Posts Tagged ‘Chinese New Year’

Gong xi fa cai!

January 24, 2012
Happy Chinese New Year to all you Chinese out there…and to those like myself who always wish they could be just a little more culturally attached to it, as opposed to just simply interested. It’s a re-occurring theme for me, these different Chinese festivals and always feeling somewhat culturally envious about the tradition and thought behind everything celebrated. It is so much more than a bunch of people getting tanked then watching fireworks.

I was in Box Hill on Saturday afternoon, helping out my work who had a tent in the middle of all the goings on. It was quiet, with not many Chinese approaching the mostly whitey staff – and i got the feeling that when you’re definitively in the minority, the mostly Chinese crowd  just plain and simple cant be bothered speaking English. I was there for two hours and it passed by quickly, though it was disgustingly hot and humid, leaving me dripping with sweat.

In between speaking to several people, I simply stood there as an observer, people watching. That in itself was fun. You had everything from the Chinese families with their super cute face painted children, to the old pasty white men with their super young Chinese wives ($$..ick).

The festival always cracks me up – the tents on display are just not ‘festival’ – it’s more like a local trade show. Maybe you need to be Asian to appreciate it, but you have tents promoting everything from the post office, to pillows, to bank accounts. Of course there’s always the eye-test tests, and dvd stands and nowadays a plethora of Angry Bird plushie stands.

The definite highlight for me is the food, the lamb skewers in particular. And this year – even they were disappointing! I bought four (for a whopping ten bucks) and both were brimming with fat and only barely cooked – it’s as if they’re cranking out as many as humanly possible to make as much money as humanly possible. Of course as we got close in the queue, a Chinese guy pushed in front of me to order some for himself showing that yes, they’re not only rude bastards on the Mainland!

We didn’t really spend too much time walking around, it just wasn’t worth it. The festival attracts upwards of 80,000 people every year, and the narrow walkways through the tents are absolutely packed with people. Worse is the food street where you have even more people; all with eyes on the food stands and not where they’re walking! I tried a korean potato twist which was delicious – though a bit of a rip-off at five bucks, then a strawberry skewer covered in toffee…another five bucks..then a mango and coconut sago drink which was again, five bucks. So with a full belly and empty pockets, we headed home to wash our faces, as nothing quite makes you feel as disgusting as bloody humidity!

May your 2012 be prosperous!

Yeah baby!

And the highlight of the day....these awesome Chinese lion hand puppets!

It’s that Chinese New Year time of the year again

January 11, 2012

So it’s that time of the year again; when Box Hill sparkles with the glittering gold of polished plastic bullions, majestic sailing ships and…pineapples. Joining these items are several large coloured fake jade trout and piles upon piles of gift boxes containing chocolate wafers and cookies. This of course must mean that it’s almost Chinese New Year again.

I’d love to buy some of these items as a gaudy joke for several friends, but they’re expensive as hell! Gift boxes of cookies can go up to the $50-$80.00 marks, whilst god only knows how much the ships and fish sell for. When it comes to giving face gaining presents during the most important part of the Chinese year, the Chinese are not afraid to splash out.

I always like these festivals. My company will  have a tent at this year’s Box Hill festival, promoting our adult learning centre.  I’ve volunteered to be in the tent for an hour or two which should be a hoot, as some eighty thousand Chinese descend upon the town. We forgot about it last year, only hearing about it the weekend after, but this year it’s being held on the 21st of January and I expect to be well fed on cumin and chilli covered lamb skewers!

We went in 2010 and it was not bad. Despite the delicious array of stalls selling meat skewers and toffee covered fruit sticks, there was also an eclectic mix of vendors selling anything from pillows to bank accounts or promoting christianity. Around this, rival DVD stands attempted to blast each other away with thumping speakers cranked just beyond the distortion level – a level which most Chinese are seemingly immune to, as it’s something we on the Chinese almost daily.

There’s always a certain energy, colour and vibrancy to Chinese festivals, with the new year being the highlight of the year. If anything, it’s a chance to wander around and observe the Chinese doing what they do best..being Chinese, whilst stuffing my face with happiness.

