Asia-Pacific cities first to usher in New Year
CANBERRA, Australia— Sydney’s iconic opera house and harbor bridge will sparkle with tons of exploding fireworks, while smog concerns have dampened such pyrotechnic displays in at least one polluted Chinese city and Japanese temples will ring 108 times as Asia-Pacific countries become the first to usher in the New Year.
Sydney officials promised that the Australian city’s annual world-renowned pyrotechnics show would be more extravagant than ever, with more than 1.6 million revelers expected to line the harbor Tuesday for a view.
In the Philippines, more than 260 people had been injured by firecracker blasts and celebratory gunfire in the days ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, one of Asia’s most violent revelries.
Department of Health spokesman Dr. Eric Tayag said he expected the number of injuries to rise sharply when Filipinos ignite powerful firecrackers to bid goodbye to a year marked by tragic disasters, including a powerful Nov. 8 typhoon that left more than 6,100 dead and nearly 1,800 others missing.
In Sydney, the fireworks will be launched from four sails of the Sydney Opera House for the first time in more than a decade.
The local council said the secret fireworks feature that will erupt on the Sydney Harbor Bridge will be twice the size of last year’s centerpiece of the show.
China was planning to count down to the New Year with light shows at two spectacular and historic locations — part of the Great Wall near Beijing and at the Bund waterfront in Shanghai.
In Beijing, one flower shop manager said he hoped the new year brought more customers.
“Since the government started its campaign to crack down on luxury spending and promote frugality, our business with government agencies has been in decline,” said Mao Xiangfei, 30. “In the past, government clients accounted for about 10 percent of our business, but now it’s zero.”
But in one polluted Chinese city, the celebrations were slated to be quieter as authorities in Wuhan in central Hubei province, which is three hours behind Sydney, called off their annual New Year fireworks show and banned fireworks in downtown areas because of worries about making the smoggy air worse.
In Japan, which is two hours behind Sydney, thousands of visitors, some donning kimono, will pray, ring a bell and toss coins as offerings at shrines across the nation on Tuesday night, wishing for health, wealth and happiness. Temple bells will ring the customary 108 times, for the 108 causes of suffering according to Buddhism, and welcome in the Year of the Horse.
Japanese are hopeful about the economy for the first time in years after some signs of revival under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose easing lending policies and pump-priming measures have been dubbed “Abenomics.”
Among those upbeat about what the new year might bring is Junya Sakata, a 23-year-old Tokyo waiter looking forward to taking sommelier classes next year so he can move up in his career.
“I hope the economy will keep improving, building up to the 2020 Olympics,” he said, referring to Tokyo’s recent win to host the games. “So many things happened this year, but I was able to grow. Maybe next year I will find a girlfriend.”
In North Korea, a group of tourists, including Americans, planned to watch fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square and watch the Pyongyang Bell strike midnight, said Andrea Lee, CEO of Uritours, a tour group specializing in travel to North Korea.
“There were a lot of people out on the streets today for an outdoor dance event, and cars filled the streets,” Lee said.
In Hong Kong tens of thousands will turn out to watch the fireworks display over the southern Chinese city’s famed Victoria Harbor.
An eight-minute show of pyrotechnics will be fired off near the Kowloon peninsula and from the tops of seven skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. A British colonial-era canon will be fired at midnight in another New Year tradition dating from the end of World War II.
In Indonesia, New Year celebrations are widespread except in the city of Banda Aceh where Islamic clerics prohibit Mulsims from celebrating New Year’s Eve.
In the capital, Jakarta, Governor Joko Widodo will lead a festival featuring concerts, parades, a marching band and fireworks.
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