Monday, February 06, 2006

Fire dog,hidden dragon

A pair of dogs dance at Brisbane's Chinatown

I was born in the Year of the Dog – the Sleeping Wood Dog, to be astrologically precise, which is why you should never wake me.

Well, this is my year and the fire means I am going to be awake for all of it, so what better time to visit a land where Chinese New Year is always celebrated? I love Chinese New Year. My youngest daughter was clearly an Asian princess in her previous life. She was born with a predilection for all things Chinese, Japanese and Asian in general – she loves the food, the art and the music. She insisted on being taken to Sydney every year for the Chinese New Year celebrations, (we go to Brisbane now) and she insists on coming with me now. This is her land, Kathy says, and I’d better keep a close eye on her in case she doesn’t come back.

It’s even more exciting than all those times we set out for Sydney or Brisbane Chinatown together. Kathy wears her lovely pink Chinese jacket embroidered with cherry blossom that I got her for Christmas. I wear my green embroidered jacket with the side slits. She shows me how to style my hair with chopsticks, which I always say will come in handy at lunchtime. Kathy says `eeewwww’, as she always does.

Going up the Faraway Tree is slow because she wants to stop and marvel at everything. She adores fairies and can’t wait to get to Silky’s house. When we do there is a lovely surprise – the tree is growing cherry blossom and cherries at the same time. Amazing! Kathy is enchanted and picks a sprig of cherry blossom for her hair. The fruit is delicious, but the Land of Chinese New Year calls – already we can hear the sound of drums and cymbals drifting down through the branches.

The land of Chinese New Year is like the biggest Chinatown we have ever seen. An avenue stretches out before us, with cherry blossom trees growing on either side. The street is lined with gorgeous shops, market stalls and noodle stalls, and Kathy practically does handstands in her excitement. She is a grown up girl of nearly 19 now, yet she still gets excited as a child on Chinese New Year.

There is a procession coming down the street and we stop to watch with the crowd as it draws near. There’s a dancing red dog in the lead, trailing filmy gauzy ribbons of flame.

``Are you born in the year of the Dog?” People ask each other. ``Touch the Red Fire Dog – it’s lucky.”

Kathy manhandles me down to the front of the crowd with the other Dog people and our hands reach out to pat the Red Fire Dog as it dances close to us. As I look into its face, expecting to see human eyes, I see strange red and gold eyes peeping out at me. The dog licks my hand with a gauzy ribbon, and it feels like a real flame. I draw my hand back in surprise – is there a hidden dragon inside the Red Fire Dog? But of course there is – how would it get its fire otherwise?

The Red Fire Dog dances away and the crowd scatters. There is so much to see and do – the market stalls have drawn Kathy’s attention, and I follow her in search of treasure. We are in Heaven, surrounded by beautiful things. I find a whole stall with hand made and painted Chinese papers and spend ages making a selection. Already in my mind’s eye I can see the way I will use them in collage, and to make origami boxes.

Laden with bags, we visit the Chinese Gardens for a cup of Oolong tea and moon cakes. This was always our favourite treat in Sydney, but these Chinese Gardens are even bigger and better. The gardens cover a vast area, and reach to snow capped mountains in the distance. We find a tree house near a lake surrounded by willows, and tea is brought to us in a stone tea pot with little clay cups and a plate of moon cakes. Just as we did in the Chinese Gardens back home, we pour out our tea and sip it blissfully, letting the leaves settle at the bottom. Kathy shows me her cup – a star of happiness. I look in mine and see the figure of a dog – yes, this is going to be a good dog year for me.

An old lady has been watching us from her seat on a low stone wall near the lake. Now she gets up and comes over to our table, politely asking if she can sit down.

Of course, we want her company – she is wonderful, with a kind, seamed face, and tiny wrinkled hands. She nods approvingly at Kathy’s cup. Her eyes sparkle like little chips of polished ebony.

``You will always know happiness,” she says. ``For you give more happiness than you expect to receive and take joy in simple things.”

Then she takes my cup and turns it this way and that.

``A bit of fire will do your lazy dog a lot of good,” she laughs. ``There is a dragon hiding in you, and it is filled with creative spirit. I see friends helping you to unleash it. To create beauty and bring happiness is the finest ambition of all, and you can be proud that your daughter has chosen this path – follow it yourself and you will find inner peace, as she has.”

Night is falling and all over the Land of Chinese New Year, lanterns are lighting up the trees – it sparkles like a jewel. The old lady leans over and kisses my cheek and Kathy’s, and then she is gone.


At 8:19 AM, Blogger Vi Jones said...

Oh, Gail, this is a wonderful piece. It brought back memories of my living in San Francisco. I used to stop for tea in Chinatown. There was so much life there ... so much excitement. And the sound of the local Chinese speaking in their language--so musical.

It is sad that politics keeps East and West apart.


At 2:49 AM, Blogger le Enchanteur said...

This is so fresh and lively Gail. It creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere, helping to make this land so real.


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