Gong xi fa cai!

February 19, 2011

Gong xi fa cai! Yes I know, it’s well over-due, though I have been ridiculously busy and as a result tired as hell. I hope your year so far has been full of rabbity goodness, or if you happen to be from Vietnam…full of kitties. Yes I for one did not know Vietnam did not follow along with the same animalistic calendar as its Asian brethren, but there you go.

If you recall last year, I attended the Chinese New Year celebrations in Box Hill but this year – completely missed them. I did not realise they were even on until the weekend after. While the celebrations themselves were not actually all that good – unless you like perusing stalls selling anything from pillows to bank services, I did want to go up there for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s about the only time of year you can get the amazing chilli lamb meat skewers which we miss so badly from China. Chinese street food was simply amazing…amazing. I miss it almost daily. It was delicious and ridiculously cheap. While the meat skewers were the absolute bomb, I think it’s the sweet or salty flat-breads that were cooked on the inside of a 44 gallon drum which I miss the most. I must get around to contacting one of my former students and having them hunt down the recipe for these amazing little delights.

And secondly, I wanted to buy a new tacky Chinese New Year calendar to hang in the toilet. Yes because nothing quite amuses whilst doing your business than perusing the Chinese zodiac drawn by what must have been a five year old. Our previous one came to us from some friends travelling overseas, and was in fact from a local Chinese store in Manchester UK of all places. Don’t ever say my agendas are not interesting!

I always feel culturally jealous of the Chinese at times such as Chinese New Year. Whilst of course we have things like Christmas, Easter and our own New Years to celebrate, they are never so interesting, or rich with tradition as those of the Asian countries. I look at things such as Lantern festival and it reminds me how our mere hundreds of years of Australian culture completely pales in comparison to the five thousand years China has under its belt.

It’s probably silly, and I am not remotely religious, but I wish we too had our own cultural identity which extended beyond being known for our great beaches, and our love of watching sport whilst bent over a barbeque.

Sounds like luck.

January 25, 2011

As it gets closer to Chinese New Year, the local Asian supermarkets of Box Hill start to display a vast array of gimmicky golden goods available for purchase. These will appear on special benches set out front of the stores, signifying that a holiday event is coming.

From boxes of gaudily displayed mooncakes, to epic golden sailing ships, they each have their own individual meanings – none of them making any sense to the average westerner!

So lately one re-occurring item has grabbed my curiosity; the golden pineapple. These spikey tropical delights are often sitting on a bed of what looks to be gold ingots and had me thinking, what the hell is the significance of the pineapple? And who would buy it? Well of course there is a specific meaning behind it…and a very Chinesey one at that:

The Chinese sound of Pineapple is similar to “luck coming your way” and hence it has become an important symbol of good wealth, fortune and prosperity. The Pineapple can always be seen used in important Chinese festivities such as the Lunar new year or during birthdays of deities. This golden pineapple is accompanied by another symbol of good fortune – gold ingots.

Display the Golden Pineapple with Gold Ingots in your living room, bedroom, business premises, shops, offices, preferably in the Southeast corner (wealth corner) to enhance your wealth and money luck.

So there you have it-  because the Chinese word for Pineapple sounds like “luck coming your way”, it’s in turn lucky. I guess it’s lucky the word for ass doesn’t sound like wealth, or we’d be seeing a hell of lot more golden anuses than usual!

Fireworks -1, Ancient gate – 0

February 23, 2010

If you’ll look back through the months you’ll notice that I always seem to enjoy a good fireworks related incident – and well, I suppose it’s largely true. While of course I don’t take pleasure at other people’s misfortune, I can honestly say that mishaps using the largely uncontrolled fireworks never seem to disappoint – or possibly surprise would be more accurate way to describe it.

In downtown Zhengding County, Hebei Province, an ancient gate known as Changlemen has been burned to the ground in what the government says was fireworks or perhaps lantern related. Regardless of the cause, five officials have been held accountable, with three being insta-fired, another two receiving official warnings.

