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)