Sunday, February 14, 2010

Year of the Tiger and Valentines Day

This year Valentines day and Chinese New Year happened to fall on the same day. Of the two holidays, Chinese New Year is the one I care about more. Valentines day is mostly a day for couples if you are single it doesn't have nearly as much importance (except for depressing a lot of people that are single).

I generally do something like go to a Chinese restaurant or event on Chinese New Year. This year is the year of the tiger, I contemplated getting some tiger lilies to celebrate it but didn't see any (the stores only had valentines type flowers like roses and tulips). While I mostly write about Japanese culture on this blog I have interest in other cultures such as Chinese as well. This year I went to the local Asian area and watched some performances.

The first performance, and the one that draws the largest crowd, was the lion dance. The lion dance is exactly what it sounds like: performers mimicking a lion's movements while in a lion costume. The lion did a dance, pretended to take a nap, licked itself clean, and then stopped at various stores (the place I went to was a Chinese mini-mall) to "chai ching" (picking the greens). The business had put up "Ang Pow" (red envelope) filled with money to a head of lettuce and oranges and hang it high above the front of their doors. The lion, followed by a much smaller lion with children inside it approached the oranges first, tasted them, then spit them out into the crowd. After it tried the oranges and found them distasteful it walked around near the crowd and ate red envelopes that the people in the crowd put in (the troop had a table set up before hand with empty envelopes for this purpose) and would occasionally spit up hard candies into the crowd which children would run around to get. After the lion finished its round of the crowd it noticed the that their was lettuce hanging from the ceiling. The lion then jumped onto some chairs so as to reach the lettuce, examined it curiously, made like it was going to eat the lettuce, changed its mind, then grabbed it quickly. Like the oranges it did not like the taste of lettuce and spit out the lettuce leaves but not the money. The lion dance is supposed to bring good luck and fortune to the people and businesses and the dancers receive the money as reward. I've seen this group of people do the lion dance many times now and it is always enjoyable (just a couple pieces of trivia: Japan does lion dances as well called Shishimai and some kung fu places practice doing lion dances).

After the lion dance, a different group (all children who are learning to dance) did various traditional Chinese dances. They were not as good as the group doing the lion dance (the lion dance group was professionals who get a lot more practice) but were still pretty good (though it was obvious that the place they generally practiced at was larger than the area they had to perform in). I would have liked to get the names of the dances but there was too much noise and I was unable to hear them. One of them was a fan dance, another was one in which they appeared to be picking rice, another was an umbrella dance, another one had the children dressed in military uniform with a lot of saluting, and one dance was clearly based on the tale of the Monkey King (there were a couple other dances as well).

Following the children dancing was a Taiko performance. Taiko means big drum in Japanese. The group performed several drumming pieces (if I remember correctly two of the pieces they played were called fireworks and thunder storm). Japanese drumming is pretty cool, you can feel the vibrations through your feet. The group performing it was Icho Daiko. They also offer classes on how to play the drums and a workshop in which you make your own drum. If I had the money for it I would do that because it is really cool. To match the rhythm in one of the pieces they were singing 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 in Japanese which does sound like a song.

Next was a group playing traditional Chinese musical instruments. They were pretty good and they had a child prodigy of 6 years old playing a Zither of some type (possibly a Guqin). I did not stay for this very long though because I had some other stuff to do. There were a few more performances such as a kung fu demonstration and another lion dance but I did not stay for them. I then looked at some of the booths set up, got a couple Chinese American newspapers (really not that interesting except a couple articles about orphans in India), my name written in Chinese calligraphy, and then went to an Asian bakery I frequent fairly often. I plan on going to another free performance in the area in May (they will have a dragon dance which I've never actually seen live) and a performance held at the main branch library (I've gone to this a few times before and it is pretty entertaining last time they had some Chinese Yo-yo performances as well as dances and food).

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