The unforgiving winter weather finally gave way to a day of bright sunshine and azure blue skies with a hint of spring in the air. Rachel and I arrived at the corner of Mott and Hester Streets in Lower Manhattan for the start of the Chinese Lunar Parade. Year of the Rabbit 4709. The bustling crowd was gearing up for what promised to be a grand parade and it certainly was. Prior to the parade start, we got to meet some of the organizers of Better Chinatown Society. Most helpful were Theresa Tin, Gilbert Hoe and Raymond Chin as they explained this parade has been part of their lives for the last 12 years. The parade keeps growing each year and the main reasons they work tirelessly is to pass on the traditions of New Years and it’s importance to the younger generation. The parade is also key to promoting business and economic development within the community and invite other parts of the city to join in the celebration. There were over 4,000 participants in the parade and estimates of 400,000 people lined up along the parade route.
The start of the parade was beginning to take shape in spectacular and patriotic fashion. Aboard the main float, singers resembling the Andrew Sisters from World War 2 era began singing patriotic songs and Chinese war veterans joined in helping to get the crowd ready. While the USO women were singing away, celebrities and politicians began gathering for their chance to address the crowd. In the mix was main organizer Steven Tin directing his assistants to various tasks as the pace began to get hectic. Clearly he was a field general on a mission to accomplish a large undertaking safely and with much fanfare. While the VIPs were placing the red sashes over their shoulders, Rachel asked a young woman distributing Chinese and American flags if she can have two. After much negotiation,she finally gave them to Rachel and I placed a Chinese flag in my coat front pocket. Now it was time for the much awaited Lion Dance. Red-ribboned dignitaries held fishing poles with lettuce at the end waiting for the Lion to chew some leaves and throw some to the crowd. This is a symbol of good luck and prosperity. When the cabbage was caught, confetti and streamers came flying from long tubes as part of a boisterous celebration. The parade officially began with US Senator Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and the crowd favorite NYC Comptroller John C. Liu marching down Mott St. to the delight of the crowd. Then the fun really started.
The first float carried the Fortune Guard to bring good luck to everyone. The crowd greeted him with much enthusiasm. He was followed by a pair of 60 ft long dancing dragons with traditional drums, cymbals and gongs. As the beat got faster the dragons dance frenzied and the crowd cheered them on. The louder the crowd became the faster the beat and the faster the dragons danced. It was like one big circle that kept growing and growing. Following the dragons were a parade of lion dancers with some difficult acrobatic moves. A crowd pleaser that had crowd reaching out to touch for good luck. Even a young lion dancer quickly became a fan favorite. After the lion dancers came the Chinese Woman’s Organization as they marched in beat to their own drum as though they had been doing so for years. None of the ladies were under 60 so I guess they had plenty of practice. Then one of the larger participants arrived. The families with adopted Chinese children represented a large contingency with cutouts depicting the many provinces of China. An excellent way to show the children that many of the customs from their native home are alive and well in Chinatown, NY, USA. A parade just isn’t a parade without a real marching band and the Francis Lewis Patriots Marching Band from Queens came out swinging loud and proud. Other parade participants included the Gay and Lesbian Chinese Coalition, the Fukien float with displays of traditional costumes of deities, and the Boy and Girl Scouts. The last float was from one of the organizers, Better Chinatown. Three large rabbits waved their Chinese and American flags at the crowd while a beauty queen wowed the crowd.
Rachel and I decided to head over to Roosevelt Park where the parade ended and there would be post-parade festivities. Vendors were all around giving away gifts and participants met and gathered and talked about the great time they had. We met up again with a group from DeWitt Clintion High School from the Bronx this time while they were in cute animal costumes. There was a group gathering around a makeshift stage so we made for the front and were pleased to find out a troupe from the show Ka of Cirque Du Soleil was going to perform for a few minutes in honor of the event. They were on loan from Las Vegas and dazzled the crowd with their acrobatic choreography and battle scenes. The crowd wanted more but it was just a sampling and quickly followed by a popular lounge singer.
I was getting a strong desire to sit at my favorite restaurant in Chinatown, Wo Hop (17 Mott St, downstairs), for some steamed dumplings and something spicy like Goon Bo Gai Ding (chicken). As we began making our way out of the maze of people at Roosevelt Park, we noticed children running around in the playground even though it was still filled with snow. Youth must play. As we walked under a pathway filled with all kinds of lanterns, an older Chinese man pointed at the Chinese flag I still had in my coat front pocket and said ”Ha. You are Chinese.” And I answered him “Yes. For one special day I am.” Gung Hay Fat Choy!
For more pictures click on this blog’s photo links and CNN ireport
Next stop: The second leg of our bunny hop to the Flushing Queens Chinese Lunar New Year Parade on Sat. Feb. 12th 11am to 1pm.