Year of the Rat

Saturday, January 25th began the Chinese New Year, which in case you are taken back to your childhood and remember those placemats at your Mom’s favorite Chinese food joint, you know the ones I mean, the ones that showed the Chinese zodiac so you could look up the year you were born and see which animal you were (Year of the Rooster, represent), while you waited for your sweet and sour chicken and water—because your Mom never let you order Coke—then you know each year gets assigned an animal. This Chinese New Year is the Year of the Rat. Now that that’s out of the way, I can tell you about all the fun we had ringing in the Chinese New Year with friends at Atlanta’s Chinatown on Sunday. Spoiler: There were no rats.

There was however, some great food, for starters. Jackson opted for dumplings, which is one of his favorites when we visit Hell’s Kitchen or Chinatown in NYC. He also ate a bowl of rice, cause why not? Jerimiah chose a pork roll, which was sweet and savory, and something neither of us had ever tried before. And I had the Beef and Bitter Melon. The beef was amazing good, but the melon had a weird taste and I couldn’t eat it. I kept trying, but my body was just rejecting it. Jerimiah asked me what was up and I was all, “I dunno try this and tell me what it tastes like, I just can’t place it, it’s not spicy, it’s just…” Then he took a bite and he said, “Jesus, it’s so bitter.” And I was all, “Oh that’s it! It’s bitter!” Then he asked me what the dish was called and I confidently said, “Beef and Bitter Melon” and then we looked at each other directly in the eye for a few seconds, wherein I realized what had happened, and he, I suppose, started to wonder how he got stuck with me as his wife.

Luckily just then a little boy came running toward us yelling, “Jackson! Jackson!” The little boy was Jackson’s friend’s little brother. He is in first grade, but he legit. He grabbed Jackson and immediately took him over to see the koi pond. Then came Jackson’s friend, her Mom (and my friend) who legit was born in China, but raised in Hong Kong and Ohio, and speaks Mandarin and is a badass, and her husband, who is from a remote village in India, but works for the State of Georgia. They are amazing, and they had invited us to see their daughter perform at the Chinese New Year celebration, which she does every year with her ballet/Tae Kwon Do team. PS… They all do Tae Kwon Do. No shit. How do we meet such cool people?!

Anyway, her performance was about to start, so we found a good spot to watch and cozied up. It was a pure delight, the favorite of the whole celebration year after year. First her ballet dance team came up and performed, then she had a violin solo, then the Tae Kwon Do team came out and did an amazing performance wherein I, for a split second, thought that I could probably do jump kicks and break boards with my feet too. I mean, probably.

Afterward we meandered around a bit more. There are a lot of shops, but the place was so crowded we vowed to come back another time to do our real shopping. Then suddenly someone was shouting that the lion was coming so we followed the crowd outside to see what this all meant. We were not disappointed.

The Lion Dance is a traditional Chinese dance where performers mimic a lion’s movements in an elaborate costume in order to bring good fortune for the new year. The Lion was running a little behind because they had many performances that weekend all around Atlanta. Atlanta, particularly the area of Chamblee/Dunwoody/Doraville has a large Asian population, and the Lion had a lot of performances and this was their last one, the grande finale. While we waited for the Lions to get there (there was actually two Lions) the announcer told us the story of The Lion Dance. (After she had Jackson run through the whole Chinatown Mall and yell for everyone to hurry up and come see the Lion. For real. He was happy to do it.)

The Lion Dance starts with firecrackers, so she warned us that it would be loud. Then the Lions would fall asleep and we would have to wake them with cheering. These are not Serengeti lions, y’all, don’t try firecrackers and screaming on your safari, okur? Then someone, an unsuspecting young boy and slightly scared white dude, were chosen to “feed” the Lions lettuce. Why lettuce? Lettuce is the color green. What else is green? Money, you nailed it! The Lions would eat the lettuce, then regurgitate it, for real, then you would run and get pieces of eaten lettuce from the Lions to bring you good fortune all year. Oh, and also you can and should feed the Lions actual money, for your prosperity, and for theirs. Get it yet? No? Here’s a video:

Atlanta’s Chinatown is not really what you think of when you think of Chinatown in a big city. It’s not like Chinatown in San Fran, or NYC, or even Chicago. It is more spread out, sort of like Atlanta, but there is this one mall where you will find a grocery store and several shops, and authentic food, and that is sort of the center of the Asian culture in that area, so this is where they do all the celebrating. It’s unique and fun, sort of like the rest of Atlanta. We had a really nice time and can’t wait to go back and explore more when there are way less white people to ruin the exploring!

So Happy Chinese New Year! And Happy Year of the Rat. I asked my friend how to say this in Madarin, but I have literally no idea what she said, so I will just copy this from Google translate: 新年快乐

And here are some more pics from our day in Chinatown. Enjoy.

M.

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