Nicole Slater

Newcastle Chinese New Year Celebrations

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Hundreds of people release lanterns into the air in hopes of good fortune and prosperity at the traditional lantern festival during the Chinese New Year in the Pingxi district of New Taipei City, Taiwan, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The lantern festival starts 15 days after the Chinese Lunar New Year and falls on Feb. 22, this year. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Picture by: Chiang Ying-ying / AP/Press Association Images

When I stepped off the Metro into Newcastle the dark clouds hung heavy in the sky and I felt anywhere but the warm surroundings of Asia. But turning around the corner I was suddenly exported 5,000 miles away into a realistic Chinatown.

From the rubbish bins, which looked identical to the ones I see in Hong Kong and Chinese medicine shops to cheerful stall workers everything set the scene for a traditional Chinese New Year festival. It was quiet at first with a few people gathering outside on the pavement while others looked into the road from nearby restaurant windows. But once the rumbling of the drums echoed though the street and a glimpse of a dragons’ head was spotted, people started gathering around as if from nowhere.

Suddenly the drumming intensified while the dragon entered and marched down the road. Then neon pinks, yellows and greens lit up the street and contrasted against the gloomy sky. The 10-person-controlled dragon paraded around the area before stopping in the centre in front of the local medicine shop. The lions, which followed closely behind began to twinkle as their sequin costumes met the sun that was slowly creeping out from behind the clouds.

Lion dancing, which is performed to warn off evil sprits for the New Year, began in China and has recently spread internationally but has managed to keep the traditional values and costume. While watching the dragon twist and turn in a colourful blur and the lions jump up onto their back legs I was taken back to memories of lion dancing in my junior school playground in Hong Kong, bringing a wave of homesickness along with it.

After a 10-minute pit stop in the centre of the town, the performers continued on their circuit around the area and we were left a little confused by what was happening. We could hear the crackle of Chinese fireworks in the distance and the familiar smell of burnt wood filled the air. With numb toes I waited among the crowd, which had increased dramatically for the second instalment of the festivities.

Suddenly, hail started falling down, crushing the nostalgia I was beginning to feel. We waited for half an hour to get just a glimpse of a lion, which ruined the original happy atmosphere of the celebration. After watching the firecrackers go up in smoke once again, I began to push my way through the crowded street and practically jogged into the nearest shop I could find to warm up.

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