Houston Community News >> Asians Greet the Year of the Pig with Feasts

2/18/2007 AP--Asians flocked to temples, parks and Disneyland on Sunday to pray, play, eat, and celebrate the first day of the Lunar New Year, ushering in the Year of the Pig.

At Beijing's Lama and White Cloud temples, faithful burned incense and tossed coins at incense burners in the hope one would land in the pot and bring them good luck for the year ahead.

Chinese New Year in Shanghai, China

At a traditional fair in Beijing's Ditan Park, performers sang folk songs and snippets of Peking opera for throngs of people snaking through the park, many carrying balloons and pinwheels. Vendors sold pork dumplings and other treats, such as freshly made caramel candy sculpted into portly pig shapes.

The pig is one of 12 animals (or mythical animals in the case of the dragon) on the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, which follows the lunar calendar.

According to Chinese astrology, people born in pig years are polite, honest, hardworking and loyal. They are also supposed to be lucky, which is why many Chinese like to have babies in a pig year.

Across China, revelers ushered in the New Year Saturday night and early Sunday morning with firecrackers and fireworks - an ancient New Year tradition meant to drive away bad luck and scare off evil spirits.

In Beijing, the streets were littered with tattered red paper and the cardboard casings from spent fireworks.

At least 125 people were reported injured by fireworks in the capital, including one person who lost their eyes, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao made separate visits to remote villages in poorer areas, chatting and cooking with locals in far western Gansu and northern Liaoning provinces.

Such trips have become an annual ritual for the leadership - part of efforts to show that the government cares about those living in the countryside, where incomes average only $US400 ($A510) a year.

Hu fried dough twists with farmers on the outskirts of Gansu's Dingxi city, helped cut traditional door decorations from red paper and received a basket of potatoes from a poor farmer, state media said.

China's booming economic growth in the last several decades has pulled hundreds of millions out of poverty, but a growing wealth gap in recent years has exposed cracks that Hu and his government have acknowledged threatens social stability.

In Hong Kong, the normally bustling streets were virtually empty as families gathered for feasts of chicken and hot pots piled high with pork, shrimp and vegetables. People crowded into temples where the air was thick with clouds of eye-stinging incense.

At Hong Kong Disneyland, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse shed their usual Western clothes and wore traditional Chinese clothing. Mickey wore a red beanie with a matching silk shirt trimmed in gold. Minnie showed off a bright red cheongsam - a tight-fitting Chinese dress.

Instead of the usual Disney movie tunes, speakers in the park played classical Chinese music. There was also a loud clattering of cymbals and drums as a traditional dragon dance wound its way around the park.

In Taiwan, worshippers gathered at temples all around the island, holding incense sticks and bowing in the direction of Buddhist and Taoist deities in an effort to secure good luck throughout the coming year.

President Chen Shui-bian handed out traditional red envelopes to well-wishers in his home village of Hsi Chuang and prayed in a local temple with his mother.

In South Korea, major highways were congested as millions of Koreans began the journey home after visiting their hometowns for the New Year.

More than 340,000 cars were expected to enter the capital, Seoul, from other parts of the country, six per cent more than the average volume on a weekend day, according to Korea Highway Corp.

The Lunar New Year is also celebrated in North Korea, where school children put on a performance of "folk games, dances and songs full of optimism and enthusiasm," and expressed hope the country's leader, Kim Jong Il, would enjoy a day of rest, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking during his weekly appearance from his studio window overlooking St Peter's Square in Rome, sent his wishes to everyone celebrating the Lunar New Year.

"I wish with all my heart serenity and prosperity to all those great peoples," the pope told pilgrims gathered in the square on Sunday.

(Contributed by AP)