#9: Painting Korat Red For Chinese New Year

Welcoming the Year of the Goat

There’s a very high chance that my Chinese New Year was better than yours. I know that it went completely under my radar back in the UK until I had a Chinese housemate in uni, and even then, all I really did was eat dumplings with chopsticks.

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Dancers practising at Yamo

It came as a bit of a surprise that come the 18th Feb, the gradual construction happening over the past few weeks on the main promenade of Korat (known as Yamo) had come to a finish and boasted two huge yellow dragons (not real ones sadly) in the centre of the water fountains going down the strip. Overhead was what seemed like countless rows of red Chinese lanterns. All the tents were red, everyone was wearing red (even people’s pets), red red red red red…

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A local from Korat told me one reason Chinese new year is such a big celebration here spans from the amount of locals with Chinese ancestors. She estimated half of the city’s population will have a Chinese bloodline – it explains why a lot of temples and shrines dotted around involve Chinese writing or inspired décor. Many Chinese have wholefood or health stores in Korat, stocking herbal medicines from the province they come from.

For new year (18th-20th Feb) Yamo turned into a pavilion where one end of the strip showcased all the choice of food Korat gives into a concentrated block of food stalls, and a platform with loads of different performers taking to the stage throughout the evening – at earlier times, children and schools performed in big brass bands, and as it got later, the performances because a little more Chinese-orientated. Celebrations happened nightly for 3 nights, with admittedly not much variation between days. At the other end of the strip were 4 or 5 poles that a Chinese dragon (I was very disappointed to find out it was only two skilful men in a suit…) ascended and descended, jumping from pole to pole, sliding down and up, and moving onto its “hind legs”. Nearby was a little area set up with blossom tree lights and a little shrine, where we took turns to have a blessing of fortune. At this point, I feel I should point out I’m not yet swimming in riches…

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True to its nature, ACN had its own lil’ celebration to mark the occasion. Starting the day with a CNY speech, there were songs and dances from both students and the Chinese teachers. I’ve noticed that the younger children and the older teenagers in particular are always dolled up when there’s a special occasion. Maybe it’s the parents making the most of the kids wearing whatever they’ll put them in while they’re still young, and the older teenagers seizing the opportunity to wear beautiful dresses and make-up to school – and at any age in between, it’s “just not as cool”..?

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Performances, posers and an intense game of rock paper scissors

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A very generous gift was bestowed to all teachers, staff and students of the school, when the brother director gave each and every one of us an ‘ang pao’ (a little red envelope) with a kind sum inside! And it wasn’t just at school that kids were dressed up – a trip to Yamo on the night of new year showed that the children are central to a this festivity, as they are to many others!

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The three days Chinese New Year has been one of my favourite celebrations of 2015 so far, but I can’t help but feel like there’s more to come from this town. Already, possibly spurred on by this new year, the locals have started talking about Songkran (Thai new year) in April. How quickly time flies, eh?

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