Asia-Pacific Cities First To Usher In New Year

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.

The mood will be more subdued in the Philippines, which is three hours behind Sydney, where the lives of millions of people remain disrupted by Typhoon Haiyan.

The Nov. 8 storm killed more than 6,100 people in the eastern Philippines, displaced at least 4 million others and left its most gruesome mark on Tacloban, a city of 240,000 that will need years to recover.

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.

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."

The Tokyo Stock Exchange closed the year at a six-year high, rising nearly 60 percent, a jump unseen in four decades — although a leading business newspaper warned in a New Year's Eve editorial that more reforms will be needed to sustain the growth.

Among those upbeat about what the new year might bring is Junya Sakata, a 23-year-old waiter at a Tokyo restaurant who is 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. "We were told that this New Year, local fishermen are being celebrated for their accomplishments, as more fish were caught in the East Sea this year than in the past 30 years."

In Hong Kong, which is three hours behind Sydney, 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. Revelers will also celebrate by riding the streets in cars and on motorbikes honking horns.


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