New Year celebrations end on a 'black' note

HONGKONG took an unofficial holiday yesterday as the customary end to the New Year celebrations fell on a ''black day'' - the first of about 30 every year in the Chinese calendar.

Returning to work and opening businesses yesterday would have been an inauspicious start to the Year of the Rooster.

Celebrations are forbidden on one of the days ''when the sun and the moon work against each other in the Chinese calendar configuration'', according to a fung shui expert.

And so instead of returning to work, families were out in force.

A total of 8,461 soccer fans queued from the MTR to the Mongkok Stadium to see Hongkong beaten 2-3 by Switzerland in the Carlsberg Cup final.

As the stadium's limit is 8,500, the gates were closed and several hundred late-comers were turned away to avoid over-crowding, a subject of deep concern since the New Year's Eve tragedy.

But fun seekers who flocked to Ocean Park were caught in a day-long ''crush''.

According to the park's chief executive, Mr Darrell Metzger, about 20,000 people went through the turnstiles - 5,000 fewer than on Monday, an official public holiday.

While Mr Metzger said there were no reports of crowd control problems on what he said was a ''routine busy day'', a shaken visitor disagreed.

An expatriate resident and his two children were caught in a crush at the junction of three paths immediately after the 1.30 pm performance in the Ocean Theatre.

''If that crowd is acceptable to the management of Ocean Park and they think there was no danger, they should ask Mr Justice Bokhary to take two small children there on a Lunar New Year weekend,'' he said.

''The stands of the theatre were packed to the rafters and people with small children filled the narrow aisles.

''As soon as the show finished, everyone started walking downhill towards the rides and shark aquarium, with one stream moving from the top exit of the theatre and another from the bottom, near the pool.

''Unfortunately, they met at a junction where a similar stream of people were trying to make their way up the hill.

''It reminded me of Lan Kwai Fong: a junction of three narrow streets, a reasonably steep slope and a very dense collection of humanity.

''The only obvious difference, and one that saved the day as far as I and my children were concerned, were two Ocean Park attendants standing on a flower bed screaming at people through loud-hailers to stay calm, stop shoving and keep left.

''After a few frantic minutes in which it was obvious everyone was scared, the streams intertwined until the danger passed,'' he said.

He believed there were too many people in the park, citing very long queues at toilets, cable cars and for rides.

''As soon as one huge group of mainland tourists boarded the cable cars for the ride down, two more arrived,'' he said.

Mr Metzger said no complaints were received yesterday or Monday, adding ''we've been doing it for 16 years now, we know what to anticipate''. He said crowd control plans were drawn up for every special occasion or traditional busy period, such as Lunar New Year.

The management was also in ''constant contact'' with police at Aberdeen, who would be called in if there were any problems.

An officer at Aberdeen Division said police rarely entered the park as it was private property and crowd control was left to security guards.

They would go in when requested, he said.

While the scene at Ocean Park was described as wall-to-wall people, the attendance was well below the record of 27,000 six years ago.

At border points, huge numbers of people flooded through on the fourth day of the New Year.

Another 138,120 left the territory yesterday.

Lowu saw 50,007 people go across, while control points at Kai Tak and Macau Ferry Terminal recorded 28,813 and 27,140 departures respectively.

Meanwhile, 152,731 people returned, bringing the total of incoming people since Monday last week to 741,533.

This is only slightly more than half of the 1,387,160 people who had travelled out of Hongkong during the same period.