Last night I had an awesome time taking in the Chinese New Year festivities at the Thien Hau Temple in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Amazing feeling. The night was chilly, it had sprinkled a bit earlier and the streets started to shine. The reflections of the streetlights gave some color to the night, and the air felt clean and fresh.
I parked a few blocks away (Ain’t she a honey?) from the temple and walked over. It was tough to find parking at all, and I had driven around for a while. I will keep this in mind for next year. Once parked, the temple was easy to find. All you had to do was follow just about anybody walking around in chinatown at 10:30 pm on this night. It was like we were all being magnetically drawn to it, and as we got closer you could smell the incense in the air and hear the drums din in the clear night.
It felt like the closer I got, the more positive I felt. Everybody was just so happy, so looking forward to the festivities. Kids were propped up on dads’ shoulders for a better view, cell phones, digital cameras, and tablets were ubiquitous when commingling with all the ancient traditional garb and gear. Smiles everywhere. This little guy was yelling at everybody who passed by, smiling and yelling a version of gung hay phat choy at anybody who passed by.
The kids involved with the festivities showed great respect to their elders, sitting in orderly rows and jumping on any task when prompted. They The elders ran around trying to get everything ready as the drummers played on for about half an hour. There was even a new years princess of some sort, and she posed for pics with all the dignitaries, as somebody in the crowd called them.
After the half hour of drumming, and as it got closer to 11 pm, some of the attendants started to set up the fireworks, and some of the elders went into a real frenzy. Still smiles all around, they set up 20 foot rolls of red firecrackers on a bit of scaffolding. Then on the signal of one of the temple workers, they all took an incense stick and lit the fireworks.
I wasn’t ready for the sound. I really do love loud noises. I cover my ears and I do value my hearing, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make sure to listen with an exposed ear for a few pops and booms. SO loud, I didn’t expect such a blast from these little fireworks. Also, the debris flying off these things was crazy. The whole affair had a crazy feeling to it, like this should not fly in PC Los Angeles. When the firecrackers started, the whole crowd backed away from the guardrail. I didn’t. I stood firm, and I took a lot of firecracker paper and cardboard to the face, but nothing serious. It felt like when my crazy uncle would let me do something that my mom never would. . . like the decision was made to say “Look, this is tradition. We’ll do our best to keep people from getting hurt, but I’ll be damned if we don;t pop some ACTUAL firecrackers, and make some REAL noise.” It was beautiful.
After the blasting, the Lion dance began, I realized i was behind the actual presentation so I walked around to the side and got a bit more film. When the dancing was done, the lions made their way into the temple. The crowd was buzzing with anticipation for the new year, and it was palpable. I honestly think I might have had a better time for Chinese New Year, than I did for our regular New Year! It felt like a reset, like a cleansing and clean break from the worries and tribulations of the past year.
I hope i get to attend many more of these. This also has me wondering, how do they do it in San Fran? New York? Chicago?
I may have to go and find out for myself!
Gung Hei Phat Choy everybody!