Volume 74, Number 39 | February 2 - 8, 2005

Chinese New Year fest to kick off with S.D.R. flower market

By Josie Garthwaite

The ball has dropped, that little black champagne-scented dress cleaned, and 2004 is finally starting to feel like last year. As New York gets into the swing of 2005, the Lunar Year 4703 — the year of the Rooster — is poised to strut from the wings, and Chinatown is prepared to greet it in style.

The 15-day celebration begins this weekend with the 2nd Annual Lunar New Year Flower Market in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park at Grand and Chrystie Sts., where the Museum of Chinese in the Americas and the United East Athletics Association have arranged for a heated tent and dozens of floral vendors and other merchants to recreate a New Year’s tradition practiced across Asia, while stirring up business for Chinatown’s merchants and florists.

In Asia, the flower markets often last all day and into the night — New York’s market will close at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday — but the idea is the same: to ring in a year of prosperity with floral luck and beauty.

In the Chinese spoken language, the word for “flower” sounds like the word for “wealth.” Flowers, then, symbolize prosperity, and peach and plum blossoms, peonies, narcissi, azaleas, dahlias, chrysanthemums and small orange trees, appear in homes in preparation for the new year. To have a plant blossom on New Year’s Day — Feb. 9 this year — is considered especially lucky.

William Dao, museum associate for the Museum of Chinese in the Americas and one of the event’s chief organizers, said last year’s market drew visitors before the tent had even opened the sweet smelling, warm respite from an ill-timed blizzard. “Old men and women were poking their heads in,” lining up to snag the best blossoms and check out the festivities, he recalled.

Vendors were surprised by the market’s popularity. Dao recalls how florists who rolled in with a single cart of plants and blossoms found themselves dashing back to shops and storage areas to meet the demands of 30,000 visitors. With a larger venue, more vendors, entertainers and 200 raffle prizes planned for this year’s event, combined with hopes for better weather, organizers expect to draw up to 10,000 more guests.

Dao says the event attracts a crowd spanning generations and nationalities. For Chinese-American families distanced from Chinese culture over three or four generations in this country, Dao says, the flower market opens a door to forgotten culture. For others, it offers a chance to learn about another culture.

San Francisco, home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, is the only other American city to host a flower market on par with the one planned for this weekend. The San Francisco fair draws closer to 400,000 people. New York’s market is only in its second year, but Dao points to the event’s rapid growth.

Lion dancers from the United East Athletics Association, feng shui presentations and Chinese food demonstrations will join the florists and merchants at the park this weekend, and roundtrip airfare between New York and Hong Kong will go to a lucky raffle winner. Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields is scheduled to speak at Saturday’s opening ceremony, with other community leaders appearing throughout the weekend.

If there were any shortfalls to last year’s market, Dao says they can only be attributed to lack of experience, and the event can be expected to improve annually — hard to believe considering its success. But Dao says that unlike the gladiolus he plans to buy this weekend, last year, “We were still green.”

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