Volume 73, Number 38 | January 21 - 27, 2004

This year, Chinatown’s pinning its hopes on monkey

By Sascha Brodsky

Villager photo by Ramin Talaie

A lion dancer on Mott St. last Saturday helped welcome in the Year of the Monkey, 4702.

Moy Vat set a tiny drum thumping on Mott St. the other day as he tried to lure buyers to his souvenir stand.

Vat is among the thousands of Chinatown businesses large and small that are looking to the upcoming Chinese New Year’s celebrations to help make up for a faltering economy.

“Business has been very bad,” said Vat, a 43-year-old recent immigrant from Shanghai. “This year maybe we will get a lot of tourists and the money will come.”

To help businessmen like Vat, Chinatown leaders are planning a wide variety of entertainment to lure tourists to Chinatown over the three-week celebration of the Year of the Monkey.

“The New Year’s festival is very important this year,” said Community Board 2 member Don Lee, who is also an organizer with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. “Much more so than before 9/11. Business is still down in many sectors.”

While many stores and restaurants have opened in the last two years in Chinatown, they have replaced ones that have closed due to the downturn, Lee said. Many stores can no longer afford to hire outside workers and are instead using family workers, he added.

“Traditionally, restaurants have closed during New Year’s but this year many of them can’t afford to do that,” Lee noted.

To fill up the restaurants, events began on Jan. 17, with an opening ceremony at the corner of Mott and Canal Sts., featuring musical performances, martial arts demonstrations and several mini-lion dance groups. There will be lion dance performances at Mott and Canal Sts. every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through the end of the celebration.

The height of the festivities will be Jan. 22, Lunar New Year’s Day, when there will be a public celebration in Chatham Sq. The crowd will be entertained by several lion dance troupes from the metropolitan area, as well as by musical performances by Chinese singers and dancers.

The highlight of the ceremony will be a controlled firecracker detonation, a traditional Lunar New Year practice celebrated by Asians all over the world, who believe that the loud noise of the exploding firecrackers chases away the evil spirits so that people can begin the New Year with a clear slate. After the ceremony, at least 10 lion dance groups will spend the rest of the day winding through the streets of Chinatown, performing in restaurants and local business establishments.

The Chinese Folk Dance Company will celebrate the full moon in the World Financial Center Winter Garden, 220 Vesey St., when its Lantern Festival is presented free Feb. 5, at 7:00 p.m. The performance features swirling silk, flashing swords and frolicking lions in this evening of dance, acrobatics and Peking Opera by the traditional Chinese dance company. The Folk Dance Company will also hold performances at the Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University, 566 LaGuardia Pl. There will be three performances, on Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Jan. 25 at 2 p.m.

The three-week celebration will conclude with a closing ceremony on Feb. 8, at 2 p.m. at Mott and Canal Sts. where local and national sponsors will be recognized for their support. The ceremony will feature lion dance performances, traditional Chinese music and martial arts exhibitions. There will be closing remarks by Ting Din Ng, President of the C.C.B.A., and other community leaders.

The Lunar New Year has traditionally been one of the most important holidays for the Chinese community, said Amy Chin, executive director of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

“It’s all about sweeping out the old and bringing in the new,” Chin said. “In China, families often work in different cities so there is usually a big feast on the eve to ensure that they will all be together. You have to have lots of food and each dish has a different meaning. Fish, for example, represents prosperity. Performances are also a great part of the holiday.”

During the Lunar New Year celebration, many of Chinatown’s restaurants and cafes will participate in a community-wide restaurant promotion featuring prix fixe Lunar New Year lunches and dinners costing $8.88 and $18.88, respectively, plus tax and gratuities. Many of the local shops and boutiques will also be offering Lunar New Year sales and specials.

“We are very happy to present Chinatown’s official Lunar New Year celebration for the third consecutive year,” said C.C.B.A.’s Ng, in a statement. “In 2002 and 2003, more than 500,000 New Yorkers, tourists and visitors welcomed the Lunar New Year in Chinatown and we expect even larger crowds this year.”


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