Tuesday marked the start of the Year of the Horse, and according to the Manila Times, it could be a rough ride. "Fortune-tellers warn 2002 will be marked by conflict, disasters such as fires and floods and possibly greater incidence of heart and blood circulation problems. … [A]nything eastern could be in trouble and a possible flashpoint, including the Middle East, East Asia or Eastern Europe."
Across Asia, sluggish economic conditions made for a stressful holiday. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported that in Vietnam, pressure to give expensive presents and delicacies to relatives is so intense that "cash-strapped Vietnamese have taken to selling their blood to make ends meet during Tet." The Hong Kong iMail said that falling property prices, flaccid retail sales, and the lingering financial crisis have shaken Hong Kongers' confidence: "In our minds, we feel sorry for ourselves and dream of a quieter, less stressful time when life was good and making money was easy." China is still buoyant, however. Singapore's Straits Times reported, "Long queues could be seen at popular restaurants as businessmen invite their customers, agents and other associates to lunch or dinner to thank them for their support in the past year."
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark chose the Lunar New Year to make a formal apology to the Chinese community for the country's history of discriminatory immigration policies. Between 1881 and 1944, Chinese immigrants were obliged to pay a poll tax of £100—a sum equivalent to as much as 10 years' work—to enter New Zealand. According to the New Zealand Herald, Clark also hinted that this was just the first step in the reconciliation process. An op-ed in the Herald said that by formally acknowledging past injustices, the prime minister "put New Zealand ahead of the United States, Canada and Australia, which share similar anti-Chinese historic wrongs." Chinese immigrants were the only migrants required to pay the poll tax, which "ensured that the Chinese community was one of bachelors, unable to grow and incapable of sinking roots for decades," since most lacked the funds to bring out a wife. The op-ed concluded that although the apology was almost certainly an election-year ploy to win over Chinese voters, it represents "a step forward and, as such, should be supported by all."