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Chinese New Year celebrations

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2006 8:19 pm    Post subject: Chinese New Year celebrations Reply with quote

I went along to the Chinese New Year celebrations in London (on Sunday 29 January 2006). London has the largest Chinese community in Europe, so this is always a popular event - 200,000 people came last year.

I got to Chinatown at about 10am, so that I would have a bit of time to wander around the streets, see the traders getting ready and have something to eat before the food stalls get busy. By 10:45am I had chosen my place on Charing Cross Road, so I could get a good view of the procession. This is quite a short procession starting at 11am and lasting about 15 minutes - it is a chance to see all of the people who go on to perform on the stage during the afternoon. I walked down the road to Trafalgar Square - very slowly, because large crowds had gathered by this time.

In Trafalgar Square I watched the events on stage for an hour or so. First there was a ritual blessing over a sacrificial pig, then speeches in Chinese and English. As it was a cold (if sunny) day, the crowd were keen that the speeches didn't last too long! Among the things mentioned were the plans to build a traditional Chinese gate between Wardour Street and Leicester Square (hopefully this year). Beijing and London are the locations for the next two Olympic Games, in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Mayor Livingstone promised that there will be a large screen in Trafalgar Square during the Beijing Games.

The traditional dotting of the dragon's eyes was followed by the waking of the dragons - they and the lions danced around in the centre of the square, warding off the evil spirits. Once the barriers were removed from that area there was more space for the crowd to enjoy the stage performances, which were also shown on giant screens on either side.

This year I didn't stay for the cultural performances. Instead I wandered up to Leicester Square in time to see the firecrackers at 2pm. The display lasted about 10 minutes. It can be hard to see unless you are at the front or you're a child with a parent's shoulder to sit on - but you can't miss the noise!

I wandered up through Chinatown - the food queues were long now. Moving around the streets is slow and a bit uncomfortable, because there are so many people. I just carried a small amount of cash, because I am aware of the danger of pickpockets at busy events like this in central London. Easy to lose your friends in the crowd, and very hard to try to meet up with someone there.

I wanted to see one of the alternative events away from the crowds. So I walked the short distance to Soho Square (near Tottenham Court Road Tube station) to check out the "Wok the City" event organised by the food manufacturing company Sharwood's (who specialised in Indian and Asian meals). No big crowds here, so it was a much more relaxed atmosphere. You could queue up for a free hot noodle meal, and then watch entertainment on a small stage. There was a noodle-spooning competition, using first giant chopsticks and then normal-sized chopsticks with one hand only. This was followed by a dance performance by a member of the Beijing Opera. Finally there were songs from "Chinese Elvis". He was very popular with the crowd, and dressed, sang and danced in Elvis' unique style ...

I wish you all a happy year of the dog!

If you want to see some pictures, just look at this page of my website:
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