Thanks to Chinese New Year, this time of year is most definitely fireworks season, with large parts of the country sounding like a warzone for several weeks straight. While I understand the need to scare away evil spirits – the whole lack of control around fireworks is getting a little bit beyond a joke.

In Australia, they’re effectively illegal everywhere beyond our nation’s capital – a fact I still can’t completely comprehend. Only recently, someone blew most of his face off by setting them off in their backyard, proving that humans + hand held explosive entertainment devices simply do not mix. Multiple this by an absolutely massive scale, and it’s inevitable things (or people) are going to burn.

Unfortunately in this case, the poor historic gate Changlemen, was the victim. Having been originally built in the fifth century, it had only just recently been vigorously restored at a cost of 4 million Yuan. These gates are erected atop city walls used in ancient times to protect the cities they surround. The only question is, what protects the poor gates?

A China away from China.

February 14, 2010

So from today begins the year of Metal Tiger, and here’s hoping that some of that monetary luck is coming my way. We went into Box Hill which was thriving with masses of Chinese – Box Hill being home to a massive Chinese population. While Melbourne has its own Chinatown, which is effectively just a very Chinesey street, Box Hill in many ways is close to the real deal. So many Chinese have made this particular suburb of Melbourne (and surrounding areas) their home that it is starting to reflect the culture they have come from.

Last night was no different. The spring festival had begun, the first day of the new Chinese lunar year ticked over. While the weather was patchy, with a few brief (and thankfully light) showers, it didn’t deter the multitude of Chinese who headed into the town centre to do what Chinese do best; eat and shop.

Unlike many western festivals – and I noticed lots of this in China, the rows of tents were not so much novelty, but commercial. While there was the occasional face painting, calligraphy and various others selling holiday related goods – most were promotional offerings from banks, religious groups and pirate DVD sellers – the latter having DVD’s playing at such high volume that I was positive I actually was back in China.

Part of the main road had been closed down and a long row of food tents were set up. We set out searching for particular Chinese treats – and found them. We have spoken many times of the fabled skewered meat which we ate across China which involved pieces of random beef skewered and dusted in chilli powder – absolutely delicious. There were no shortage of these and we bee-lined for the store, ordering 7 – 4 for me, 3 for Courtney. Handing over a $20 we got a mere $2.50 change!
“How much are they each?” Courtney asked the girl.

“$2.50,” she replied, looking somewhat bored.

$2.50 each! In China, you would pick them up for 1 rmb a pop. For $17.50 (or 106 Chinese Yuan) we get 7 – back in China, we could have gotten around 80+!! Likewise, the old strawberries on a stick – which I have since found out are called tang hu lu – $5.00 each! While there are things I definitely don’t miss, the cheap street food is definite in my top 5 of things I do miss.

We walked around for a while, enjoying the atmosphere, while the Chinese excitedly looking at displays of pillows for sale, bought masks, and generally ate the whole time. We decided to go home for an hour or two and return to catch the fireworks/firecrackers/dancing lions/dragons etc – and while we did this, were horribly disappointed to find that beyond a very small set of crackers and a brief dragon dance show, the night didn’t eventuate into much else.

It was an enjoyable night, and one we’re glad we made the effort to participate in. There was a casual, family atmosphere which underpinned everything, which is largely due to the fact that the majority of people present were Chinese. Had you replaced everyone with your typical Australian’s, then it would have been infested with bogan’s and drunks.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Tang hu lu, hao chi!

Festival related goodies for sale

A plethora of people and things to see

Seeing the dragon over the wall of onlookers was a feat

Spring festival 2010 – Year of the Metal Tiger

February 11, 2010

This coming Sunday marks Chinese New Year, or spring festival for 2010, which will last for 15 days until the next full moon arrives and the Lantern Festival begins. In addition to all the celebrations, fire-works, dancing dragons and delicious food, every Chinese person will age by one year, in what is the world’s biggest (and possibly most unknown) birthday party.

My current town of Box Hill has a huge Chinese population – which I have mentioned numerous times before as being one of the main reasons we chose to live there. Some of the main streets will be closed and the town centre promises to be full of interesting things to explore. While there will be masses of people, I expect copious amounts of fireworks, dragons and food – and basically cant wait to get up there and to take some photos.

