It’s the Year of the Horse, of course, of course, and Lunar New Year is always a wonderful time to celebrate the many delightful elements of Asian culture that have made their way to Australia. Lunar New Year is celebrated in Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and of course China (including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau), as well as across the region where migrants originating from these countries have settled in other places like Singapore and Malaysia.
So, in honour of the twelve different animals that lend their identities to the years on the lunar calendar, I’ve come up with twelve fun things you might want to do in honour of this equine lunar season.
Admittedly, many of them involve eating, but after all, what better way to see in the Lunar New Year?
1) Yum cha is the best. It would be the best if it was merely a handy service whereby you sat and a succession of steaming hot dumplings were brought to you, without you needing to move. But there’s so much more to yum cha than that. Like the barbecued meat, for instance. And those fluffy white pork-filled buns. And the steamed vegetables, and the noodles that are fried at your table, and the other soft noodles that are folded around prawns and pork and, well, everything except chicken’s feet.
2) Bubble tea takes iced tea to a whole other level, and mass-produces it in heat-sealed containers of milky goodness that are full of taro balls and other delights. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, steer well clear of Easyway, Chatime and the other increasingly ubiquitous vendors, but if you don’t mind a sugary, milky tea hit, get into it.
3) Watch Asian movies, especially those from Hong Kong and Korea, which have two of the world’s most vibrant, exciting film industries. If you liked Scorcese’s The Departed, you would do very well to check out the original, which is called Infernal Affairs. Combining the ubercharismatic Andy Lau with the intense Tony Leung makes for a partnership every bit as good as that of Matt Damon and Leonardo di Caprio in the Hollywood version. Comedian Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle), auteur Wong Kar-Wai (In The Mood for Love) and gangster supremo Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) are also very reliable.
4) Eating late is easy in Sydney’s Chinatown, where the Chinese, Thai and Korean restaurants are buzzing well past midnight. Somehow Peking Duck feels even more decadent at 3am.
5) Banh mi are those delicious crusty bread rolls which betray Vietnam’s French heritage, infused with delicious flavours that could only come from the Mekong Delta. Try the original with pork, paté and chili, or the lemongrass chicken and beef.
6) Korean BBQ is sweeping the world, and it’s just a matter of time until your local pub copies the genius idea of putting a grill plate on every table. You’re given a plate of raw meat, generally marinated, and you grill it yourself. Not only is it fun, but it saves on labour costs and keeps the price down. If you don’t know what you’re doing, one of the staff can show you the ropes.
7) Fireworks are no longer legal, even in the ACT, but hey – big public displays are always fun, no matter how many times you’ve seen them before. Most cities have a number of firework displays at this time of year.
8) Lion dancing is great fun, especially for kids. It brings good luck to businesses (and bad luck to your eardrums if you’re too close to the instruments).
9) Watching horse racing is a popular pastime in places Hong Kong, home of the famous Happy Valley racecourse, and what better way to see in the Year of the Horse? Just don’t bet your shirt, because, well, the house always wins.
10) New Year Cake is a bit of an acquired taste, at least in my experience, but well worth trying.
11) Red packets containing money are traditionally exchanged during new year as part of Chinese culture. It’s customary to include notes rather than coins, though, so it can get expensive if you follow tradition and give the packets to everybody! With luck you’ll get a few packets back and break even…
12) Spending time with your family is what Lunar New Year is all about. In China, travelling to your home town to spend time with your family is pretty much mandatory, especially seeing as there are a number of public holidays in honour of the Lunar New Year. So if you get together with your loved ones, perhaps over a dumpling or two, you’ll be celebrating what’s ultimately the most important thing about the festival.