Crouching Tiger(beer), Hidden Dragon: Chinese New Year in Manchester
I am starting to think that my greed for gyoza and Tsingtao beer displeases the gods.
Every time I’ve headed into Manchester city centre for the Chinese New Year celebrations, and to stuff my face with tasty treats, the heavens open and I get drenched. It could be the time of year – January is notoriously wet and grey up North – but I’m inclined to think I’m cursed.
In keeping with tradition, this year is no different. Despite the downpour, Housemate and I pull on coats and sensible boots and hop aboard the train from Stockport to Piccadilly with enthusiasm.
There’s something about Chinese New Year that I absolutely adore. I’m not sure if it’s my fondness for bright colours and Eastern culture, or simply that I can feast on Chinese food until my belly pops, but the love is real.
As we make our way down Market Street, winter scarves covering our heads like a pair of babushkas (I’ve lost far too may umbrellas to even attempt using one), we admire the red lanterns. Much like fairy lights at Christmas, I wish we embellished our city’s trees more often. They look so enchanted, particularly at night time when they’re lit up. It’s akin to being transported to another, more exotic place.
We spy a group of people over by Boots and head to the underpass to investigate – and to get out of the rain. At once we hear the unmistakable sound of bells and I catch a flash of yellow, green and red among the crowd. I squeal with excitement when I realise it’s the Dance of the Chinese Dragon, one of my favourite festivities.
“We should dress up as a Chinese dragon for our next fancy dress party,” I suggest to Housemate as I watch the creature snake its way across wet cobbles, dipping low and shaking its enormous head at young children.
“We really should,” Housemate agrees.
With rumbling stomachs, we head over to St Ann’s Square where the festival’s food stalls have been set up. Despite a small number of stands – I count only five including Tampopo and Little Yang Sing – we have a tough time deciding what to order. After circling a few times, like a pair of hungry sharks, we settle on Little Yang Sing because, let’s face it, it really does the most delicious food.
I order vegetable and vermicelli steamed dumplings, not to be healthy, you understand, but because it was the only dish on the menu that I could safely say was vegetarian.
Huge pots, which remind me of cauldrons, spit and bubble as they warm up beautifully crafted dumplings. They’re popped into a Styrofoam container and smothered in salty soy sauce. I think I’m dribbling as I part with my cash (£5 – a bit steep for four dumplings but well worth it).
As I join Housemate, safely ensconced in the tarpaulin eating area under a heat lamp, we begin wolfing down our lunch with eagerness.
“These are so good,” Housemate enthuses as she munches her baked Char Sui pastries (these are usually pork based – again, £5). “They’re almost sweet.”
With little sign of the rain holding off, we head towards Exchange Square to check out The Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors. I’ve seen images of these impressive looking light installations splashed across Instagram, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them up close.
On the way, we nip into Harvey Nichols (albeit rather reluctantly as there’s an anti-fur demonstration going on outside which makes us feel traitorous to a cause we both support) to see if we can find the Stanley Chow Pop-up Exhibition but there’s no sign to say where it is. After wandering aimlessly and coming across a few promotional posters for food and drinks, we decide to leave it, which is a real shame as I was looking forward to this exhibition by the Grammy-nominated artist and illustrator. However, artwork will be on display until February 11, so I’ll make sure to head back and investigate.
As we’d thought, The Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors are packed full of people taking snaps but they’re worth waiting for people to finish taking their selfies. The internationally acclaimed exhibition is a collection of two metre-high, brightly coloured lanterns. There are 40 in total. Throughout the day they guard the entrance to Selfridges, and by night they light up the square.
The exhibition was created by artist Xia Nan and inspired by the famous ‘terracotta army’ uncovered in 1974 in the tomb of China’s First Emperor, but they also tell the 2,000-year-old story of Chinese lantern-making. Originally commissioned for the Beijing Olympics, they’ve travelled the world, but it’s their first trip to Manchester.
Housemate and I wander through the maze of serious-looking statues, admiring their construction and colours, before taking silly selfies and tonnes of pictures of individual scenes. My favourite of the installations is the white horse. I imagine this beautiful piece of art is stunning after night-fall when it lights up from within.
As the rain begins to become heavier (oh, Manchester, it’s a good job you’re pretty) we head into the shelter of the Arndale. I’d heard that the shopping centre was hosting a few family-focused events and wanted to look as much as I wanted to hide from the bad weather. Inside, it’s not that different from the usual hustle and bustle of a Saturday, but there are a few areas set up for craft events. These seem to appeal to the kids though, as the benches are all full of people laughing and scribbling away.
Unfortunately, we made the mistake of presuming the parade would be taking place on January 28, the official start of The Year of the Rooster. After a quick check of the website, we realise that it’s scheduled for the Sunday. Disheartened – but completely at fault, the information is clear on the internet, we’d simply not taken the time to look – we head back towards the car park. I love the parade. I love the music, the brightness, the fabulous costumes, the sense of community, and the dragon. I really love that dragon.
Walking through the throngs of shoppers, I hear the faint, yet unmistakable, tinkling of bells. As we head out of the Arndale and back into Market Street, the stark yellow of the dragon is visible against the grey buildings. I smile at Housemate and we head over to watch the show.
Perhaps the new Lunar Year has decided to give me a break after all.
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