Come midnight, the noise will be extreme as the locals make every effort to scare away the evil spirits and herald in the coming of the year of the Tiger – which in fact happens to be my year.

This year actually happens to be the year of the Metal Tiger – because while each year there is a different animal sign, there is also a cycle of 5 elements, each lasting for two years – those being fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Metal Tiger is a positive sign for good luck with money – and damned if I am not hoping something comes from that! It is also a symbol for power and authority, yet inflexibility and destruction.

Sometimes when I read about these festivals, and their associated celebrations – all very precise and practiced, I cannot help but feel that my own culture is lacking. Sure, we celebrate Christmas and Easter and the like, yet for most of us it’s just about giving and receiving presents, while eating a big meal with our families. What particularly amuses me about our own holiday ‘festivals’ is that most of us who celebrate them are not in fact religious in the least?

The Chinese festivals in particular are elaborate and interesting and reflect on a history which stretches back into the ancient. While it is of course not my own culture, I often feel envious, and when I walk by stalls decked with offerings and symbolic meanings, I can’t help but feel like an outsider – a feeling that I hate.

In my next life, please don’t let me come back as..

January 7, 2010

…A Chinese miner or perhaps worse, an employee of a Chinese fireworks factory! Friday saw yet another explosion in a Chinese fireworks factory, reportedly killing nine workers and destroying seven buildings. Obviously this is the prime time of the year for the Chinese fireworks industry, with the Chinese New Year just a month away it’s time to stockpile en masse, yet as we see almost every year – and sometimes multiple times, there seems to be little in the way of safety procedures.

Fireworks may be wonderful to look at, and the Chinese; who happened to invent them, set them off to celebrate an absolute plethora of occasions, but despite their colourful charm, they are also extremely dangerous. Only recently in Australia, a man barely survived one going off in his face, losing most of said face and a whole bunch of teeth. They’re banned in Australia for a reason – though that doesn’t stop people from trying to set off their own little shows.

While in China, I witnessed many local firework displays with absolutely no care for safety. They approached them like a child would,  excited and completely without regard for safety. I have to wonder what goes in the fireworks factories to chance set them off, and while I have no idea what caused it, my money’s on a worker taking a time-out with a cigarette, surrounded by combustibles.

So, it was crackers..oops!

February 11, 2009

Regarding Monday’s fire, where the newly built, not-yet populated, 40 story Mandarin Oriental went up in flames, Central China Television(CCTV) has reputedly apologised for causing it. Without authorisation they had hired people to set off firecrackers for the start of the new Lunar Year celebrations. The CCTV building co-incidentally, is next door. One fireman was killed in the blaze, with seven others injured.

Way to go CCTV!

Towering inferno, Beijing style

February 10, 2009

As crowds watched, the 40 story Mandarin Oriental building burnt brightly in the night like some kind of massive candle. Thankfully un-occupied, the building was scheduled to be opened late last year but was delayed…and if you were one of the ones scheduled to move in, I’d be buying  a lotto ticket right about now. The night was coincidentally Lantern festival – celebrating the new Lunar year. People were allowed to set off fireworks until midnight and well….if you’ve got em, use em! Authorities are unsure what started the blaze – which burnt from the top down, but I would bet any amount of money that someone’s stray fireworks have hit something flammable – perhaps a nice tasty unprotected gas bottle, and the rest is history.

The Mandarin Oriental lights up the Beijing skyline

The Mandarin Oriental lights up the Beijing skyline

I have witnessed firsthand the way people in China set off fireworks. They do it with little to no consideration for the surrounding area. They set them off beside busy roadways, where smoke is cloaking the traffic, and debris falls on the cars. They do them in big crowds. In China, they just don’t think of safety. Grown adults are comparable to children in a lot of cases. Excitable and unthinking. Big boom first, oh, did i just burn that down? a distant second.

I could not think of anything worse than being stuck in a towering inferno in China. The lack of safety systems also applies to things such as evacuating. If that building was occupied, man, I dont even want to think what kind of deathtrap stampede there would have been to escape.

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