Lunar New Year travel rush hits Hong Kong

More than eight million passengers will pass through Hong Kong's air, land and sea crossings this Lunar New Year holiday period, with many families reuniting at the airport today.
Joe Yau picked his mother up at Hong Kong's airport on Friday after she arrived from Indonesia. They were one of many families reuniting for Lunar New Year. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC News)

Hong Kong International Airport was the scene of much hugging, kissing and cheek pinching today as families reunited for the Chinese New Year holiday.

The holiday period will see an estimated 8.18 million passengers pass through Hong Kong's land, air, and sea crossings, according to the government. That's an 11 per cent increase over last year, and while the bulk of those passengers are travelling by land, the airport had a lot of people coming and going.

Children, cheeks freshly pinched by relatives, happily rode atop piles of luggage on baggage carts and some, such as Chloe Cheng, were towing their own bags. The four-year-old was all dressed up and heading to Beijing to see her father, with her Minnie Mouse suitcase in hand.

Joe Yau was excited to see his mother in the arrivals hall after she flew in from Jakarta, and he's looking forward to Chinese New Year festivities in the days ahead.

"It's one of the biggest festivals for Chinese. We're going to enjoy it with family, we're going to share our happiness with lots of red pockets, a lot of Chinese food like dumplings," he said.

"We're going to eat a lot and see our friends," said Yau, who went to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and then came back to Hong Kong.

Red envelopes filled with money are traditionally given to young people during Lunar New Year, and according to teenager Stephen Lau, they are the best part of the whole holiday.

"It's really good," he said as he waited for a flight to Dubai for a vacation with his family. He usually collects between $250 and $385, but doesn't rush out and blow it on gifts for himself. Lau said he saves it. With some prompting, he admitted spending time with family is another good part of Lunar New Year.

Seeing family was the highlight of Kevin Lee's trip home to Hong Kong from Toronto, where he has lived for almost 20 years. He came back before the holiday crush and was returning to Toronto on Friday.

"It's a wonderful crowd of people with lots of joy, people are always happy, red pockets everywhere, people just celebrating," he said about Lunar New Year. "The whole atmosphere, you can feel people really enjoy gathering and lots of talking, family, food. All kinds of stuff."

Lee hadn't seen his relatives in Hong Kong in seven years. "We really enjoyed every moment we had."

CBC in Hong Kong

Meagan Fitzpatrick has been posted to Hong Kong to bolster CBC's coverage of a dynamic region of the world.

Hong Kong is known as an international financial centre, but there is much more to it than that, and it has close connections to Canada. The city of seven million hosts nearly 300,000 Canadians, and about 500,000 people of Hong Kong descent make their home in Canada. Meagan is a senior online writer who covers national news and federal politics in CBC's Ottawa bureau.

Connie Lee also said the "happy atmosphere" during the holiday is the best part about it, as well as seeing relatives.

"There is lots of talking and drinking wine, Chinese wine," she emphasized. "It's really good."

She was setting off to see her grandparents in mainland China – and bringing her boyfriend with her for the first time. He denied that he was nervous about meeting the relatives.

Millions of Chinese in Hong Kong and on the mainland travel during Lunar New Year, and one Chinese media outlet reported that the travel rush hit a peak on Thursday and set a new record: 100 million trips in a single day on the country's roads, railways and airport runways.

Friday was expected to be the peak day for people leaving Hong Kong by land, with about 327,000 passengers expected to depart. The land crossings will be busy again on Feb. 13, when people will come back and return to work the next day.

New Year's Day is Sunday, and people in Hong Kong will ring in the Year of the Snake with a parade that night. The celebrations continue on Monday with an elaborate fireworks display along Victoria Harbour. A 23-minute pyrotechnic display, that will also include a laser show this year, will light up the sky, set to music that will feature Psy's hit Gangnam Style.