Hongkongers infusing tech and Western elements into Lunar New Year celebrations

Fashion designers, malls – even bakeries – in the city are celebrating the Chinese holiday with fusion looks and tastes that incorporate the East with the West

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 9:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 1:34pm

Lunar New Year is traditionally a time when auspicious Chinese motifs are plastered everywhere, along with big splashes of garish red and gold. Malls and department stores wheel out

cherry blossoms and god of wealth statues, along with shelves brim with red candy trays and sticky rice cake.

Breaking with tradition this year, the atrium of the Cityplaza mall in Taikoo Shing has been festooned with hanging lanterns inscribed with blessings to welcome the Year of the Monkey. The arrival of the orange sky lanterns – which originate from Taiwan – coincides with the recent opening of the Taiwan-based book retailer Eslite at Cityplaza.

Besides the usual festive elements, the mall’s Lunar New Year decor this year boasts a strong technological flair, with a huge 3D lantern-shaped screen displaying shoppers’ messages to their loved ones. Kieran Bowers, general manager of Cityplaza, says the hi-tech display is part of a move to boost the mall’s presence on social media.

“Visitors can [use social media to] make use of our digital screen to send personalised greetings. Instead of using monkeys, we brought in the Taiwanese sky lantern festival to create a homey feel.”

Bowers concedes that the mall has been slower than others to jump on the social media bandwagon – they just launched an Instagram account recently and a Facebook page last June – but they’re working to catch up.

Another embracing the hi-tech approach to Lunar New Year displays this year is IFC Mall in Central. Forrest Cheuk Chi-wai designed a bamboo- and monkey-themed decor for the upscale mall, and says his clients have increasingly been asking for fusion decorations mixing elements of East and West.

“Traditional mall decorations, with bright red assaulting the senses, are no longer in vogue,” he says.

The designer installed a bamboo forest – symbolising longevity and tenacity in Chinese culture – in the mall. Seen from the higher floors, a lighting effect has been used to give the appearance of a monkey moving through the forest. Other hi-tech displays throughout the mall repeat the moving monkey motif.

“We use a technology called scanimation, imported from the US, to create the illusion of moving monkeys. Unlike other animations, which are shown on a flat screen, scanimation allows us to present a panoramic, 360-degree view of the monkey on a column,” Cheuk says, noting that malls have ramped up attractions.

In Causeway Bay, Fashion Walk has represented the monkey motif in a digital format. Berlin and Vancouver-based art trio, eBoy, known for their pixel art, was invited to Hong Kong to spice up the mall with their pixellated makeovers of a monkey and the Chinese gods of fortune, prosperity and longevity. The group’s four three-metre-tall pixellated figures stand proud around the mall. An exhibition of the group’s work in pixellated cityscapes, called the Pixorama series, including a new one inspired by Causeway Bay, is also on display.

Hotels and bakeries are also embracing fusion in their festive offerings; chefs have launched lines of traditional seasonal Chinese delicacies fused with fare from other countries.

Arome Bakery has presented a New Year pudding made with cheese. The city’s Shangri-La hotels, meanwhile, have introduced a New Year pudding made with Japanese matcha and Hokkaido red beans. Other ingredients include Hawaiian purple sweet potatoes and Korean brown sugar and melon seed.

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The Grand Hyatt has prepared a fusion menu of 12 seasonal festive dishes. Named after Lunar New Year phrases, the dishes include stir-fried morel mushrooms filled with shrimp mousse. Another fusion offer is pan-fried foie gras with chilli, ginger and spring onions, served with Chinese rice wine sauce.

Denise Wai, a chef at Dining Plus, which supplies local department stores and takes online orders, says her fusion creations were inspired by her background.

“My dad is a traditional Chinese chef, and I had my training in the UK and lived in Canada,” she says.

“Fusion is a style that appeals to Hongkongers. In 2012, I launched a line of foodstuffs under my own name brand. That was when I started making fusion products like Thai tom yum goong turnip cake with lemongrass. Other inventions have included matcha New Year pudding with North American pistachio. The mashed pistachio is sandwiched between the green tea cake. Last year, the highlight was beetroot New year pudding. This year, we’re making the turnip cake with Italian salami sausage and Korean spicy sauce.”

Fashion designer Ranee Kwok is also embracing fusion for the Lunar New Year, with a vogue range of clothing. The qipao in her Wong Chuk Hang studio is fashioned from leather and leopard-patterned cloth.

“The qipao is a traditional Chinese garment, but fashion-conscious young women also want to look cool in a qipao. Women in the past mostly preened and sat still. Modern women are busy and always on the move,” she says. “The design is not just for aesthetics, but also functionality. In place of the buttons on the qipao, I have sewn in a zipper so it takes less time to do up. The zipper goes all the way down to the side opening. For other designs, I put pockets on the front for wearers to store their belongings.”

Although Kwok studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York, her designs still have strong elements of oriental culture.

Kwok says a cheongsam is a popular choice for women during the Lunar New Year.

“They like to choose happy colours like green, yellow and orange. Mothers and children also come together for matching outfits. I’ve started designing children’s wear too, because my son was born six years ago.”

She says there’s no reason for being so rigid with tradition, although cultural elements can still be retained with style.

“Traditional children’s wear for Chinese New Year, like the Chinese-styled cotton-padded jacket, can be boring. So I design more interesting things, like pleated skirts made of cloth with ethnic minority motifs.”