Yesterday night was Chinese New Year eve. It is a tradition for honkongers to go to Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve. Mainly because of the local flower and plushes market taking place there. Chinese New Year eve is the last day of the market, so vendors are hard pressed to sell their goods as soon as possible to avoid having to throw or to give them for free after midnight, when the market closes.
Learning business “on the job”
Victoria Park is also the setting of a real life “business school” for high school students. In fact, many students use the CNY market as an occasion to learn the basics of doing business. From starting a business plan, to pricing, sourcing, setting price, marketing and then adapting to competition on the market;
Highly valuable, the experience sees the teenagers throwing themselves into the fray, rivaling with ideas to attract customers. Some even tried the idea of hanging plushes with sticks above the heads of the crowd!
The Flower market
The other big attraction of the Victoria Park CNY market is, of course, the flower market. Replete with mandarin trees and various other plants or flowers, it is an occasion for Hongkongers to come and find cheap flowers to decorate their house.
On Chinese New Year eve, you can literally see “live” vendors discounting their wares as the hour advances.
As the hour advances and it gets closer to midnight, customers also hurry to get their shopping done. After midnight, the vendors must throw or donate their flowers, as they cannot be sold anymore.
It must be said that the flowers look magnificent and are a welcome decoration.
Finally, if you are not there to buy flowers, then maybe you just go there to take pictures and selfies. It is a bit what these three pretty girls were doing in Victoria park, with their smartphones.
In conclusion, although it was quite crowded, going to Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve is an experience to try! You can also read about my similar experience with Chinese New Year in Bangkok, here.
Over the past five years, I managed to see a number of celebrations of Chinese new year in Bangkok. While similar to some degree to the traditional Chinese festival, they differ too. Indeed, the Thai version has a more marked Buddhist flavor to it. Of course, this goes together with the Thai syncretism and the hotchpotch of beliefs which mix Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese traditions and animism.
Red is the color
Of course, wearing red is almost an obligation on Chinese New Year, as this color is said to bring prosperity.
Even little kids dress up in quipao, the traditional Chinese dress.
For tourists, this is also the occasion to bargain to buy some traditional red garb and attempt to “blend in”…
A family reunion
Just like in China and in Hong Kong, Chinese New Year is mainly a family reunion. Families often go together to the temple, but mainly just like in China, it is an occasion to meet relatives.
People often go in family to the temple. Like in this case, the mother and daughter.
The biggest event however takes place on Chinese New Year eve. Indeed on that occasion, it is believed that wishes have the best chance of being realized upon the passage to a new (Chinese) year. Hence, beyond burning incense, Thais also splurge on huge candles as can be seen in the picture below at Wat Traimit in Chinatown. Obviously, the most expensive or biggest candle is believed to bring the most “luck”.
It is a money thing…
There is a heavy confusion among Westerners between what they see as “faith” or “religiosity”, and the own view of Thais on their practices. Thai modern Buddhism is, with some exceptions, mainly oriented on materialism and obtaining immediate material benefits. It goes to the point that some temples have been shamelessly riding the wave of greed, by posting publicity for Mercedes at their entrance! The most uanabashed Thai invitation to relinquish your money to get more money is probably the “garlands of banknotes” hung in the temples…
On some occasions, monks can be rude enough to be checking their smartphones under the nose of the worshippers…
Probably the most outrageous was seeing a famous brand of German cars “sponsoring” a temple on that occasion:
The bigger candle brings the biggest luck…
The Chinese tradition says that you should be burning incense as soon as possible after midnight on Chinese New Year. Where in Hong Kong, this causes regularly some scuffles, to the temple, in Bangkok, things are taken way more easily. People go to burn incense no matter what the time, as long as it is done on the eve of Chinese New Year.
Of course, the candles, themselves make for interesting subjects at night time.
Business at the forefront
Chinese New Year is also an occasion for doing business. On that single day, the police is rather understanding with the small-time hawkers which populate Bangkok. Yaowarat road, the main artery in Chinatown becomes a pedestrian area on that day Despite this, the heavy crowds and the sheer number of vendors make it a very difficult area to walk through.
Of course, among the stuff sold, you have the habitual “snake oil” peddlers as below (with English advertisement too!).
Bangkok adds a Buddhist touch to Chinese New year
Traditions, for Chinese New Year in Bangkok, are mostly similar, with incense being offered, but an interesting departure from Chinese tradition is that instead of food, the offerings are often lotus flowers as the two ladies below can be seen holding at Wat Traimit, the main temple in Chinatown.
The meaning of the lotus flower is very Buddhist in its core, but very few Thai are aware of the roots. In fact, the lotus flower means the purity of the body, speech, and mind. Indeed, while rooted in the mud, its flowers blossom on long stalks floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. In Thai temples, the symbol of detachment, becomes another reason to earn mone.
Within Chinatown itself, Wat Traimit, the main temple of the area hosts a 2-ton massive gold Buddha statue. On Chinese New Year eve, many Thais come to pray for favors (or take selfies in front of it).
