DAY FOUR Urban vs Rural Spring Festival

DAY FOUR Urban vs Rural Spring Festival

Lunar New Years- Dragon, Day Four—— Jan 26, 2012

In Hong Kong (unlike my expat experience in Taiwan, Macau, China), Spring Festival provides foreigners the time to escape from their fast and furious lifestyle. They can stay in their homes or travel outside the country.  No local host national will be disappointed that “the foreign devil, the gweilo” has disappeared from the family and the community festivities. That because, Hong Kong is a place of informality, of a rushed urban city lifestyle, of apartments more like compartments closed to neighbors.

And, after 10 years of keeping a residence in Mid Levels, I closed my apartment in 2010 not knowing a single owner/resident on my 24th floor, never having been invited to any meal in any ones apartment in the building, only knowing the old ladies who inhabited the lobby and were the unofficial welcoming committee.  I would have loved to have known these ladies better: I even gave gifts every spring festival. Yet, the urban family son dominated environment excludes others. And, so unlike Taiwan, Macau and China, the other Chinese communities I have resided in, I do not know what it is like to attend DAY FOUR in the city—-


Fourth Day: The fourth day is of the most importance to those communities who observe the New Year period for three days. This means the fourth is usually the day of spring dinners. On this day, son-in-laws pay their respects to their parents-in-law.


It must be stated that in Hong Kong there are two distinctly different lifestyles— instead of urban or suburban or rural lifestyles as associated in western countries, in Hong Kong there is urban or outer islands / new territories rural lifestyles.  Part of my years were spent living in and out of Hong Kong and were spent either in the city or in the island.

The two environments have markedly different societal behaviors.  My experience  (the reader should note this is my experience alone, and may not be categorized as the experience others may have) was opposite of the other.  Living in the city was a dramatically different experience than living in the island village.  Yet, both environments were Hong Kong Chinese communities.

When I kept a home in the outer islands, in a village environment, the families and my neighbors welcomed me into their home both at Spring Festival and during the year. Because I go on assignment (as an aid worker and consultant) the villagers understood I would not be near them at all times, but was a career woman on the move.

What was most important to my village neighbors was that I had water.  And, they knew I had water when they did not because I was gone a lot.  most Plus I had built the largest well. And that I had welcomed them to use  the well (no one on the island had city water pipes). Because of this situation, they were indebted to paying me respect and giving me invitations to their homes for my freely giving of my water stream.

This situation stages the difference between urban and rural lifestyles in Hong Kong— that fact that if one owes someone something for their product or service; they believe they must show appreciation during lunar new years.   Consequently,  during the 15 years that I had a country style home on the Island of Lamma, in the MOTATWAN Village, where the old Hakka ladies  known for their big black sun garden hats resided and raised a new breed of Hong Kong children and grandchildren, I was always given ‘red envelopes” (because I was much younger than those women) fed with village “home style” and Spring Festival food. I was always welcomed even if we did not communicate verbally, it was always a pantomime of free expression. Communication was easy.

Thankfully , my work in the field taught me the realities of village life early in my career in Chinese Taiwan.  Therefore, I realized in my first year of residence in Motatwan that if I shared my well water freely, I would be treated with respect. And since I was the only foreigner in this village, and my Filipina helper was the only foreigner who resided permanently in the house (while I went on assignments) I needed her to be safe, sound, and happy in the village. The decision to share my water, the same as it would be in a developing nation. No different in this village. Water is the essential element of life, next to breath. And, water communicates friendship and life.

I always had friends in the village, but in my urban sky rise flat I never seemed to make it past the lobby doorway into the homes of my neighbors.  The reason was not for not wanting or trying. The reason because, I believe, there was never a reason beyond a friendly lobby hello, that made my neighbors feel indebted to me the outsider: As is said with a undertone of bigotry… the foreign devil.

And, I learned quickly that Hong Kong Chinese ties  in the city are primarily related to family. In the home environment ( the concrete jungle of Hong Kong Flats) unless there is an incidence of randomness that unites a neighbor in a common area of need (if this makes any sense), a neighbor is only a person who lives next door.  Inviting celebration, inviting one into the home only is to be shared with those connected formally to the family. The holiday is family time, it is tradition unless one owes the boss a visit or wants to influence and impress. I was not the boss. I was the neighbor!

I found this the sad reality of the urban lifestyle.  And, as long as I kept my Hong Kong urban abode, I never got over my yearning to be in my MOTATWAN abode, my village home base for 12 years (1984-1996)  wishing sgood health and wealth to the old women and their families at New Years….

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