Gong Xi Fa Cai

Chinatown lanterns

Gong Xi Fa Cai – a Happy New Year to you. Today (February 10th) marks the beginning of the Year of the Snake, so yesterday we marked the occasion by trekking into London to have a celebratory lunch with my family and to take a wander around Chinatown.

I think it would be fair to say the boys were very excited at the prospect, combining as it did an opportunity to ride on the Underground with meeting up with both their paternal grandparents and their favourite (and only) uncle. By the time we pitched up at Piccadilly Circus and strolled down a lantern-festooned Gerrard Street – with Isaac snapping photos (to support a school project) at a rate which would make a paparazzo proud – the trip had already been worth the effort.

Chinatown lanterns

Lunch saw us scaling and devouring a mountain of dim sum – both boys still need to work on their chopstick technique – followed by a stroll back out through Chinatown, where we caught a dragon dance being performed around several of the local Chinese businesses. Tradition has it that the combination of the dragon’s fearsome dance and the cacophony of sound created by accompanying drums and cymbals helps to drive out evil spirits and bring good fortune and prosperity. Of course, in reality it’s as much about pandering to the culture-tourists as anything else, but the movement, colours and sounds of the ritual left both Isaac and Toby thoroughly engrossed. As a result, we are now the proud owners of a couple of small drums which the boys have been playing with incessantly ever since.

Dragon danceTo be honest, watching the dragon dance was a bonus, as we had gone up to London not expecting anything outside of today’s main festivities. We had originally travelled with the intention of fulfilling Isaac’s request to see Big Ben – or ‘Big Bentley’ as the boys insist on calling it (anyone who has seen Cars 2 will understand why) – which we duly did, along with a stroll along the Embankment, a round of babyccinos – regular readers will recognise this as a mandatory part of any of our days out – a quick trip to M&M’s World and finally an early dinner for the boys at McDonald’s before travelling home. (It was only the second time we have taken either boy to the ‘golden arches’, a record of which we remain rather proud.) Not surprisingly, they were knackered and soon asleep on the drive home.

A good day out.

I’m Malaysian Chinese by origin, although I was born in the UK and only know enough Chinese (Cantonese as opposed to Mandarin) to count to ten, play mah jong and wish someone a Happy New Year, so as you can guess I’m not particularly close to my own cultural heritage. But I do consider it important for the boys to be aware of at least a little of their father’s family’s background. So whether that’s being confident with a pair of chopsticks or celebrating Chinese New Year and being aware of why its traditions involve things like red envelopes and dragon/lion dances, it doesn’t really matter. Awareness is knowledge, and knowledge breeds understanding and tolerance (and celebration) of the differences between people and cultures, rather than it being something to be feared. That’s really important to me. (It’s also an excuse to go out and eat good food, which is also really important to me.)

Isaac is learning about Chinese New Year as part of a class project, so he’s excited to have seen some of the traditions in action and to have gathered a collection of photos and other objects from our day our to help embellish it. As I mentioned in my last post, he has a voracious appetite for knowledge and loves his schoolwork, so I’m expecting to spend a lot of time with him today sifting through his pictures and doing some research into the traditions so that he can do a really good show-and-tell at school next week. If anything, I’m looking forward to this mini-project nearly as much as he is …