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    In Hong Kong, the celebrations to welcome in the Chinese New Year have begun. This?

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    In Hong Kong, the celebrations to welcome in the Chinese New Year have begun. This year will be known as the Year of the Snake -- according to Chinese ???, it will be a year of wise solutions to political and diplomatic problems.

    SYNOPSIS: Hundreds of thousands of people left Hong Kong for China to celebrate with relatives and friends. The mainland Chinese should have had a successful year last year, but the country was sent reeling by the death of Mao Tse-Tung, political rioting, a power struggle and the world's worst earthquake this century.

    For those who remain in Hong Kong over the festive season, the celebrations follow a traditional pattern. The snake is considered a fundamentally beneficial creature, if only because it can be eaten and used to make medicine. Consequently, the people pray to the Gods and ancestors for a more prosperous time in the year ahead.

    Some say the next year is also for lovers and many young women have apparently been praying to find suitable husbands.

    As in the European Christmas and New Year festivities, the Chinese have their own version of a celebration tree. But instead of a fir tree, the Chinese take home potted plants. These are decorated with large cuttings from peach blossom trees and laden with sweets and gifts.

    Meanwhile the most pressing problem for the government is the expansion of its housing programme -- with the aim of providing new homes for more than 200,000 people every year by the early 1970s. But problems like the chronic overcrowding on the island are forgotten, temporarily at least. The people concentrate more on the special food they're buying for the celebrations. That includes sweet cakes and fresh water fish ... accompanied by large quantities of brandy.

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    Reuters - Including Visnews
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