, FEBRUARY 18, 2007 (MANILA BULLETINR) By BRENDA PIQUERO TUAZON - Hundreds of millions travel in China for New Year rites Dragon dances, merrymaking mark celebration!

Firecracker explosions were loudest not only across East Asia but also in Chinese communities throughout the major capitals of the world last night to hail the arrival of the Chinese New Year of the Fire Pig swathed in traditions, amid the ringing of temple bells and the burning of incense to honor family ancestors.

As in every Chinese New Year celebration, the Year of the Pig sets off one of the world’s biggest number of visitors to China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, not only among fellow Asians, but also among tourists from Europe and the United States.

In Manila yesterday afternoon, continuing a tradition began by Manila Mayor Jose Atienza Jr. almost nine years ago, lion and dragon dances snaking through the crowded main thoroughfares of Binondo highlighted the city’s Chinese New Year’s Eve yearly celebration.

By midnight, millions of Chinese families had gathered in various temples to light their first incense in accordance with family tradition and rituals.

In Binondo, long lines of Chinese families rose by the hour until past midnight as families wearing red clothes patiently queued up inside temples, picking designated numbers of joss sticks along the way to light the main altars.

Families did not just visit one temple, but one after the other in various places in Metro Manila, offering incense to the gods of their households, and giving thanks to their ancestors.

Following the temple visits, families gathered at dining tables filled with food and fruits, especially mandarin oranges and pineapple, for their Chinese New Year reunion that included married children working overseas who came home to continue a time-honored family tradition.

After the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, parents and grandparents began distributing red envelopes called "Hong Bao" for their children and grandchildren to attract rising fortunes in the Year of the Pig.

The cash inside the "Hong Bao" is kept by receivers in their pockets the whole day today and are not supposed to be spent.

Rev. Wong Seng Tian of the Sheng Lian Temple, said the general picture of the Year of the Pig may not be very productive for the country, but China’s economy will continue to rise steeply which could extend benefits to its Southeast Asian neighbors.

He noted that not much change is expected in the nation’s political scene, adding that while there are efforts to improve the country’s peace and order, "stability will still be a problem."

"The country’s economy may be better than the last two years as claimed, but the improvement is still below par. Unemployment still lingers, and the benefit of better economy is not felt because workers’ takehome pay is not sufficient," Rev. Wong Seng Tian said.

He, however, cautioned that such predictions may not be final, but they should instead motivate government leaders to face up to the challenges.

At the same time, Joy Lim, a rising and much sought-after "feng shui" consultant, said that a knowledge of what to expect in the Year of the Pig, "would be a helpful tool in looking forward to a more positive 2007."

"Remember that the fat, happy pig is the ‘laughing Buddha’ among the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac, an animal that is naturally pleased in whatever it does," Lim said.

She also cited the importance of earthly colors, "2007 being the Year of the Fire Pig under which earthly colors are believed to be auspicious."

"Colors are everywhere and always carry a rich amount of meaning and significance, and since ancient times, the color red has always been considered to be most powerful among the Chinese," Lim said.

She explained that red is a compelling symbol of strength and power, "that can very well relate to happiness and prosperity."

By wearing red, she said, the wearer "invites luck to those around you as well as to yourself."

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, Lim said: "Having said what may or may not happen in the Year of the Pig according to ‘feng shui’ which is the art of placement, one thing is important. We must be positive with how we treat others and all those around us. Above all, let us not forget to always put our faith in God the Almighty for a peaceful, healthy, and abundant Chinese New Year ahead."

Chinese hit the road for annual New Year mass migration By SCOTT McDONALD

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese are on the move.

Hundreds of millions of people have clambered aboard cars, buses, planes and trains to return to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year in an annual event that stretches the country’s transport system to near its breaking point.

And they will be doing it in the warmest weather on record, according to the Beijing Meteorological Station, which said Beijing’s temperature on the eve of the festival would reach 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) _ the warmest since records began in 1951.

The Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, starts on Sunday to usher in the Year of the Pig, but the Chinese have been preparing and boarding trains and planes for the last several weeks to go home for family reunions.

The travel strain has increased in recent years as tens of millions of migrant workers flood big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai in search of construction and other jobs.

Such workers can seldom afford to fly, instead crowding into places like the Beijing West Train Station to board trains for trips of up to 35 hours.

"I am feeling very happy because I can join my family soon and I can see many old friends in my hometown. We will celebrate a happy New Year together," said Liu Juanhong, a migrant worker in Beijing heading home to Henan province.

Liu is one of an estimated 155 million people who will travel by train during the holiday period, which is officially one week but lasts longer for some.

The People’s Daily said the total number of trips _ including by plane, train, ship and vehicle -- could total more than 2 billion during the 40 days around the holiday. To avoid the crunch, many people leave early or return late.

Chinese media have reported in the past that because of the crunch on the trains, some people have bought adult diapers to avoid the long lines outside the often stinking toilets.

Airlines were expected to have run more than 4,000 flights during these two weeks leading up to New Year, with the departure area of the Beijing airport brimming with travelers.

"I go back home every Chinese New Year. It is very important for Chinese, just as Christmas is for Westerners," said Wu Xingbiao at the Beijing airport.

Police issued cautions warning people to be careful of pickpockets. Travelers often carry large amounts of money to give children New Years gifts of "hong bao," cash-filled red envelopes.

In Singapore, lawmakers sing alongside "God of Fortune" By DERRICK HO & GILLIAN WONG

SINGAPORE (AP) — Against the backdrop of Singapore’s city skyline, the bearded 20-meter- (70-foot-) tall Chinese deity dressed in a red imperial gown and a large hat smiles benevolently at the crowds gazing up at him from beneath his abundant waistline.

The towering effigy of the Cai Shen, or God of Fortune, is a highlight of an annual event by the Singapore River launched Friday with booming gold-and-red fireworks to mark the start of the city-state’s Lunar New Year celebrations.

Hotel manager Kenneth Teo, 50, said he was there for only one reason _ to ask the Cai Shen for divine help in striking it big.

"I ‘saw’ the numbers that the Cai Shen gave me so I bought lottery tickets. I am ready to collect my money over the weekend," Teo said, but declined to explain what he had seen, saying it could jinx his chances.

But the three-week event, named River Hongbao _ which combines its location with a reference to the "hongbao," Mandarin for "red packet," in which money is exchanged between families as a gesture of goodwill and kinship _ offers more than lottery numbers.

"It’s also a platform for tourists to come in to see our people and our culture, to showcase Singapore," said Fatimah Lateef, an ethnic Malay parliamentarian who joined a dozen lawmakers in performing a medley of three popular Chinese New Year songs in Mandarin.

The island-state of 4.5 million people, where the Chinese make up a 77 percent-majority, rose from a malarial backwater to prosperity as a tightly controlled manufacturing hub with one of the busiest ports in the world. Competition from re-emerging China, however, has prompted Singapore to boost tourism.

Singapore’s historic Chinatown, an area which stands in stark contrast to the polished skyscrapers of the financial district that surrounds it, has been dressed up to meet visitors. Bargain hunters haggle with sellers of dried duck, chicken, sweet barbecued pork and other Lunar New Year fare under rows of decorative red lanterns.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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