Friday, December 24, 2010

Chungking Christmas Eve

Before I went to dinner tonight, Hari told me, "Tonight the streets will be full of people. There will be no cars, only walk, walk, walk." There were "No loitering" signs in the subway that hadn't been there earlier in the day and notices said, "After 6 pm waiting for friends in this area will not be allowed."

When I came home at 9 pm, I came up to a neighborhood that was engulfed with pedestrians. A river of people coursed down Nathan Road and along the waterfront, admiring the Christmas lights, taking pictures, shopping. There were families with their children dressed in festive red outfits, teenagers dressed to the teeth, people wearing Santa Claus hats and reindeer horns and cardboard top hats with glitter script that said Merry Christmas. There were Indians and Africans and Westerners and Chinese, all torrenting along streets that usually belong to vehicles, all punctiliously following police crowd control instructions, all having fun. Carolers stood in the middle of the road and a brass band swept by, playing a jazzy version of Hark the Herald.

"This happens three times a year," a security guard told me, "On Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Chinese New Year." He and his colleagues were pulling gates over the entrance to Chungking Mansions at 11 pm, leaving one small open doorway that was just big enough to allow one person to enter the building at a time. The halls were almost empty and most of the lights were already turned out.

Families were headed toward the subways, a pop concert was in full swing on Canton Road, and the holiday spirit showed no signs of ending. "After midnight there is singing and dancing," Hari told me, but sensory overload claimed me well before then. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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