When most foreigners think of Chinese New Year, they think of fireworks, Dragon Dances, and egg rolls. Though there are fireworks in abundance, I’ve never seen the famous Dragon Dance (though we have witnessed many Lion Dances), and have to go to America if I want an egg roll. For native Chinese, Lunar New Year means family, food, and pretty decorations…much like many of our western holidays. One of their (and our!) favorite traditions is Flower Street. Whether they are set in narrow alleys or sprawling squares, for three days leading up to midnight on Chinese New Year’s Eve, these bouquetted boulevards are sure to be thronged with a press of people, a plethora of posies, and tons of toys for the patron’s purchasing pleasure.
Many people will meet up for a meal before going to the market. Hot pot and BBQ are both popular choices, because they allow people to sit around a warm pot or grill (remember, the indoors is usually unheated, and it can get cold), chat, and leisurely fix their food to suit their own fancy.
Our friends had found a Groupon-style deal for a BBQ grill, and we thoroughly enjoyed the unique experience.
As we chatted, we grilled thinly shaved pork and beef, small steaks, chicken, sardines, eggplant, sausages, green vegetable #9 (not sure what it’s called in English or Chinese), and mackerel steaks- all seasoned to perfection with cumin, garlic, soy sauce, and numerous other sauces.
Though it may not have been what westerners would think of as BBQ, we gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up.
With happy bellies, we made our way to the Flower Street at the sports center- the largest Flower Street in GZ. What a spectacle it was!
We knew there would be a huge crush of people once we went in, so I told the ladies to keep an eye out for the white hat bobbing above the crowd and follow that. It pays to be tall sometimes.
I think this imposing gate guardian would agree.
The square leading up to Flower Street was massive, teeming with people, and lined with beautiful traditional decorations.
In a nod to China’s long history of celebrating this lunar holiday, they had set up mobile museums displaying traditional artifacts and historical tidbits.
From here we took a deep breath and waded into the crush of people. Please excuse the quality of some of my shots. Not only was it night time, but sometimes the only way I could get a picture was to hold the camera over my head and shoot.
Did I mention that there were a lot of people there?
Flower Streets are a conglomeration of time-honored “lucky” items, beautiful flowers, fun toys and food. While we don’t believe in luck, it’s interesting to understand the mindset behind these traditional items.
No, these are not lemons with udders. They symbolize “five generations under one roof.”
A bunch of these would symbolize the giver’s desire for your family line to continue and prosper, and for all of its members to love each other and live in harmony together.
Having this in your home would show a desire for success in your career. Each tier represents a promotion, until you’re the big boss at the top of the pyramid.
Some things are tied to accumulating wealth, because of their visual resemblance to money-
Oranges look like gold coins…
…and pussy willow (at least in its natural, undyed state) looks like silver coins.
This unique pitcher plant is given to families hoping for children.
Peach blossoms are traditionally put in the homes of single ladies to advertise the need for a husband. Many friends are encouraging me to buy some this year…
…but I decided I didn’t need them to meet my Mr. Right. Or is he Mr. Wong???
Not all flowers are “lucky.” Some are just lovely; these are my favorites!
Hu die hua (butterfly flowers) are both popular and expensive.
It’s easy to see why these beautiful flowers are so coveted.
I thought these azalea bonsais were stunning…
…and the paperwhites delicate beauty and sweet fragrance make them another perennial favorite.
You’d think with these and many other flowers perfuming the air, the Flower Street would be a pretty nice-smelling place to be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Hanging over everything was a really dreadful stench. I kept checking the bottom of my boots, looking to see if we were near portable outhouses…but I could not figure out where that horrible smell was coming from. Then, it dawned on me. Check out the food vendors.
After all, their offerings were, shall we say, a little out of the ordinary?
The Tibetan BBQ guy, dancing to the rhythmic beat of the music as he tossed and turned his meat skewers, checked out okay.
Here we find the culprit- a huge mound of chou dou fu- aptly translated as stinky tofu. I won’t go into details about how it’s cured, but sufficed to say I plan to stay away from it.
Ah, this is much more our speed.
This is all-natural cotton candy; no artificial colors or flavors. It’s practically health food.
To make it more fun for the young and the young at heart, vendors hawk everything from balloon sculptures…
…to hand formed clay models…
…blow up hammers (which many boys/men were having way too much fun with)…
…giant fake candied fruit sticks…
…and Do Re Mi?
Probably my favorite part was the red lanterns swaying in the trees overhead…
…aren’t they magical?
Flower Street is a fun blend of old and new; traditional and whimsical– a great place to go to experience the full effect of the pageantry of this country and the warm, joyful spirit of its people.