Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CNY Revisited

People kept asking us why we were going so far away for the Chinese New Year holiday. “Why not somewhere closer, like Vietnam or China or Taiwan?” they said. There was actually a very good reason: all of Singapore was traveling for CNY, and they’d out-queued us. Again. I talked to plenty of people who revealed that they’d started making plans last August.

We’d figured that since most Singaporeans have extended family in Singapore, they’d want to spend the holiday eating the traditional meals with their relatives and visiting their neighbors to trade symbols of good luck. What we forgot, though, was that Singapore celebrates every moment in the two-week festival, of which the two-day public holiday is just the beginning. Travelers confidently make plans for the four-day weekend, knowing CNY will still be in full swing when they return.

So when we arrived back in town, we celebrated our second CNY weekend at the Chingay parade, Singapore’s version of the parades at Carnaval and Mardi Gras. We splurged on tickets to grandstand seating (though we did get turfed out of our original row B center seats because of a VIP platform), so we could see the full show of dramatic special effects. The best was the opener, with people rappelling through smoke and lights down the imposing British Colonial columns on City Hall.

The parade itself involved some pretty flashy floats and lots and lots of dance performances. There are maybe 4 or 5 million people on the whole island, and we’d bet that at least 1 million of them were involved in the highly choreographed routines (of both the cultural and pop-and-lock variety) that accompanied nearly every float.

Along with the floats from local community groups, there were a number of cultural highlights. In keeping with the CNY theme, there was a nifty psychedelic dragon dance and a float with dozens of lion dancers (some of which climbed high pedestals to perch above the crowd). We watched a ritual dance by a native Taiwanese tribe, a Bangara dance by a troupe from southern India, and even a modern collaboration between the local university and an Irish school of the arts. (There were some odd moments, too; what was with the choreographed siege of a medieval fort with catapults, courtesy of the City Harvest float?)

What was most fun to watch, though, was not so much the ordered choreography but the atmosphere of controlled chaos: acrobats and high-school students and musicians and lion dancers and confetti and fireworks and a yu sheng toss about the size of a small barge. We did, however, skip the all-night street party in the same location. (For all its reputation as a somewhat conservative place, Singapore clearly isn't nearly as stodgy as we are...)

The next evening, we celebrated one last time at a friend’s home, decked out in red and gold. We tossed one final yu sheng salad (Joey’s enthusiasm was starting to wane; it was his fourth of the season) and spent an enjoyable evening hanging out with friends (and doling out piles of red envelopes to their children). For us, that was a perfect conclusion to our CNY festivities.

As usual, though, we were the first to leave the party; the shops continued to stay closed for at least the first half of the week, as families celebrated at home, and many of the decorations will still be up for a few more days, though the holiday for this year has officially come to a close.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like such fun - and it's hard to believe the lion photo (near the top of page) isn't ceramic - but instead has people inside!!

Tobey said...

This looks waaaaay cooler than Times Square or the Mummers' parade.