January 12th, 2006 is also the 15th day of the Chinese Lunar Calendar marking the Chinese Lantern Festival. I had heard that we could see the lion dance, like the parades I’ve grown up watching in Vancouver’s Chinatown and have considered seeing this festival while living in China to be one of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most. This morning I was joined by my fellow foreigners in the foreign students dormitory to go searching for this elusive Chinese Lantern Festival. Judging by the several hours of non-stop fireworks — it’s now past 11 PM local-time — celebrations are underway. Too bad we couldn’t find them.
We walked from the bus stop, past the sidewalk vendors selling sweets, weapons, and dumpling crimpers. The entrance to Ancient Culture Street was just a bit farther so we pushed on through the busy street, and past the well-dressed Tibetan salesman and his blanket of bracelets. Hordes of people had also decided today was a good time to visit this part of town, but it felt good to be almost just another tourist in a sea of tourists. Despite sporting my giant camera, no one thought twice about me clicking obsessively trying to capture my story in pictures for my fans abroad (hi mom!). I can’t remember if the area was this busy during the summer tourist season, but it was a good day to be tall.
I’ve written before about being a foreigner and standing out as a curiosity. I won’t soon forget buying DVD’s at E-Mart and my friend being elbowed out by a crowd of country people gawking to see what movies I was about to pay for with my Chinese bank card. One of my neighbours decided to buy a bag with old communist slogans and the crowd moved in to watch with curiosity. Since the crowd was not focussed on anything I was doing, it gave me the chance to click a photo to show you what I’ve been talking about:
After walking and shopping for hours without having seen any sign of a festival, we decided to call it a day and return home. I can’t tell you how much I had been looking forward to seeing the traditional lion dance, but it seemed more like a day for shopping than celebrating. It seems a fitting end that as I wind down for the evening and night falls, the lanterns would light up and the sky would again be alive with fireworks. I never found the lantern festival, but I sure did have a good day looking.