Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Year of the Dragon

Sunday we braved another chilly day to attend the Chinese New Year celebration in Trafalgar Square.  As we wove our way through the crowds, we saw a familiar face -- which is a rarity for us in London.  It was Chito Salarza-Grant, aka The Hat Man of London.  We had first seen him on TV during the Royal Wedding, and then we ended up sitting by him at Wimbledon last summer.  And now here he was again, surrounded by a crowd of people eager to get their picture taken wearing his custom-made Chinese New Year hat.  It was kind of hard to miss!
A tall tourist poses for a photo in the hat
Despite the cold weather, there was a good turnout for the festivities, but we managed to find a good vantage point from the stairs in front of the National Gallery.
The crowd at Trafalgar Square
Chinese Lanterns & St. Martin-in-the-Fields
The show was already in progress by the time we got there, but we were treated to some lovely dance performances by several Chinese dance groups, interspersed with cheesy banter and corny jokes from the two sets of MCs, who inexplicably changed their clothes in between acts.

Crane dance
After watching the show for a while, we decided to walk a few blocks up to Chinatown to see what, if anything, was going on there.  The streets were lined with strings of lanterns and full of people.

Lanterns in Chinatown
More lanterns
One street was particularly crowded.  A dragon was making its way down the street, dancing in front of various shops and restaurants that had strung up offerings of food and money in the doorway to lure it in and bring them luck. 
The dragon
The dragon eats bok choy hanging in a restaurant doorway
Here be dragons!
The crush of people was a bit overwhelming, so we fought our way out of the crowd and emerged at the end of the street just as a bizarre parade was going by.  A bunch of people wearing long lizard tails were dancing down the street, followed by a bicycle converted into a blue monster playing loud music.  My best guess is they were celebrating the year of the dragon by dressing like dragons.
Dragons on parade?
Not far behind was our friend the Hat Man, wearing his latest creation.
The Hat Man parades in his hat
It was quite a festive atmosphere, punctuated by the sounds of the dragon drummers and millions of those little firecrackers that explode when you throw them at the ground.  Since we didn't do much to celebrate the new year on Dec 31, this made up for it.  Happy New Year!

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