This post comes late because I did a last-minute change in the schedule. I had written about Korean New Year previously, but today my family and I went to Seattle’s Chinatown district to have dim-sum (yamucha 飲茶 in Japanese) with our good friends “B” and “H” to celebrate the Lunar New Year. I say “lunar new year”, since it’s celebrated by not just China, but also Korea, Vietnam and I think Cambodia too. In Japanese, it’s called kyūshōgatsu (旧正月) meaning “new year’s according to old calendar”. Anyway, my friend “B” has been a contributor of photos to this blog, and “H” has been helpful with information on Korean culture. We went to the restaurant House of Hong, which is our favorite for dim-sum. The service was great, the food was awesome, but we were surprised to see the famous Chinese Lion Dance happen right in the restaurant.
Before I talk about it, let me explain some background (I did some research on this tonight, hence this post is late). The Chinese Lion Dance, or wǔshī (舞狮/舞獅) is a traditional dance done by martial-art schools for special occasions. Usually, this is for Lunar New Year, but can also be for weddings and other occasions. It’s a chance for the martial-art school to earn some extra money, connect with the community, and of course advertisement. Here’s an example video someone took of the Lion Dance outside the same restaurant in Seattle in 2009 (looks like a different school than what we saw):
The Lion Dance familiar to most people is the “Southern” style and includes three lion characters all named after the famous 3 Brothers of the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” story (三国志):
- Liú Bèi (劉備) – the eldest brother. He is the yellow/gold lion.
- Guān Yǔ (關羽) – the strongest brother and the most famous of the three. He is red, since the character Guan Yu always has a red, stern face.
- Zhāng Fēi (張飛) – the bravest brother. He is black, similar to Zhang Fei’s huge black beard.
When we were eating, we heard the fireworks outside (which scared my daughter), but then three lions came in with drums beating and cymbals clanging. They walked past all the tables. Here is the Liu Bei lion approaching us!
People could put money into it’s mouth. Here, my daughter put in a dollar (“B” took the photo):
She really enjoyed that. After this, the front person suddenly jumped on the shoulders of the rear person, so the lion stood very tall. It was impressive.
Also, there was another character in this dance:
This is the “big head” Buddha, or dàtóufó (大頭佛). This character is supposed to represent a Buddhist monk pacifying the lion by teasing it with a fan, but also leading it around the room. Sometimes there are two such “Buddhas”. Unlike the historical Buddha, this character is somewhat comical, but does try to tame the lion peacefully.
Dim-sum food is meant to be eaten slowly with friends, so we sat for hours, eating and talking. It was fun because “B” is Chinese, “H” is Korean, and my wife is Japanese. So, they compared notes about New Year traditions and how they are similar or different. For example, all three cultures have little envelopes of money they give kids, but only Korea and China pay respects to their ancestors during New Year (Japan does it during Ohigan and Obon instead). In China, red is a lucky color for New Year, but in Korea it’s white. In Japan, it is both white and red. “H” showed us photos of her tteokguk soup (떡국), which is a Korean soup made for New Year (similar to Japanese ozōni):
We chatted about lucky Feng Shui (風水) tips, work, life and so on. The owner of the restaurant also signed Chinese calligraphy for people for free. My wife, who studied calligraphy as well, said his handwriting was quite good. It was one of those days where everything just went right. Later, we all went to the famous Panama Hotel Cafe in Chinatown. We talked for a few more hours and went home. Then we were invited by other friends for an evening party filled with more food, fun and conversation. By the time we got home, my daughter was very happy, but tired. She fell asleep right away.
Anyhow, I hope you all had a great Lunar New Year!
P.S. The photo above is the fortune I got from my fortune-cookie. It seemed like good advice to me.
P.P.S. For the more information on the Lion Dance, including photos, this website is helpful.