By Isabel Escoda
Escoda, a veteran journalist and author living in Hong Kong, comes originally from the Philippines.
HONG KONG -- “This will be a harsh year,” a Hong Kong friend told me recently. He meant this Chinese Year of the Dragon, which has just begun, but he didn't elaborate, leaving me to wonder if his prediction involved economic meltdowns and political upheavals, or if he just was having a bad day.
In all my years here, denizens of this consumerist city usually have stayed upbeat about their continuing prosperity each Chinese New Year. Saying otherwise seems heretical. My gloomy friend struck me as strangely out of kilter.
A person can get laughed at here for calling money “the root of all evil". Folks in this rich Chinese enclave long have believed the opposite --- that money is the source of all good things.
So the Chinese New Year festive trees, unlike the green ones that we Christians decorate with toys and lights in December, have otherwise bare branches dripping with red packets that hold money of various denominations. They appear in hotel lobbies, storefronts and even private homes.
Such trees are a fine testament to greed, which, as the fictional Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street, is good. Closer to home, one thinks of the phrase “To be rich is glorious,” attributed to Deng Xiaoping (but actually coined by Mao Tsetung).
The color “gold” dominates the Chinese New Year landscape. Here, the maxim, “You can't buy happiness”, doesn't apply. Hong Kong people exude great happiness over money in their bank accounts here and abroad. Ask them on any street about the most important thing in life, and the instant replies will mention lots of cash. If you press them more about life's other blessings, food comes next. Vying for third among men will be sex and sleek European sports cars (not necessarily in that order). For women, it will be designer clothes and servants (docile Southeast Asian ones, of course) with sex listed last.
The mythical dragon, this year's central creature, is considered a harbinger of good luck and fortune. It causes men to bask in masculine superiority and swagger like Bruce Lee, while the women court anorexia, believing that their fashionably malnourished looks will inspire protective men to spend to nurture them. Little do they suspect that their men secretly may lust after buxom Western women and curvy Filipino or Thai girls.
This Year of the Dragon, as observed in Chinese communities worldwide, comes from the oldest calendar extant and is based on lunar cycles. Legend says that when Lord Buddha lay dying, he summoned the dog, monkey, goat, rat, ox, tiger, snake, horse, rooster, pig, rabbit and mythical dragon. It's a cute tale, rather like the astrological symbols that credulous Westerners consult.
One contribution to Hong Kong people's recent happiness (in the rabbit year) came from a HK$6,000 bonus given to all residents, including foreign ones who've lived here more than seven years. A few folks, saying the government's surplus should have gone to better uses like improved social services, health care, education or housing, donated their $6,000 to charities. But the delighted majority, seeing the gripers as publicity-seeking party-poopers, used the money to buy iPads, iPhones, furniture and fancy wardrobes.
Downtrodden Filipino migrant workers who have, like many Indonesian and Thai women, slaved for Hong Kong employers for many years, even decades, felt pangs of happiness when a High Court judge ruled in their favor, granting them the same right of abode as other expatriates in “higher” professions. But the joy subsided when mobs of locals marched to protest vociferously against an envisioned flood of dark-skinned foreigners asserting themselves. Another ruling on a final court appeal is due soon, but people in the know expect a foregone conclusion with Beijing having the last (negative) word.
Non-Chinese living on the fringes of this rich society hope that this Dragon Year will bring not just the dross from wealth around us, but a bit of real gold too. Our trust lies in the mythological, money-making monster widely adored here.
In Hong Kong, how many people
that money is 'the root of all evil'?