Friday, January 27, 2017

Happy New Year, Take 2...

Lion dancers perform at a Thai-Chinese business on Lunar New Year. Many business people hire lion dance troupes to perform at their businesses to help ensure a prosperous new year. 

Thailand is in the midst of celebrating its second of three New Years. The legal New Year is celebrated on January 1. The second celebration of the New Year in Lunar New Year. Thailand is about 14% ethnically Chinese and Lunar New Year (also called Chinese New Year or Tet) is an important holiday here, especially in ethnically Chinese communities. If you were wondering, the third New Year celebration comes in April, when Thais celebrate "Songkran," their traditional New Year.  

Chinese entertainers walk through the EmQuartier and Emporium, two of Bangkok's most upscale shopping malls, during the malls' celebration of Lunar New Year.

Bangkok has a sprawling Chinatown district and many Thais have a Chinese branch of the family tree. Chinese are assimilated into Thai society and several aspects of Chinese culture are woven into Thai life. We live in a Thai part of Bangkok, far from Chinatown, but it's not unusual to see Chinese style lion dancers walking through our neighborhood. Lunar New Year celebrations here are an authentic expression Chinese identity, not a marketing gimmick like they are in many Chinatowns in the U.S.
A woman lights prayer candles on Lunar New Year at a family altar in a Bangkok alley in Chinatown for Lunar New Year. 

Chinese family prays before their New Year meal in the family's pharmacy in Bangkok's Chinatown. 

This year's Lunar New Year was a fairly subdued affair. Thailand is about 1/3 of the way through a year long mourning period for the revered Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Late King of Thailand. Large public celebrations are discouraged (they were completely banned for the first weeks after the King's death) and the Lunar New Year celebration in Chinatown was a very large, very public, very boisterous celebration. Less than a week before the celebration was supposed to start, business leaders in Chinatown announced that this year's celebration in Chinatown was cancelled. Instead the Tourism Authority of Thailand organized a ersatz Lunar New Year celebration in Lumpini Park, as a part of their Thai Tourism Fair. 
A dragon dance performance in front of a Chinese shrine on Chareon Krung Road in Chinatown. 

The dragon dancers in the shrine. 

I went down to Chinatown earlier today knowing that Chinese New Year was cancelled but not really expecting that to be the case. I discovered that it was completely the case. Yaowarat Road, the main street in Chinatown was deserted. There were no lion or dragon dance troupes working the streets, like there have been for every previous Lunar New Year. 
A woman lights prayer candles at a Chinese temple in Chinatown.

In an alley in Chinatown, a woman burns ghost money in front of her shop. 

To be sure, the spiritual side of the New Year was still being celebrated. There were crowds in the temples, people were burning ghost money in front of their homes and shops and people were having their expansive new year feasts. But nothing New Year related was happening in the streets. 
Monks at a Chinese temple lead a New Year prayer. 

I walked up and down the streets and alleys of Chinatown all day looking for dance troupes. I was pretty satisfied with the pictures I made in the temples and shrines and people's spiritual observances of the new year, but I needed the lion dance photos to complete the package. 
A man lights incense in a Chinese shrine while lion dancers enter the shrine. 

I had given up and was walking back to the subway station to go to Lumpini Park for the ersatz celebration when I stumbled upon a lion dance troupe performing at a shrine. 
Lion dancers in a Thai-Chinese fabric shop. Business owners pay the dance troupes to bring them a prosperous new year. 

I photographed the dancers while they were in the shrine and then went with them when they went to dance at a business near Chinatown. 
Dragon dancers relax after a performance in Chinatown. 

When the dancers finished at the businesses I went home and edited my photos from the day. 


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