Chinese New Year-Auckland Lantern Festival Feb 2011
The Lantern Festival in Auckland each year is a highlight for the city. I love the vibe that happens-we feel like a city that actually enjoys our multicultural nature! I love that it is such a mix-grandmas with babies, kids, teenagers seemingly enjoying the fact that the city is alive and buzzing, food galore and lanterns alight. The growth in the festival goers each year is a great sign I feel that we are more accepting of what Auckland has become. I cant believe what I am told and read in local papers that people feel we are being 'over run' with Asian migrants and that they are taking all of our jobs! Such nonsense. I love the fact that we are growing into an extension of Asia-a far flung paradise to come and play in and a place to bring your family to enjoy a totally differnt way of life.
Naturally Im all for more amazing resturants offering real regoional food from where ever it may be so it is such a joy to see that the festivals food offerings have extended to a whole street of Asian delights.
I wish we could have this every weekend! People wandering and slurping away on young coconuts, noodles piled high in flimsy dishes, the sound of tools scraping the side of hard at work woks, steamers stacked ten high puffying out plumes of delicious smelling steam, massive jelly drinks with giant straws, kebabs seasoned with cumin, spicy satay, sushi and teppanyaki, chive pancakes bubbling at their golden sides ready to flip, the chant of a hawker (so odd in English) and the smell of oil in the air.
The New Year in Asia is a family time. Travelling back home to be with your family, to share the stat of a new year with food, remeberance of those past and to enjoy a break from everyday life. View any on line newspaper in Adia over those weeks and youll see what chaos the movement of millions of people can do for any infastructure. Many all over Asia travel vast distances to reach their family homes to begin the process of creating food for the family. Special dishes are prepared that are eaten but once a year, the family pig is slaughtered, liquor is drink and any babies that are born over this time are thought as truly special.Marriages occur, for this is the most prosperous time for a good marriage to be sealed.
It is also a time of offering at the temple. Families come to offer insence and pray for the year ahead.In the end of winter cold of Shanghai, the temples were filled to the max with families gathering together in the haze of fragrant temple incense, showing their young ones how to offer incense to the four corners. It is a ritual to watch and to be part of. Its a peaceful place to sit for a few hours, watch the coming and going of generations, listening to the chanting in the distance behind closed doors from monks who you see in full robes looking serene whilst chatting on cell phones.
I always enjoy the complete difference of temples through Asia-each has their own such different vibe from Daoist Chinese to Zen Buddhist, the calm factor goes from a complete 10 of total saturation to the madness and bursting colour of temples in Hong Kong thick with chocking incense and a calm factor of negative 10!
The ancient uninhabited and peacefully airee crumbling temples of old Thailand alongside Bangkok's new and flashy, golden animals galore, noise and dirt of new temples crammed with every concievable form of godly bodies.Turn a corner and you are visually overwhelmed by a Hindu temple stacked high with tounge poking dieties, beautifully formed and coloured, a truly ancient air about it that dates further back than anything you will see. The street itself a wash in waterlilies and marigolds threaded together and being sold by small girls with kohled eyes. The serentiy of a temple garden in Japan, paths lined in moss and the gentle sound of swaying bamboo in the distance matches the hushed tones of the visitors around you in. The ancient chanting one may be lucky enough to hear at a larger Japanese temple accompanied by instrumentation for a traditional wedding ceremony is so solemn and has none of the gayiety of a westen wedding. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you pass by hoping for a glimpse of what is happening behind the sliding doors.Chance upon a Zen temple deep in a wooded glade off the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto and you may forget that just down the hill is a the busy day to day life of Japan.Total quiet but for birds, moss covers the floor as if a carpet and not a monk to be found.
Walk from a wet market in Hong Kong but ten paces into the crowded temples thick with incense coils binger than most houses, the gawdy colours matching well with the tropical fruits piled high on altars, the thack, thack of fortune tellers throwing sticks to plying their trade.Why even bother taking that offering out of it's polystyrine tray? Just leave it as it is! The very nature of it is everyday-its the temple you pop into as you pass.
The wonderful factor that religious observence doesnt have to be in a singular manner but can be joyous, solemn, quiet to the point of complete serentiy, outrageous and almost confused makes for an interesting study of people and their beliefs.
Foods that appear at the table over the New Year are all symbolic, representing health, wealth and prosperity for the year ahead. Whether it be in name or in appearance all foods have to riff on this theme. Noodles are left long (and difficult to eat) to represent long life, whole chickens complete with head and feet symbolise completeness, whole fish for abundance and togetherness as the word for fish 'Yu' sounds the same as the words for abundance and wish. Buns and dumplings galore -as we all love those for any occassion-need to be hand made and stuffed.The list is long and diverse bewteen regional groups but all means a great deal of work for those in the kitchen.
No white foods such as tofu are eaten as white is the colour of death and misfortune. Bright pink, reds, gold and yellows abound in decorations about the house, in fruits, clothing and garnishes for dishes.This year is Year of the Rabbit too so I have spotted some beautifully formed rabbit creations made from sponge, jelly and carrot so far this year.Ill keep an eye out for more that I can share with you.
Happy New year to all-enjoy the year ahead and I wish you all prosperity and luck for 2011.