Short straw dims New Year glow
Fortune stick predicts worst luck for HK, and hours later fireworks barge catches fire
Mary Ann Benitez, Danny Mok and Amy Nip
SCMP Jan 28, 2009
As if recession and the prospect of a worsening economic downturn were not enough, Hong Kong yesterday drew the worst possible fortune stick in a ceremony at a Sha Tin temple.
Lau Wong-fat, chairman of rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk, drew the stick numbered 27 on the city’s behalf in the Taoist ceremony at the Che Kung temple.
A fortune-teller at the temple who read the stick said it showed the city could not isolate itself from the global economic turbulence, but that Hongkongers should nevertheless be cautiously optimistic.
Fung shui masters interpreted the stick’s meaning differently.
James Lee Shing-chak said it signified possible conflicts between the government and its people.
Mr Lau said: “It is a warning to all of us that only a harmonious society with people staying united can enable us to get through our challenges.”
The last time that stick was drawn, 1992, saw, among other things, the arrival of last governor Chris Patten – who unleashed fierce political strife.
When a Sha Tin district councillor drew the ill-omened stick 17 years ago, the council immediately burned it and drew another, lucky one.
Yesterday, that option was not open to Mr Lau and, rather than the stick burning, it was a barge used for the Lunar New Year fireworks display that went up in flames last night.
The barge, one of three from which fireworks were launched during the 23-minute display, burst into flames near the end of the HK$5 million spectacle that lit up Victoria Harbour. The barge’s two crewmen were rescued. No one was hurt.
Within minutes thick black smoke had engulfed the bow of the vessel. Fire boats soon doused the flames.
Teddy Ng, watching with his 19-year-old daughter, said flames engulfed at least a quarter of the barge.
Wilson Mao Wai-shing, chief executive officer of Pyro Magic Productions, which produced the show, could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it appeared sparks falling onto the barge had started the fire.
It wasn’t the only mishap on the harbour. Earlier, a pleasure boat taking 41 people to see the fireworks sprang a leak soon after leaving the Kowloon City ferry pier.
A lucky 23,888 fireworks formed the display, which was watched by 250,000 people lining both sides of Victoria Harbour and featured the character for ox.
The crowd was much smaller than expected. A turnout similar to last year’s 400,000 had been forecast.
Spectators gasped when curtains of gold and red fireworks cascaded or comets and sparking fireflies seemed to hover on the horizon.
As well as the character for ox – which was hard to pick out – the show also featured for the first time the characters for “good luck” and the lucky numbers six, eight and 10.
Afterwards spectators were divided about the merits of the show. Some said it was small and that, because it was a windless night, smoke had blanketed the harbour by halfway through the show. An amateur photographer, C. P. Chan, said: “I took pictures and the smoke started to get in the way after just 10 photos.”
But another spectator, Lois Wong Yu-siu, 19, said: “The combination of the music and fireworks matched.”
Alex Tsang said he was disappointed because it was quite smoky.
Still, he is hopeful about the Year of the Ox.
“My new year wish is for a pay rise so that I can get married soon,” the sales representative said.
Restaurants, too, were optimistic. Several said that business was holding up during the Lunar New Year holiday.
More shops were open than a year ago, too, though there was both a positive and a negative reason for that, said Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the Retail Management Association.
On the one hand, a rise in tourists made it more worthwhile opening, but on the other hand they were forced to open because they needed every opportunity to earn the money to pay ever higher rents, she said.
Away from the festivities, pan-democrats petitioned Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen – who is on holiday – with their wishes for the Year of the Ox, and reminded him he had a tough year’s work ahead.
The Hong Kong Observatory issued the cold weather warning for the fifth consecutive day.
Urban temperature hovered around 12 degrees Celsius. In the northwestern New Territories they dipped to 8 degrees. Warmer weather is forecast for today.