Sunday, 21 February 2010

Chinese New Year, Yaowarat, 14 Feb 2010

Last Sunday, just after midnight. Wending home from the Rain Dogs goodbye party, down soi Suan Plu, where families set up glowing pavement shrines on red tables, with statues, heady incense, oranges, peacock feathers, sweets, recorded chiming music. Gunpowder smoke overpowering the petrol-smell of the roads, firecrackers set off in abundance in the middle of the night.

Last Sunday, late afternoon. I took the express boat from Saphan Taksin to Rachawongse pier, and walked in the direction of Yaowarat Road to watch the spectacular performances celebrating Chinese New Year festivities - and they were spectacular, when I eventually reached them, but the festival beckoned from every side-street on the way, so I digressed and dawdled the last of the daylit hours away. A shrine tucked down one soi, bright and crowded. A covered market of dried fruits, gold nugget-shaped chocolates, sweets inside golden fish, with people heading further into the gloom of stalls, towards a temple. A little street with food carts, a woman stirring peanuts in a great roasting-pan, coffee stands.

The main road, heaving with crowds, hung over with red lanterns and yellow banners, lined with food stalls (20-30 baht a portion for everything I sampled). Men and women went about with huge bunches of novelty balloons, toy drums, dragon puppets. I reached the south end of Yaowarat as it got dark, walked under a glowing canopy of lanterns, saw a troupe of flashing snapping lion-dancers perform in a small crowd-clearing, came at last to the stage by China Gate. The acts included opera, acrobats, dancers from all over China, puppets, drumming - and, incongruously, some Thai pop stars that the audience screamed and waved flashing signs for. The performance that sticks in my mind most was a group of dancers in elaborate Chinese Opera gear, whose masks changed multiple times throughout, going from red to green or a feline-featured full-face mask to a black and white half-mask. The changes seemed instantaneous - perhaps a mechanism in their costume that pulled each face away too fast for us to notice? I don't know, but it was amazing.

Yaowarat Road is always worth a visit, especially at night with its neon and street food, but at festival-times it's nothing short of magical.

night-red fruit

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