Tomorrow is Chinese New Year’s Eve. Do you know what that means?
(1) Here comes the dragon!
(2) Five days off work, and only two weeks after the Christmas break. BOON.
(3) It’s nearly the day when people give the kids lai see, the contents of which we get to spend on beer – don’t we?
(4) Memories of our first CNY here, when I totally misunderstood the traditions and rituals associated with this week and believed the collapse of the financial sector was imminent. I guess I was either really ignorant, or really prescient and 99%-ing it up way before anyone thought to Occupy anywhere. Decide for yourselves.
February 2, 2010 – Cusp of the Year of the Tiger
Today, as I approached my local HSBC branch to transact some important business, I was startled to see at least 100 people queued out the door and back down the street. (And also that guy in the red-to-white shirt using the ATM so elegantly, but that’s by the by).
As I neared the queue, I sharpened my senses to signs of panic that would indicate HSBC’s collapse. Why else would such a crowd have gathered? I realised quickly that they were a quiet and cooperative crowd – in fact an HSBC employee was walking down the line and chatting amiably to each queue-ee – but then again this is Hong Kong and the populace is generally very civilised, so I tensed afresh. If this was a rush on the branch, I wanted to have as good a chance as the next person at securing the tiny amount of HK$ currently in my freshly activated account.
The house we’re staying in at the moment, being a long-term holiday rental place, has a collection of shitty books like you used to find in the laundromat of caravan parks as a kid. One of them is about the British Secret Services and unluckily for my fellow branch-picketers, I JUST READ THAT THING COVER TO COVER. Not only can I communicate succinctly in radio callsigns, I also know how to execute a J-turn at high speed, conceal a Sturmgewehr 44 machinegun in an ankle holster, AND I also just downloaded an app to my phone that does morse code. Apprising the rest of the admittedly very peaceable rioters discreetly from behind a bush, I noted they were, almost without exception, geriatrics shuffling feebly along with the assistance of walking sticks. I knew I could outrun them without too much bother, even in my current gross unfitness and wearing wholly unsuitable thongs of shoddy Chinese manufacture. I probably wouldn’t even need to execute any of my newly acquired military tactics!
I crouched to the ground, pausing to lament that I didn’t know any Cantonese battlecry so any incisive insult about the financial sector I might shout would go unappreciated. No matter. My swift and sure progress to the front of the queue would stun the shuffling and murmuring crowd quicker than any anarchic chant I could deploy. I learned from my Secret Service book the importance of complete mental preparation so I quickly meditated on what was ahead.
What are your legs? Springs. Steel springs. What are they going to do? Hurl me right into the bank. How fast can you run? As fast as a fat gweilo. How fast ARE you going to run? As fast as it takes me to get in there, and not a bit faster.
Then let’s see you do it.
And I was off. That lady at the far left in the beanie didn’t stand a chance. The three ladies in front of her were pushed back, clutching their handbags, by the force of my electric sidewind. I grabbed that guy’s walking stick in case I needed it later to force the shutters of the counters and repossess my cash by force, if it came to that.
On entering the bank, wired, waving the walking stick above my head to rally the crowd of disgruntled creditors, I was dismayed to find them even more cooperative than the peeps on the footpath outside. They were formed into five orderly queues which advanced in near silence to the tellers, who were using note-counting machines to dole out bundles of notes of all denominations.
As mentioned, Hongkongers are a civilised people, but this was hard for me to believe. There’s a rush on the bank, and the tellers are just handing out stacks of cash in elastic bands?
I LOVE THIS PLACE!
(Turns out today is the special day when you get to change old banknotes for newly minted ones for insertion into the red envelopes given out on Chinese New Year, which is fast approaching. But I think I got away with my understandable misinterpretation of what was going down. And I’m pretty sure the old guy outside was alright too, I poked him with the walking stick as I returned it and he appeared to exhibit some shallow breathing.)