Monday, February 15, 2010

Chinese New Year

This Chinese New Year I decided to give in to nostalgia for my former home (Beijing) and head to Bangkok’s famed Chinatown district for a little fun and frivolity. For those of you not familiar, Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It is commonly called "Lunar New Year" because it is based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival. In many areas the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance.
Unlike the Western linear calendar, the Chinese calendar features a cyclical dating method that repeats every 60 years. The calendar is based on two cycles that interact with each other — the Chinese zodiac, which is divided into 12 parts, and the five elements. The five elements are metal, water, wood, fire and earth. Each year of the Chinese Zodiac is represented by a different animal: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The five elements are assigned to the 12 animals (years), giving different characteristics to each animal (year). Assigning each of the five elements to the 12 years creates 60 different combinations, which in turn result in a 60-year cycle. This year is a metal tiger year and supposedly it will be good for said people’s finances. Next year it’s the rabbits turn to shine.
Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration vary widely. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decorations, firecrackers, food and clothing. It is also tradition for every family to thoroughly clean their house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes of bringing forth good luck in the coming year. Windows and doors are decorated with red paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “happiness”, “wealth” and “longevity”. On the Eve of Chinese New Year, supper is a feast with families that ends with firecrackers. Early the next morning, children will greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and receive money in red paper envelopes, called hong bao (or ang pao in Thai).
The festival is embraced by countries and territories worldwide with significant Han Chinese populations, such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Down here it’s estimated that just over seven million people, or about 15% of the Thai population, are of Chinese ethnicity. Slightly more than half of the ethnic Chinese population in Thailand trace their ancestry to the Chaozhou prefecture in northern Guangdong. A further minority trace their ancestry to Hakka and Hainanese immigrants. All in all though, those Thai-Chinese are a feisty bunch who hold firm to their Chinese roots and celebrate the New Year with gusto.
In 2010, Chinese New Year happened to fall on the same day as Valentines – February 14; this meant double the trouble for Bangkok. By the time my friends and I reached Chinatown at midday the area was already awash with hundreds of crazed red fanatics. We snaked our way through the crowd and then proceeded to walk leisurely down Yaowarat Road taking in the sights and smells. We saw Peking ducks roasting on an open fire, a dog wearing a traditional qipao dress, men selling giant inflatable cartoon characters, an array of Thai snacks like delicious coconut ice cream and even H.R.H Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, come to pay her respects at temple. Although not as loud and boisterous as festivities in Mainland China, the carnival atmosphere, exuberant crowds and infectious happiness made the outing more than worthwhile. My only gripe would be the lack of authentic Chinese street food on offer, where were the dumplings, pancakes, sweet cakes and candied apples... I would also have liked to see a lively dragon dance; although I missed it in Chinatown, I was fortunate to catch a parade at the Siam City Hotel.
Getting there: From the Siam City Hotel take the BTS from Phayathai station six stops (towards Ou Nut) to station Asok, from there you follow the signs to the MRT. Hop on and go six stops to the end, Hua Lamphong station. From here you want to take exit 1 and basically follow the crowds to Chinatown, about 10 minutes walk away...

No comments:

Post a Comment