Hong Kong shares open slightly higher

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE - HONG KONG -AP

Hong Kong stocks be­gan with fresh gains, ex­tend­ing the pre­vi­ous day's rally, fol­low­ing an­other pos­i­tive lead from Wall Street and Europe.

The Hang Seng In­dex rose 0.49 per­cent, or 123.63 points, to 25,470.97. The bench­mark Shang­hai Com­pos­ite In­dex ticked up 0.09 per­cent, or 3.13 points, to 3,441.93, while the Shen­zhen Com­pos­ite In­dex on China's se­cond ex­change edged up 0.08 per­cent, or 1.83 points, to 2,289.16.

Once the pre­serve of men and con­sumed in rit­u­al­is­tic cer­e­monies by vil­lagers and chiefs alike, Fi­jian tra­di­tional drink kava is at­tract­ing a new mar­ket as coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions prompt more women to sam­ple the mildly nar­cotic brew.

Kava, known in Fiji as yaqona, is an es­sen­tial part of South Pa­cific cul­ture, used through­out the re­gion for re­lax­ation and stress re­lief. The root of the kava plant is ground, mixed with wa­ter and then strained to pro­duce a gritty grey liq­uid. First-time users some­times liken the taste to muddy wa­ter but the drink's ef­fect is un­de­ni­able, a mild numb­ing of the mouth and a gen­eral feel­ing of calm­ness.

"We drink it be­cause our grand­fa­thers drank it, our great-grand­fa­thers drank it," said Ka­iava Davui, a gar­dener who reg­u­larly has kava on the week­ends.

"We talk, share ideas. It takes away stresses." It is ubiq­ui­tous in all lay­ers of Fi­jian so­ci­ety-vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries such as Bri­tain's Prince Harry sup at cer­e­monies along­side chiefs, while in ru­ral vil­lages groups of men can of­ten be seen gath­ered around a bowl of "grog".

But for the most part it has been a cus­tom for men only. Now, most of the tra­di­tional, male-dom­i­nated kava cer­e­monies have been cur­tailed be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

They typ­i­cally go into the early hours but Fiji is cur­rently un­der a 11pm-4am cur­few, as it seeks to con­tinue its suc­cess in pre­vent­ing com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion of the virus and keep­ing ac­tive cases down to sin­gle fig­ures.

To min­imise the risk of trans­mis­sion, there was also a tem­po­rary ban on shar­ing the bilo, the com­mu­nal cup from which the kava is sipped. But the re­stric­tions have en­cour­aged new meth­ods of im­bib­ing-and brought new con­sumers to the drink. "Hip­ster favourite - Kava bars-in­spired by out­lets in the United States, where some hip­sters have turned to kava as a sooth­ing sub­sti­tute to booze-have popped up in Fiji.

Weta Cof­fee, in the cap­i­tal Suva, fea­tures a kava bar at one of its cafés, of­fer­ing bowls of in­stant kava made from a pow­der that read­ily mixes with wa­ter.

Weta di­rec­tor Mue Bent­ley-Fisher said the bars of­fered an al­ter­na­tive to the mas­cu­line cul­ture around kava in Fiji.

"Groups of young women are com­ing in. They feel safe drink­ing kava here," she said.

At Mauri Kava Deal­ers, owner Keti Suli Han­nah Bale­nacagi said the bev­er­age was an im­por­tant part of her so­cial cir­cle's gath­er­ings.

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