This day trumps Christmas and New Year (as in January 1st) in Hong Kong. Its importance and meaning is probably the equivalent of Christmas and January 1st combined. This is THE day for family reunions (like Christmas) and wishing the best for the coming year (like Jan 1st). I've never seen the campus so... vacant. Since the majority of the students here at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology are local Cantonese, these lucky students have gone home to celebrate. Although I have relatives in Hong Kong (Grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins), I don't have a permanent home here and hence live in the now-[close to]-deserted dorms.
Today we visited my father's side of the family to 拜年, basically wish each other well for the coming year. The kids get 紅包 (red envelopes), which have pocket money in them from the elders. I once asked my parents at what age we stop getting red envelopes. Apparently the tradition is to start giving once you're married to those who aren't. However, tonight my Big Aunt (the hostess of today's family gathering) gave my parents red bags too. I guess now, at least in my family, it's more of an elders-give-the-younger. Usually, the envelopes are given in pairs. My sister and I each got an extra one from Big Aunt because we brought presents.
Certain designs of red envelopes should seriously be considered as works of art. Last year, we received ones that resembled intricate red pop-up birthday cards. Okay, not pop-up, but pull-out. I pull this tab and WHOAH! - the money pops out with a four-charactered auspicious greeting. Conventional envelopes simply have a self-adhesive flap for one time use. Throughout the years, I've wondered what to do with these scarlet packets after I've fattened up my wallet. Being environmentally aware (or so I'd like to think), I would love to re-use them. Except the self-adhesive flaps refuse to re-stick. Being artistically-challenged, I can't bear to toss out the pull-out ones or even the vaguely prettier ones. So now, the somewhat seemly ones sit somewhere in some drawer back in Beijing, collecting dust. I wish I could put a better use to them, instead of putting them in my pile of pretty but (let's face it) rather useless STUFF.
So almost all the cousins, uncles, and aunts were at Big Aunt's apartment today, celebrating New Year. Most played majong (very popular Chinese game involving four players, many... blocks??... somewhat vaguely similar to cards) until dinnertime. DINNER WAS DELICIOUS. The most traditional dish tonight was 斎 - a meatless dish. In it, vermicelli, black fungus, this.. plant that looks like the legs of enoki mushrooms, and tofu were braised in a sauce. I'm a failure at describing taste, so I will simply ask Dear Reader to try it yourself. In the more northern parts of China, dumplings are the norm for New Year's dinner.
Dessert was even served. I didn't expect 南瓜糊 (pumpkin porridge)! Honestly, I don't even know if it's a Chinese dish. It was served with 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls with sesame-paste centers), which ARE Chinese. Either way, it was sweet, creamy, with notes of coconut milk. DELISH! On top of that, we had slices of striped pandan jello. Needless to say, I've returned to my dorm with a bloated belly.