Many of us outside of China often forget that late January/early February is for something other than cursing the bitter cold and finding someone to lay you before the 14th. While there is a presence of festive tidings to ring in the Chinese New Year here in the states, I’d be lying if the extent of my celebration went beyond chowing down leftover take-out and seeing what Jackie Chan movies are available for torrenting. At least, that’s what I learned from my one and only Chinese roommate in the dorms.
Our good allies and former tax-collectors from the other side of the Atlantic want their Londonites to do far better than that. The Chinese New Year celebration in London is the biggest gala outside of Asia – and it does seem much more enthralling than microwaving some old Dim Sum.
Each year kicks off with a large parade beginning in Trafalgar Square and wrapping around – you guessed it – Chinatown. Following the parade is a plethora of live entertainment, this year featuring Hong Kong-born singer-songwriter Emmy The Great and performers from the Guangdong and Sichuan Provinces. All this starts at 10 AM and goes until 6 PM, culminating with a fireworks display that both wows and works as a nice way of telling everyone to go home. The parade is a huge crowd pleaser, attracting an estimated attendance of somewhere in the hundreds of thousands.
Not shockingly, the waves of bodies has become the event’s biggest criticism over the years, and a major detractor to those who easily lose their friends. So why bother if you’re not interested in being shoved around like a 12-year old who snuck up to the front of a Death Grips concert? Because everything else there is definitely worth the while.
The “Dotting of the Eye” ceremony serves as the celebration’s main event, a Taoist tradition where the decorated lions and dragons are brought to life by being “dotted” (a term that sounds appropriate for certain drug circles). Responsible for dotting is President of Chinatown Stanley Tse, who awakens the beasts with suspiciously human-like feet to dance among high-flying acrobats and martial artists. It’s a spectacle that occurs in many New Year’s celebrations, but not very many can match the magnitude of London’s event. It’s performed in the middle of Trafalgar Square at noon and likely to get too crowded for comfort.
Travel Freak isn’t yet in the business of looking out for the kiddies, but we do understand they’re a necessary, if not unfortunate, part of some readers’ lives. The Museum of London offers a variety activities to keep the younguns’ occupied, including Chinese water-coloring, craft making, and interactive storytelling. They even do face painting, a perfect activity if you plan to be roared at with the ferocity of a lion or dragon with dwarfism for the rest of the day. We’re not yet parents, if you haven’t guessed by now.
Just like any major metropolis, London features fine sites for oriental dining. The cheekily named Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour is a recent addition to the city’s trendy cuisine choices, joining the likes of Min Jiang and Kai Mayfair. Hidden behind a large jade-colored door are crafted cocktails utilizing unique ingredients like orange blossom spray and lychee wines, which pair well with their touted fresh seafood choices that includes razor clams and king prawn dim sum.
Or, if stuffing your face doesn’t bring you satisfaction, the School of Wok offers a quick bite and half-hour lesson on how to cook your favorite oriental dish. Both of these restaurants are throwing special events for the occasion, though if neither of them catch your stomach’s fancy, there’s a good 78 Chinese restaurants around the area to choose from. Best chances are they’ll be celebrating in their own way.
If dark and secluded sounds like the best antithesis to the bustle of London’s crowds, then why not catch a movie? The Terracotta Film Club is celebrating the new year at the Prince Charles Cinema by showcasing Asian cinema throughout the entire month of February. The club’s plan is to get a new generation of cinephiles hooked on contemporary Eastern films, ranging from new releases to a variety of nostalgic classics. A great idea to keep the festivities fresh in everyone’s head and to expose films that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of a projector in the UK. Oh, and their first film of choice? The 1985 Jackie Chan classic “Police Story”. That is what I’m f***ing talking about.
It all happens on February 10th. If you’re from London, you’re probably already aware of this. For anyone else who happens to get caught in the sea of our English and Chinese friends, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
By the way, in correlation with the elemental zodiac, this is technically the Year of the Water Snake. Anyone who has encountered a rattler in their pool knows how sneaky those little bastards can be, so take note of who’s being born in 2013. Or better yet, don’t get or get anyone pregnant until April so your kid can be born in 2014 – The Year of the Wood Horse. That’s um… better. I think.
featured image via liveskyline.com