Many Congratulations and be Prosperous


Tis the season to be jolly. The year of the rooster is upon us. Merry Cockmas!

I’ve always felt a little hard done by when it comes to the Chinese Zodiac. I was born in 1986, the Year of the Tiger – not a bad animal to have – but as a January baby my birthday fell a week before that year’s Lunar New Year, meaning I just squeaked into 1985: The Year of the Ox. The plodding, stubborn, load-bearing Ox. Add to that my ‘Western’ zodiac sign – Aquarius, the water carrier – and my assigned profile couldn’t be more menial or dull unless it wore dungarees and steel-capped boots.

In addition, every year is assigned one of five elements… Fire, Metal, Water, Earth and… Wood. I’m a Wood Ox. Some people are Fire Dragons, or Metal Tigers (a 3rd-rate glam act if ever there was one). Even a Water Rat sounds some whatt cool.

So then, what does this Year of the Rooster have in store for a Wood Ox? Well, quoting directly from – where the horoscopes are simple and the English a little odd…

The overview tells that this will be a year of “extreme fortune changes” – something either very good or very bad will occur. Oh no… More details follow:

Wealth Prospects – I will make money as long as I invest wisely. I will have “lots of investment opportunities as long as I am not greedy”.

Career Prospects – No problems here. Slow and steady. Is there ever a work-related problem for the “stable and tough” ox?

Romance Prospects – My horoscope claims that I must have already “married and settled down”, what with me being a near middle-aged Ox. Hmm. However, I should communicate a little more to avoid “worsening relationships.”

Health Prospects – This is the best bit. Due to “frequent social engagements” I will “gain weight due to surfeit and should pay attention to digestive health.”

So apparently the worst that will occur in 2017 is I’ll put on a bit of weight. So much for ‘extreme fortune changes’. It’s almost as if they wanted to hook me in with an unnerving tagline then wrote what they knew I wanted to hear… It’s almost as if horoscopes – Chinese or otherwise – might be a load of tosh.

Anyway, this is the only time of year in which I cast my eyes to the skies to see my future. If you are really serious about your Chinese horoscope – you can pay attention to daily, even hourly updates, that will signpost good days or times at which to marry, travel and even have a haircut.

I will, though, trust the next 12 months to fate, and wish everyone Many Congratulations and a Prosperous New Year, as they say around here.

Saan Nihn Fai Lohk!!






January 22nd – gambling my time away

A crisp, winter’s day in Cheung Sha Wan.

Earlier this month I had to go to the dentist – my teeth having made an unfortunate habit of falling out without warning – but was determined to find a new one. My previous dentist had been trying to push ultra-expensive, screwable, titanium teeth implants on me. The one before that had been disturbingly keen to perform an unscheduled and extremely hasty extraction.

I had a new clinic recommended to me up the road in Cheung Sha Wan, an area which I had never really explored before. So one Wednesday morning I had a wander around, took the picture above, and enjoyed the thought that you can live in a city for years and have whole, unexplored neighbourhoods almost on your doorstep. Best of all my new dentist was nice and young, happily filled the ruins of my tooth in, and made no mention of yanking any out.

But… Without wishing it to seem like I only turn to this space when urgently requiring an outlet from which to vent steam… I do have another Hong Kong-based gripe. As with the ‘incongruously loud music as an accompaniment to hiking’ theme of my last post, this latest bugbear isn’t something I’ve just noticed. More something that has niggled at me on a daily basis, like a child mimicking everything I say in a stupid voice, until last week I turned round and shouted: “Hey. No! Why?”

It’s this… When you go to an ATM in this city you are basically forced to gamble; to enter a game of roulette. To lump all your chips on one horse with no clue as to the form or the going.

In other, less silly words: you have to guess at and choose which ATM queue will see you served first. Every machine has its own queue and you must commit to one and only one the second you arrive. I’ve noticed that in places less manic than Hong Kong, no matter how many ATMs there may be, people form one queue and subscribe to a first come first served deal: the person first in line moves to the next free machine.

