It's sweater weather in Kowloon on Christmas Eve, with a crisp breeze giving an autumnal touch to midwinter. There are hordes of shoppers in the subway and on the streets but there always are shoppers in this community. People in clothing that is far from haute couture wait in roped-off lines to get into Chanel and Louis Vuitton, gleefully taking photos of each other as they stand under the designer logo. Crowds mill along a sidestreet filled with fake watches and Birkin bags and in the downmarket Yau Ma Tei area, women scrutinize stalls crammed with polyester clothing and infant garments that look highly flammable. Even Chungking Mansions has put out bins of gilted keyrings with Hong Kong scenes and little plastic trees and gaudy Christmas balls. Tis the season after all.
Westerners decry holiday commercialism in their home countries but I do think Hong Kong has a deathgrip on that particular talent. Why just commercialize a holiday when you can strike directly at the heart of it--the Christmas tree?
A prominent public square in the heart of Hong Kong has a mammoth Christmas tree that is purportedly made of Swarovski crystals--at least that's what all of the nearby signage proclaims. And in my own temporary neighborhood of Nathan Road, Christmas has been brought to us by Chula Pops, with a tree decorated with gigantic versions of these confections, which "make Christmas sweet." There are probably far more co-opted trees all over the city, but I don't have the energy to hunt them down.
Yesterday a friend and I went to Lantau Island's Big Buddha, a statue so glorious that it transcends all of the hype that surrounds it. A "village" dedicated to shopping and Starbucks was what we walked through before climbing the 200+ stairs to reach the Buddha, and suddenly we were surrounded by snowflakes. As Johnny Mathis crooned over a "white Christmas," a snow machine blew bits of dandruff onto passersby. Before I could indulge in my usual cheap cynicism, I caught sight of the very small children who were transfixed by what was coming from the sky and suddenly the snowfall was real and the carols were sweet and Christmas was really and truly in the air.
Merry Christmas to all--even (or perhaps especially) to those who manufacture a phony snowfall and make little children happy.