Smiling faces and friendly greetings of “Gong Xi Fa Cai!” follow me as I stroll through the bustling Asian shopping extravaganza. Here at Aberdeen Centre, hundreds of Chinese lanterns hang high overhead. Everywhere I look, a sea of red and gold, lucky colors in Chinese culture, light up storefronts in dazzling vendor displays. Packages of red envelopes, gold-foiled candies and small stuffed rams line the tables from end to end. The scent of fresh flowers and fruit fill the market mall. Meanwhile, the promise of exuberant lion dances express the joyous spirit of revelers on the scene. The celebration of China’s longest and most important holiday appears well underway even though the official kickoff is still days away.
Annually the holiday occurs between the end of January and February, with a variable start date, based on the Chinese lunar calendar. Closely connected to the Chinese Zodiac, each year features one of twelve animal signs that rotate in a twelve-year cycle. 2015 celebrates “Year of the Sheep,” or “Goat” or “Ram,” depending on the translation.
Whether you wish another person “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin or “Gong Hey Fat Choy” in Cantonese, each expresses the same sentiment: “Wishing you great happiness and prosperity!” Translating the English version, “Happy New Year,” into Chinese becomes, “Xin Nian Kuai Le,” or “New Year Happy.” It’s a time for leaving the old year behind, symbolized in ritual house cleaning, in eager anticipation of new beginnings, a sweeping away of the past for the promise of what lies ahead.
On the restaurant scene, delectable dining menus feature “lucky foods,” tokens of good luck, longevity and prosperity: a whole squab for wholeness with family (the head and tail for good beginnings and good endings), fish and dumplings for money, tongue for ease, oysters for good business and long noodles for longevity. But with menu names like “Beautiful Family Happy Days,” often the real adventure lies in discovering exactly what foods comprise the dish. Visits to the Richmond Public Market and Osaka Grocery Store at Yaohan Center shed some of the mystery by offering a peek at Asian meal ingredients and an authentic Asian food court.
Sixty percent of the local population in Richmond, British Columbia is of Asian, predominantly Chinese, descent. Little wonder then that Chinese New Year has become a favorite annual festival in this once-sleepy Vancouver suburb. But a visit to Richmond, B.C. reveals the region’s diverse cultural traditions beyond celebrating Asia’s lunar holiday.
For starters, visit Richmond’s No. 5 road, better known as “Highway to Heaven,” to see how residents of different religious faiths and spiritual practices co-exist peacefully. Mosques, temples and churches encourage visitors for guided tours, special events, lectures, celebrations and art exhibits. Our Richmond stay includes a brief stop at the Buddhist Ling Yen Mountain Temple, home to 10,000 worshippers. Welcomed with a cup of fragrant Asian tea upon arrival, we next tour the Chinese palatial-style temple and hibernating garden grounds while sounds of chanting surround us, creating a calm and peaceful presence on our walk.
To gain further insight into the diverse cultures of local inhabitants, visitors can attend a tea ceremony, explore a traditional Chinese medicine shop or browse the two-dollar Japanese bargain store, Daiso, all at the Aberdeen Centre. And with summer on the horizon, why not extend your cultural explorations at the area’s two Asian Night Markets, a stunning array of vendors serving sweet and savory dishes, together with live entertainment and performances.
For more information, visit:
Four Points by Sheraton Vancouver Airport
Ling Yen Mountain Temple
Golden Paramount Seafood Restaurant
Lulu Island Winery
Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant
Richmond Public Market
Many thanks to my host, Tourism Richmond, for this glimpse into the cultural wonders of the region!
What about you, wanderboomers? What’s your favorite way to discover a new region through its cultural traditions?