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Rediscover Joburg Chinatown in the Chinese New Year

(People's Daily Online)  Sissy Zhang  2016-02-04 02:18

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The Dragon Dance team was accompanied by the security during the whole process of their performance on February 28, 2015. (People's Daily Online/Zhang Jiexian)

 

As the rest of the world has welcomed 2016, China is still counting down to its traditional New Year celebration that falls on February 8, and the Chinese community in South Africa is gearing itself up too. With more than 30,000 overseas Chinese living here, the suburb of Cyrildene, also known as the new Chinatown in Johannesburg has become the focal point. The annual tradition of a street party with the dragon and lion dances, and firework displays, along with loads of eating and drinking and general merry-making happens here.

Up until around 2000, the suburb of Cyrildene in Johannesburg was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. It wasn’t until the city’s previous Chinatown in Commissioner Street, Newtown became affected by the migration of businesses to the northern suburbs and the Chinese stores and restaurants chose to relocate to Cyrildene that it turned into the new Chinatown.


A South African staff member leans against a wall outside a Cantonese restaurant in Cyrildene, waiting for the Chinese New Year celebration to start. (People's Daily Online/ Zhang Jiexian)
 

The block is marked with an ornate arch with Chinese calligraphy on. With several ancient-style buildings blending into the street, the suburb somehow retains a vibe of 1980s China. You can find almost everything from restaurants to hair salons, butcheries to grocery stores, a karaoke lounge and even a library filled with Chinese publications. It is a place where Chinese immigrants that seem to adapt themselves well into the local environment to pick up ingredients from home, grab snacks, enjoy authentic food, and recall the taste and smell of their motherland.

Celebrating Chinese New Year is a tradition of great significance that overseas Chinese can never abandon. They traditionally celebrated the start of a lunar new year of farm work, and wished for a good harvest in ancient times. This has now evolved to celebrating the start of a new business year and wishing for profits and success. It is a time to celebrate a year of hard work, rest, relax with family members, and to wish for a lucky and prosperous year.


Pop-up food stalls on the occasion of New Year celebration in Cyrildene attract local South Africans. (People's Daily Online/ Zhang Jiexian)
 

As a time for families to get together, and because Chinese people travel long distances to work in cities far from their hometowns, this is the time for  reunion dinner with families, which is believed to be the most important meal of the year. This even leads to the travel rush in China that is considered to be the largest annual human migration in the world, when China faces extremely high traffic loads that result in great transportation problems, especially on the railway services.

Besides the reunion dinner , other traditional celebrations include setting off firecrackers, sharing red envelopes filled with money, wearing new clothes and decorating houses in red. Younger people tend to watch TV gala events, send instant message greetings and digital money gifts to each other.



A child listens to the introduction of Chinese New Year traditions in Nan Hua Temple on February 22, 2015. (People's Daily Online/ Zhang Jiexian)

 

The celebrations often last for half a month, starting from the last day of the previous year in the lunar calendar, until the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar new year. The lunar calendar is used for agriculture activities, traditional festivals, and Chinese zodiac horoscopes, a repeating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal and its reputed attributes. And the calendar is still used to determine auspicious days for weddings, funerals and relocation in East Asian countries. With 2016 to be the year of the Monkey according to the zodiac cycle, decorations related to monkeys will be common.

On the auspicious occasion of the New Year on February 8, Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene will be closed off to traffic and decorated with red lanterns. Pop-up stalls will offer an immense selection of snacks from dim-sum to milk tea. Patrons will be seated in the open-air restaurants and enjoy a set menu at an affordable price. A dragon dance team parade will bless all the shops along the street, accept offerings and set off fireworks. Alongside the overseas Chinese community in South Africa, a few local South Africans will also join in the celebration.  
   

A mother throws a coin tied to a piece of ribbon with her wish on it to the Wishing Tree in Nan Hua Temple on February 22, 2015. It is said that if one’s ribbon is attached onto the tree without falling, his dream will come true. (People's Daily Online/ Zhang Jiexian)

 

Last year, the event was hampered by rain. The weather kept the crowd waiting for quite a while. The dragon dance team maneuvered to perform on the slippery road. Yet still, the rain traditionally symbolizes an upcoming year of peace, harvest and fortune, injecting much more fun and uniqueness into the day.

Besides the Cyrildene function organized by the local Chinese community, some of the overseas Chinese also attend the celebration in Nan Hua Temple, the largest Buddhist Temple in Africa, located in the suburb of Bronkhorstpruit, 70 kilometers northeast of Johannesburg. The event includes a temple fair with various types of traditional Chinese food, lantern painting and handicrafts, Buddhism-related displays, and a series of authentic cultural performances.



South Africans and overseas Chinese attend the Light Offering Dharma Function at the Main Shrine in Nan Hua Temple on February 22, 2015. (People's Daily Online/ Zhang Jiexian)


 
(The story was originally published on Business Day on January, 29th, 2016.)