Chinese believe the advent of the lunar new year is a time of renewal, a time to sweep away the misfortune of the previous 12 months and get a fresh start in the new one.
In Richmond, British Columbia — a Vancouver suburb whose population of nearly 200,000 is about two-thirds ethnic Chinese — this is as true as anywhere else on the North American continent.
With large immigrant populations from Taiwan, Hong Kong and, more recently, mainland China, Richmond is virtually an Asian transplant. Throughout the central city area, known as “The Golden Village,” Chinese script is more prevalent than English.
The large shopping centers sell food, clothing and luxury items geared specifically to Asian buyers. They become community gathering places where important events, especially including the annual Chinese New Year, are celebrated.
The face of popular Buddhism is often very different than the spiritual facet. In a temple, you won’t find lion dancers nor the bearded God of Fortune. But you will find them in a Chinese-oriented shopping mall.
As my Chinese Canadian friend Mijune Pak says, tongue only slightly in-cheek: “The Chinese are all about money and good fortune and prosperity. Those are the important things in our culture.”
At Aberdeen Centre, the largest and most modern Richmond shopping center (named after a district of Hong Kong), the holiday spirit took over in late January with its Flower & Gift Fair. Area nurseries offered delicate orchids and colorful citrus plants, while tiny rabbits of gold and banners of red were everywhere. Indeed, as the primary color of good fortune, red was everywhere.
The Fairchild Media Group, a Cantonese- and Mandarin-language broadcasting conglomerate that also owns Aberdeen Centre, presented the new year’s eve entertainment. Well-attended performances of music, dance and comedy led up to a midnight drop of tickertape. A highlight was an acrobatic show of lion dancing by a martial-arts troupe.
But a Thursday (New Year’s Day) presentation at nearby Yaohan Centre, attended by Richmond’s mayor, city councilors and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was equally impressive. Here, the dignitaries painted the eyes on dragon masks before they began to dance. A long string of firecrackers exploded in sparks and smoke under the watchful eye of the handsomely attired God of Fortune himself.
“The noise and music scare off evil spirits,” explained Taiwan-born Stacey Chyau. “The animals, whether they are lions, tigers or dragons, are fierce. They also keep the spirits away.”
Chyau said her family burns paper money so that ancestors can share in their prosperity. “Sometimes we burn paper houses and Mercedes Benzes,” she said. “This is the only way for our ancestors to receive prosperity on ‘the other side.’”