Here, however, you have to choose your queue and stick with it. And I think it’s a gambling thing. Hong Kong’s national sport is, after all, horse racing. It’s ingrained on people here. ATM-roulette brings a frisson of risk to people’s otherwise monotonously overworked days. And I could accept it on these terms, almost, if it weren’t for the fact that I never pick the right queue.

January 6th – hot and noisy winters…

I’ve always found Japanese men’s fashion to be somewhat effeminate, but this sign is perhaps still a little blunt…

This week, this new year, brought with it a terrifying realisation: I may never be able to leave Hong Kong. Not because of any legal proceedings or ankle-tags, no, nor because leaving would mean never visiting Sissy’s again. It’s because winters elsewhere are, it turns out, extremely cold.

Over New Year I spent 3 days in Seoul, where the mercury dropped as low as -7 degrees celsius. I had to buy leggings and use disposable heat patches. It was painfully cold during the frosty nights – and barely less cold in the weak and watery midday sun. It didn’t help that I was supposed to be holidaying in Langkawi, on the beach with a cheap, pre-mixed cocktail sweating in my hand, but someone had forgotten to renew his passport and would have been turned away from entering Malaysia by scary, military types.

Since arriving back in Hong Kong, however, I’ve been strolling around in short sleeves, hiking and even swimming. It’s worth stopping for a second, every now and then, to appreciate just how good it is to swim outdoors, in the sun, on the 4th January.

For January it is. January 2017. And as predictable as it is that January will follow December, so is my New Year’s resolution to write MORE. Plus, now that I’m confined to Hong Kong for reasons of climate, much like a Victorian consumptive ordered to Brighton for the air, I should try to write about whatididinhongkong (hashtag). So – rooting around for any old topic to get the juices flowing I found myself pondering yet again a matter that has troubled me deeply, to the very core of my being, since arriving in Hong Kong nearly 5 years ago: why do people here insist on listening to music through speakers while hiking?

Go twenty yards up any mountain path and you will bump into someone with Cantonese Opera, or maybe a Cantonese pop classic, or perhaps Rihanna, bellowing from their back-pocket.

My original theories were A) exercising is sweaty work and earphones do sometimes start to slip out or B) it scares off evil spirits lurking in the forests or C) it’s to warn others who may be up to no good in the forest (peeing, fondling, burying a body) that someone’s coming. But eventually I guess I just stopped wondering, became inured to it, and finally started to enjoy predicting the weirdest snippet of music I could possibly hear while passing someone on a mountain trail (‘Last Christmas’ in May, FYI).

And then a couple of weeks ago I bought a book: ‘The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Chinese’ (I also bought ‘The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Scots’, just so I didn’t look like a complete racist in front of the cashier) in which I read about the concept of re nao and had an epiphany. And I know, I know, I KNOW Hong Kongers are not Chinese, but their ancestors by and large were – so there. Anyway, this book says that re nao literally means’hot and noisy’ – the book’s written by a proper Chinese person with a Chinese name and everything so it must be right – and is, I quote, “extremely desirable… The Chinese prefer being surrounded by others and being effervescent and vivacious, to having peace and quiet. After all, the latter is what death is for.”

Finally it all made sense: the speakers in the back pocket were for the same reason as people yelling across restaurants, every Cantonese conversation sounding like an argument, people playing games with the sound up on the MTR, taxi drivers sounding their horns repeatedly in a traffic jam as if one long windscreen-rattling blast will somehow clear a path. It all came together, re nao, and I felt as if I understood the world around me a little more.


Although, upon reading the ‘Scots’ version of the same book, and it’s opening declaration that Scottish people “feel that they are a rather flamboyant and colourful people, tartan inside as well as out”, I have since begun to wonder if the authors in the series were as well-qualified to write on their chosen topics as I had at first thought. ‘Flamboyant’?? ‘Colourful’?? Most Scots would rather be described as ‘Syphilitic’… Perhaps placing my faith in this series to decode the mysteries of the Chinese people was a mistake.