Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Of Buns and Floating Children

Steaming white buns stamped with red.  Crowds spilling all over the small island.  Children in intricate costumes "floating" down the main street in the parade.  The pounding of drums.  Lion dancers.  Lots and lots of lion dancers.

Yes, this post is a little late.  Cheung Chau's Bun Festival was back in the beginning of May.  But I had such a good time there that I didn't want to leave it without a post.  So here it is!

It was a public holiday, so I didn't have to work the Monday of the Bun Festival.  I ignored the advice of countless people and decided to make the journey to Cheung Chau.  I heard that it would be a nightmare of sweaty crowds and unending ferry queues.  While it was crowded (I heard around 20,000 people descended on the island), it wasn't quite that bad.  Maybe the slight rain kept the crowds at a fairly manageable size.  Either way, I was happy.  I waited for less than an hour to board the ferry on both ends, and I even had a good view of the parade (although maybe it was just good luck; I'll get into that later).  

I met up with my sister and three friends at the ferry piers in Central in the morning.  The parade was supposed to start in the afternoon, and we wanted to catch lunch as well as grab a good spot well before it started.  We were lucky enough to get seats on the ferry ride over; some people had to stand the whole way.

Goodbye, Hong Kong Island!

When we arrived at Cheung Chau, the crowds were out in force.  We were all starving at that point so tried find a nice place to eat.  I had looked up a restaurant on the internet, but it appeared to be closed.  Another one nearby looked nice, but it was full.  We were tired of fighting the crowds and getting a little "hranky" (you know, hungry and cranky?) at that point.  Thankfully, I remembered that a friend suggested going to a restaurant on the back of the island.  The others didn't have faith in me when I had them walk across the beach and down some people-less paths, but finally we made it to the restaurant!  They forgave me then, because it was so nice.  The tables were outside, overlooking a windsurfing beach.  It was quiet and beautiful, a great place to chill and talk.

Much happier now.

After eating, we plunged back into the crowds to stake a spot for the parade.  We still had an hour before the parade was supposed to start, but we heard it was hard to find good places.  We went to the main square, but it was already filling up.  We were standing behind row upon row of people and couldn't see very well.  We squeezed around a corner onto another street.  It wasn't quite as crowded there, and I noticed that people were setting out chairs.  We figured that they must know something.  I saw a space in front of a shop that looked like a good place to stand, so I saved it while the others look for another place.  In fact, the shopkeeper next door even told Y that she should go watch the parade by the tree; it was a better place.  Of course, we had just been there and knew it was super crowded, so I think she was just trying to get rid of us.  

Now this is where my foreignness helped us out!  While I was saving our spot, several older people set up chairs in front of me, but they didn't say anything.  I suspect that they didn't speak English so they didn't know how to shoo me away.  Several groups of Cantonese people tried to get past them to stand  by me, but the old people waved them away.  Score!  Finally the others came back; no better spots had been found.  It really was perfect.  Since the old people were sitting down, no one was in our way.  We also had an awning over our heads, so when it started raining, we didn't get too wet. The only thing we were missing was a chair!
Eating a potato spiral

People chilling, waiting for the parade to start.

After waiting for an hour or so, the parade started.  I have to say, although this was the floating children's parade, the majority of the parade was people in t-shirts.  They'd have a couple lion dancers and drummers, and then a long crowd of people in matching t-shirts.  It was also amusing to me that a lot of the people in the parade were very casual.  I mean like smoking, texting, drinking beer, casual.  I don't think I've ever seen parade participants texting as they walked down the street before.  A bit amusing.

These guys were more serious

I like the action.  Note the beer can on the left.

It seemed that we had stumbled into the local viewing section of the parade, since the people around us kept waving to those in the parade, laughing together, changing seats to sit with someone else.  It was a nice experience.  We also noticed that the parade groups would often pause a little to our left and do a special trick or blow a kiss or something to the people sitting a shop or two down from us.  We were wondering who was sitting there.  Finally Y heard some people talking about it; all the kung fu sifus (masters) were sitting next to us!  

Of course, we were looking forward to the floating children (yes, not the people in t-shirts).  Although they were few and far between, it was very fun to see them!  Their costumes were great.  Some were historical and some had to do with current events (even poking fun at current events).  

In case you were wondering, they aren't really floating (darn it).  It looked like they were standing on a pole which also ran up their pant-leg and attached to a harness/belt around their waist.  Or something like that.  Anyway, up close you can see that they're standing, but from far off they did look like they were floating above the crowd!

They were all really cute.  Miss Brazil was definitely the most confident floating child.  She was waving and blowing kisses like nobody's business.  Then they had a mini bun-scrambler climbing his mini bun-mountain (the main activity of the festival is bun-scrambling).  So cute!  The little girl in blue and pink looked kind of scared but resolute.  And then Mr. Ga Ga in a suit.  I had asked my friend what his sign said, since he looked like one of the satyrical ones.  She said "ga1 ga3" but didn't know how to translate it. I was very happy because I knew the answer!  We had just learned the phrase "ga1 ga3" (yes, it sounds like a baby noise) in Canto class, so I knew it meant "increase price."  There's nothing like real-life application to make your learning stick.

After the parade, we ducked into a small dessert shop to relax and restore our energy.  After all, we had been standing for around three hours!  I felt better with some sugar in my system, so we went to find the bun towers.

Now the biggest event of the festival is not actually the parade but the bun-scrambling.  They have these huge towers totally covered with lucky buns!  They have a competition where men (do women do this too?  I've only seen men do it) scale the towers and see who can collect the most buns.  It sounds really exciting.  Unfortunately, the competition starts at midnight.  After a full morning and afternoon, I was definitely too tired to stay for the scrambling.  Next year I hope to go at 8 or 9 at night just to see the event.

At least I got a picture with a tower

Before we left, we tried to get more buns.  I looked for a sesame bun in vain (sesame is my favorite flavor).  I had a communication problem earlier when trying to buy some buns, so my hot "sesame" buns turned out to be cold lotus buns.  Well you can't win them all, but at least I persevere!  The others lined up to buy more buns (custard, I think).  While I was waiting for them, a lion dance started right next to me!  I've never been quite this close to the lion before.

The lion snatching up the lettuce

It was a good end to a nice (but tiring day).  We tramped back to the ferry (queuing for an hour) and wearily made our way home.  I can't wait for next year!

This little guy did make it home with me.  Now I'll have a lucky bun all year!