For someone who loves New Year’s Eve and birthdays as much as I do, it’s quite fitting I ended up engaged to a guy born on December 31. Meeting Mike has ensured that no New Year’s Eve will ever be a minor affair again: I will always go all out to celebrate the double holiday (hence New Year’s Eve in Sydney last year).
So this year, we flew to Hong Kong.
And I hate to admit it, but Hong Kong let us down.
For one thing, we were not prepared for the weather. Even though we’d researched the temps, I swear 60F in Hong Kong is not the same as 60F in the US. We were bitterly cold, and had to waste a solid chunk of time wandering around the city looking for any store that sold sweaters in larger-than-Asian sizes (tip for anyone else who may find themselves in a similar situation: Quiksilver in Causeway Bay carries men’s XXL).
And then there were was the issue of midnight itself…but first, I’ll focus on the positive.
The one truly stand-out moment of the last day of 2012 was this sunset:
For all the bad pollution days Hong Kong has, we really lucked out here. It was one of those perfect sunsets where you arrive just in time to see the world glow a brilliant fiery orange; then quickly the sky fades from blue to orange to pink, and the sun becomes a bright neon dot that bends the skyline just a tad before dipping into the horizon.
It was quiet, serene, and breath-taking — a perfect way to see out the incredible year that was 2012.
(That’s two years in a row now we’ve caught breathtaking sunsets on New Year’s Eve — remember this beauty last year?)
After a birthday dinner at the Peak (which was decorated in a Le Petit Prince theme — I just can’t escape France) we thought it’d be best to head down to the harbour to stake out prime fireworks-watching spots. It was already three hours before midnight; from experience we knew we had to get down there as soon as possible.
We arrived at 21:30 — and the promenade was already packed. We were faced with a dilemma: keep the first open spots we could find and abandon our search for better places further down, or continue going with the crowd and give up our newly found space directly in front of the iconic Hong Kong skyline?
We decided to stay. After all, in every photo I’d researched of Hong Kong’s past fireworks, the IFC building was the one that, at midnight, lit up with the year and exploded with fireworks in all directions (like this, see?). As a friend of mine who lived in Hong Kong told me, the IFC “was meant to be the centerpiece of the whole thing!”
So we waited. For two and a half hours. We stood there awkwardly, trying to respect everyone’s personal bubbles while being increasingly squashed by the locals around us (on the bright side, with that many people around, for the first time that day we no longer felt cold).
I say locals because there were no obvious foreigners around. That should have tipped us off, really — if the fireworks were that awesome, wouldn’t at least some expats have made it down to watch as well? Yet as far as we could see, Mike was the only non-Asian in our crowd.
Finally, when we could no longer feel anything below our knees from standing in a confined space for so long, they turned the light off on the famous Clock Tower — and shortly after began counting down in Cantonese.
Which neither of us understand. Meaning we didn’t know which number they started with.
Meaning we had no clue when they were going to reach the final ten seconds (and isn’t that suspense and build-up to midnight the whole reason we stay up late on New Year’s Eve?)
When midnight struck, I can’t remember which we heard first: the fireworks, or the sugary-sweet Canto-pop-ified Auld Lang Syne that blasted into the night air.
I can’t remember because I was too distracted by the fact that NOTHING CAME OFF THE IFC TOWER.
Nothing. Not one of the buildings that comprise that famous skyline had any fireworks.
All we could see were some tiny sparks off in the distance, to our far left. Everyone around us oohed and aahed, but I think no one wanted to admit they were just as extremely confused and sorely disappointed as we were. (I mean, when we arrived at 21:30 the promenade was already packed — I can’t imagine how many hours those people in front of us were waiting, thinking they were going to get a prime view of the IFC!)
I later heard other Hong Kong expats were highly disappointed as well — some friends of mine had even gone to the IFC to watch the fireworks from the tower itself — so the lack of fireworks was a surprise to many.
As we started to make our way home, we found ourselves witnessing a proposal: a guy got down on his knee in front of his girlfriend and placed a pearl…watch on her wrist. She did not appear terribly pleased — about the watch, the proposal, the attention, maybe all three. After a very long, tense silence, she reluctantly nodded her acceptance of the engagement watch. It was awkward.
And on that note, we braved the crowds and made our way home.
So what did we learn?
Perhaps we set expectations too high. After Sydney last year, any city we visited would have had a tough act to follow. However, it may also be a cultural difference: Hong Kong, we’re told, bends over backwards for its fireworks display on Chinese New Year.
So from now on, we’re going to try to spend every New Year’s Eve in a western country.
One where we can understand the countdown.
And we’re going to bring sweaters.
Where did you ring in 2013?