Last but not least, Thailand would not be Thailand if there was not a selfie mania on Chinese New Year. In temples, when giving offerings or anything, Thais will try to grab a selfie to post on social networks.
How to get there?
Yaowarat is a quite long road extending through Chinatown and large parts of the area are reserved to pedestrians on Chinese New Year. Your best bet is still to take the MRT to Hua Lamphong, then to walk on foot to Yaowarat. On the way, very near to the train station, you will see Wat Traimit. To have a glimpse of the agitation and the vibe of Chinese New Year, do drop there.
When you visit Tokyo, a must visit if you are in the area of Asakusa is certainly Sensoji, the oldest shrine of the city. A visit to Sensoji shrine is not only the occasion of watching Japanese and their beliefs which intricates elements of Shintoism along with Buddhism. It is also the occasion of watching numerous ladies and men dressed up in elaborate ceremony kimonos.
A very old shrine
Sensoji (浅草寺)is so called because it is another way to read the character for “Asakusa”, where the temple is located. I mentioned earlier that Sensoji was the oldest temple in Tokyo, and its establishment dates back to 645 AD. Obviously, the current temple looks too new to still be the original temple. All the more as the area was destroyed in the WWII bombardments.
Despite the current relative “freshness” of the shrine building, Sensoji still carries a special weight in the heart of the Tokyo dwellers. Before entering the temple grounds themselves, there is a very famous shopping street, Nakamise street, mainly targeted to tourists, but still very interesting for visitors. Originally, the street appeared when traders obtained the permission to set up shops in the street leading to the shrine, several centuries ago. While the shops may have been chased away from time to time, and were destroyed to the ground in WWII, today they are back into their prime.
Things to buy in Nakamise street
Since you are already there, you may want to buy some souvenirs. It might be the occasion to buy some Geta, those traditional Japanese wooden sandals (very comfortable, by the way).
There are shops like the below shop, but while expensive on the main street, you find some interesting deals either in made to order geta or generally sized geta in side streets.
I got my own geta from a side street with a very lovely couple. They fit well, and are just as comfortable as the Berkemann slides I habitually wear too.
There are plenty of sites explaining how to wear geta, but the general idea is that they should be slightly smaller than your foot. That way, your feet hangs out a little bit.
Besides geta, the side streets also display some lovely fans as these hand painted ones (a bargain at 1,100 JPY).
The gate to the shrine
The gate to the shrine itself is painted in tones to remind of thunder. This is logical, as it is called Kaminarimon (雷門, “Thunder Gate).
It is nearby that I asked the two lovely Japanese girls if I could take their picture in kimono and they kindly agreed.
As much as possible, it is recommended to ask the permission of people to take their picture, as generally, it is frowned on taking pictures even in a public space. A smile and a few words in Japanese help a lot in that respect.
It must be said that shrines and temples are often places used for photoshoots of kimonos. Like this group where they were focusing on the elaborate obis (the “belt”) of these furisode. A furisode is a ceremony kimono worn by unmarried young girls and is typically recognizable by the long floating sleeves.
When shooting your picture, if you know some Japanese, it will allow you to distinguish between the “real” Japanese in kimono and those tourists who wear kimonos to have photo sessions.
For example, the two young ladies below were from Hong Kong (!) and immediately corrected me when I asked if I could take their picture. They kindly agreed nevertheless to have their picture taken.
The meaning of Sensoji probably escapes me a bit, but from inside the shrine itself, you can have a nice view on the bustle in the courtyard as well as on the Kaminarimon .
Later, as we went back, our daughter, Maria-Sophia fell in love with the gacha machines. She was too cute, asking to buy one of those little balls with premiums inside.
In short, either for shopping or for visiting the shrine, Sensoji is absolutely the place to go if you come to Tokyo.
Having lived for several years in Bangkok, I must say that I was gifted with a nice opportunity to take pics of pretty ladies almost at every turn, if we may speak this way. For street photography, Bangkok girls are a gift that keeps giving.
If you ever felt that you were limited by subjects, Bangkok is an incredible trove of subjects in terms of street photography. You do not need to go in red light areas to find interesting and pretty ladies – on the contrary.
Candids or interacting photo?
Ah, that’s an eternal question of the photographer. Let me give you two examples of pictures taken with an interaction with the subject:
If I did not ask this young lady for her permission I probably would not have had her look into the lens, nor her lovely smile which is just as warm as the surrounding clothes.
In this case, it is a bit different, as I did not ask her consent, but I was very close (shot with a 20 mm), and she was happy to have her shot taken. Afterwards I thanked her for the picture. As the goal was to show her work, it was useless to have her pose. Of course, afterwards, I thanked her and she kindly acknowledged.
Compare and contrast with this picture, where the lady poses for the picture.
In short, there is no single answer. It will depend of the scene and what you are shooting. As much as possible, avoid being creepy though. Respect and appreciation of your subject is the key word in street photography.