Chinese New Years

One of my favorite memories with my mother is the Chinese New Years we skipped out on church to go to Chinatown for the festivities. My dad wasn't too happy about it, he didn't want either of us missing church, but he recognized that I needed to get a taste of my own culture and so he let us go.

It was a gray morning, the streets were wet from the mist of rain that was the Pacific Northwest. We rode the 210 bus that dropped us off in front of the police building on the outskirts of Chinatown. Hobos and hookers everywhere. They always stayed on the outskirts though, they never went into Chinatown, even though the neighborhood attracted the poor. As a child I always wondered why they never went in. I learned later that it was the Triad influence, the Chinese gangs that kept them out. During the day we never saw them, but we saw their traces. BMW's and Mercedes Benz's parked conspicuously and untended. No one would dare touch them.

Chinatown itself was crowded, people were everywhere. By this point it had stopped raining, but the air was pleasantly damp, cold enough to see my own breath. Firecrackers could be heard going off in the distance as merchants welcomed in the new year and tried to scare off the evil spirits. We worked our way through the streets, my mother leading the eight year old me through the crowd to watch some of the more enterprising shopkeepers who got together and invited a couple of lion dance dancers perform in front of the store for good luck in business and to bring good harmony and fortune. My mom pushed me to the front of the crowd so that I stood a few feet away from the middle of the street and the four dancers dancing to the crash of cymbals.

I watched them as they moved with the precision of martial arts experts, first the front dancer jumping over the firecrackers, then the rear dancer jumping over as well. My mom pointed out one of the shopkeepers holding up a stick with a head of lettuce on a string attached to it. He held it high above the two lions and dangled it in front of them. Suddenly the front of one of the lions jumped high and landed on the shoulders of the rear dancer. The crowd applauded as I watched dumbfounded.

After the performance, my mom lead me to the Sun-Yat-Sen botanical gardens where other cultural activities were going on. She patiently explained Why Chinese people did this, or why they did that. By the time we left I was tired, but grateful for the time my mom spent to show me my own culture.

It's been a few years since then, I'm in Idaho where the concept of Chinatown is about as foreign as cowboys to the FOB's in Vancouver's Chinatown. Chinese new year is tomorrow and I'm away from my family again for this holiday. Things have changed, even my mom. In a lot of ways shes not even the same woman that brought me to Chinatown that day yet every Chinese new year I think of how excited I was to skip church with my mom and wander the streets of Chinatown learning about my own culture.

(the following link is the lion dance for those who haven't seen it)


Sky said...

Nice. (And no one ever stays the same--thank heaven.) I dare you to turn this into a poem.

meghan & jason said...

We celebrated Chinese New Year in third grade today. A mom (married to a Chinese man) told us about the great race and taught the kids how to write "luck" in Chinese. She brought in fried rice for everyone to taste. Maybe my raw sore throat affected my ears, but all I heard from the kids was, "I hate rice. It's gross," and "What? No soy sauce?!" Not one student said thank you until she left, as if it's become only a meaningless ritual. I thought her presentation deserved more than that.

I read "Homesick" by Jean Fritz this weekend. It's her creative non-fiction piece about when she lived in China as a child. It was really good. I didn't know I read it with such timeliness. :) Happy New Year, Ivor!

Julie M said...

I agree with Sis. Morgan. I was right there with you, Ivor. I really liked this piece.

We also celebrated it in Kindergarten. I have a student who just barely immigrated with her parents. She brought in all sorts of decorations and symbols to show the class, taught them all how to say "Happy New Year" in Chinese, and I have never seen her look so happy. She was so excited to be sharing her life with all these Central Pennsylvanians (many of which don't realize that there is culture and life beyond their own--do you ever sense that Jami? Well, you are closer to Philly and they are a lot more diverse there.) She brought everyone a red envelope to put money in and explain that they should give it to someone else. Most won't, but at least they know the principle behind them.
Happy New Year.

iBo said...

I think my struggle is that I want to share my culture, but just sharing isn't enough. I almost want people to be PART of my culture, to understand it the way I do.

I guess that's what writing is for...

Thanks for the New Years wishes. New years still goes on for quite a few more days though. :)

Katie said...

I like this line: "By the time we left I was tired, but grateful for the time my mom spent to show me my own culture."

Seems like you love and are interested in your culture, and that's cool.

I think I understand what you mean. I don't have a different culture, but with the things that I love and am interested in, I want other people to actually KNOW those things, not just hear about them. I want them to feel the soccerball bouncing off their feet, and taste the grass on a diving-header that was worth it. I want them to close their eyes and inhale slowly as they listen to Bill Ives when he sings "It was Almost Like a Song" with the King's Singers. I want them to be a part of what's a part of me--soccer and a cappella. Or whatever else.

I may be wrong, but that's how I see it, and I agree--the better we become at writing, I think we can make them a part of it.

Katie said...

(I mean I don't have a different culture than the one I live in. *Sigh* You know what I mean...)

iBo said...

Katie, Idaho IS a culture though. When I first came here I thought Cowboys and ranchers and tumbleweed were all stereotypes found in western movies.

Tonight I talked to Taylor about how it was so different to me that people raise their trucks here so they can go offroading and what not, whereas back home we lower our cars to make them sports cars and grip better.

I didn't understand Idaho culture for such a long time. I don't think I do yet either, but I've come to accept it.

Idaho has just added another layer of complexity to my cultural identity.

Chan said...

I remember feeling really excited to share things I loved with Bethany, the first gal I dated. I once bought a half-gallon of Breyer's mint chocolate chip ice cream, which I love, to share with her (for her birthday, actually. I've since realized that getting people things I like for their birthday is a bad idea). She was like, "meh, it's not very creamy. I think I like Western Family brand more."

intelligence said...