Happy Chinese new year to all!
To celebrate the year of the Rooster, we took a journey to Leicester square to see the Chinese New Year celebrations in China Town. Truthfully I had never been before and was super excited to see what it was about.
First thing we heard as we stepped out of the station was this rhythmic chiming sound. We followed the sound onto Newport lane where there were throngs of people crowded round this one shop. And then I saw it. A vibrant multi-coloured lion dancing in on the doorstep of the owners shop.
During Chinese New Year, the lion performs the traditional custom of “cai qing”, literally meaning “plucking of the greens” where the lion plucks a lettuce hung on a doorway. The greens (qing) is tied together with a red envelope containing money or fruit. The ‘lion’ approaches it like a curious cat. It eats the greens only to spit it out but keep the envelope. Other types of vegetables, fruits or utensils may be used for different degrees of difficulty and challenge the lion dance performers. The greater the difficulty, the higher the reward in the envelope.
The lion dance is believed to be good luck and good fortune to the business. So each owner comes to their shop front to observe the celebration as the lion approaches their business.
My boyfriend said to me to wait on one of the smaller streets so we could get a good spot to watch the lion dance from start to finish. Luckily we went when we did as they begin to corner off the lane to stop the large crowds from stifling in the tight space.
We stood opposite a busy looking restaurant with their lettuce hanging from the door. Two large, bright flags lead the way, adorned with Chinese writing. The lion danced its way towards us in small sharp movements. It was followed by a gong attached to a wooden pole two men were carrying. It was played in short and varying volumes to a great effect as the lion moved in time to it. It stopped right in front of us and looked towards the restaurant. Unexpectedly it suddenly turned its head to look at us. I got such a fright! (Perhaps he could smell the salad I ate for lunch…!)
The lion inspected the lettuce above him, cocking his head this way and that to the chimes of the gong. His body flowed as if he was a supernatural being. When he was satisfied, the lion bowed itself to the shop owner, unlike what we had seen in other shop fronts. Many in the crowd clapped their hands at this sign. Perhaps it was a sign of good fortune to come.
Once the crowds cleared we made our way towards the stalls. Red and gold roosters were hung from anything they could find. Chinese zodiac animals were crafted into key-chains from beads and golden cats waved hello. Kids with firecrackers and adults with paper slinky dragons were among those looking at fortune cookies, wall decorations and cuddly toys.
There were also costumed roosters, dragons and even a Minnie Mouse!
And to finish it all off… A Chinese takeaway from Tooting Market!