Friday, 3 February 2012

China Town - Chinese New Year 2012

Clattering, clanging and crashing its way through Chinatown, the chaotic and mesmerising Lion Dance was my first experience of London’s Chinese New Year celebrations. As I joined the crush of people penguin-walking towards the source of the commotion, I notices the tens of street stalls set up especially for the occasion either side of the street.

Amongst the trinkets and ready-to-eat whole ducks, my inner 6-year-old jumped for joy at the sight of miniature fire-crackers. By the time I had gleefully picked up a packet, the Lion Dance had travelled up the street to directly in front of where I was standing.

It was an incredible spectacle. Two Dragon-Lions, each made up of two people (a front and a back) with a large, draped, glittering costume over them leaped high and crouched low as the Dragon’s jaws opened and closed, attempting at one point to playfully devour an unsuspecting bystander. Stood behind the dragons was the percussion band entourage, armed with cymbals of all shapes and sizes, producing an exciting cacophonous sound.

As the procession moved on and I pressed through the crowd, I began to make my way towards Trafalgar Square. On arrival, there were yet more stalls, tents and trinkets with a large stage set up next to Nelson’s column, nestled between two of the Great British Lions. There were a number of acts through the day, many of whom travelled from China. The performance as I arrived was a Chinese Opera singer’s rendition of ‘O Solo Mio’, and I was immediately shocked by the power and volume coming out of his slight, circa 5’8” stature!

After enjoying the performance, lunch was next on the agenda. It took some time wandering around in the 0˚c temperatures before finding a Korean bistro on the edges of Chinatown. It is worth noting that the streets of Central Chinatown (around Denmark Street) are filled with people at Chinese New Year and there is an absolute minimum ½ hour wait to get in. My plan for next year will involve booking a table at one of the restaurants closer to the edge of Chinatown, or arriving better wrapped up with the expectation of the wait…

After a late lunch, we headed back towards Trafalgar Square to watch the closing ceremony. The high-pitched warbling of the Chinese singer carried across Trafalgar Square and beyond as I arrived and although perhaps not what I would choose to listen to was undoubtedly interesting.

The finale of the New Year’s celebrations comprised a fantastic acrobatics, dance and lighting display. Two sturdy flag-bearers were raised up on platforms either side of the stage whilst performers delivered a Kung-Fu inspired dance to rousing music and impressive visuals on the screens either side of the stage before the Year of the dragon was finally ushered in with a short firework display.

I will plan my day slightly differently next year, arriving earlier, booking a lunch for around 14:00 and truing to pick up the Lion Dancers, the highlight for me, from the start of their procession but I will undoubtedly be going back!

Were you at the Chinese New Year celebrations in London or elsewhere across the Globe? What were your highlights?

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