong Christmas in addition to one spent five years ago in Thailand. “How does it differ?” I hear you begging to know. “What do people eat??” “Where do people go??” “Did they show the Downton Christmas special??” Well…
Difference 1: The Weather. Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong gets cold. Well, by ‘popular belief” I mean ‘my belief’, as I never expected it to get quite so chilly. One day I wore a scarf! Our apartment has no heater and so stores the cold much like it stores the heat during the sweaty summer. There were two days of sunshine over New Year and, of course, I was unprepared and managed to get sunburned. Sunburned on January 1st – something only a ginger could achieve. It was so balmy that I even had a New Year’s dip in the sea. Granted, there are people in Scotland who, come January 1st, gleefully chuck themselves in the Firth of Forth but they are a special brand of mental. Thailand, on the other hand, is gloriously warm between November and February and I’m going there next year…
Difference 2: The Food. Not really a difference, as such, as I could get all the usual fare from M & S, although at extortionate prices. I’ve never met an Asian person (and I’ve tried Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean) who likes mince pies. Sweet tofu pudding and red bean soup – OK; but not mince pies… For Chrimbo din-dins I cooked a chicken (no turkey) stir-fry followed by Christmas pudding and brandy sauce. I also remember cooking a proper dinner with all the trimmings for our colleagues in Thailand:
“We’ll need a turkey, potatoes, carrots, sausages, bacon, gravy etc etc etc” I said.
“And rice?” they asked.
“No. Definitely not. We really don’t need rice.”
“Are you sure?”
So, on Christmas day we presented a bronzed turkey, steaming plates of veg and a juicy pudding, only to find a big tray of fried rice already waiting at table. And, do you know what? It was the only dish that got finished.
Difference 3: The music. It’s Christmas music; but not as we know it. ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Frostie the Snowman’ and ‘White Christmas’ are played in all the shops, but the sort of recordings you would buy in petrol station bargain bins. All kids’ choirs and instrumental versions. Leaves you begging for Wizzard, I can tell you. And it keeps playing long after the big day. I passed a shop yesterday (Jan 4th) and Santa Claus was still coming to town.
I’ve added a couple of pics of the decorations, which ranged from the massive (whole skyscrapers draped in lights) to the frankly half-arsed. My favourite ‘attempt’ was in Kowloon Post-Office, where each service window had one little bauble hanging limply from the counter. All in all, Christmas in Hong Kong felt like style over substance: the right songs, the right decorations and the right food (if you were willing to pay for it) but no exchanging presents or dinners with the whole family. After all, I guess it’s not a Christian country and they don’t have the same traditions. On the 25th all the shops opened and people went shopping and out for dinner like any old Saturday.
However, my favourite aspect of Hong Kong Christmas has to be the Christmas Eve ‘Countdown to Christmas’ at midnight in Victoria Harbour. Bearing in mind that the 25th here is just a public holiday, that’s like thousands of people gathering at Edinburgh Castle or along the Thames to welcome in the May Bank Holiday.