A Little Wonderment…A Child’s Journey Through Chinese New Year

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Last month’s Chinese New Year celebrations embraced Chiang Mai’s small Chinatown section with wholehearted enthusiasm. The signature red Chinese lanterns adorned every doorway.

Red Chinese lantern at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Every shop entrance strung crimson bulbs from end to end. And the effect, as evening settled over Little China, was faintly magical. The tinted light tinkling out of the lanterns warred with the harsh street lights for ambient command of the Chinese New Year festivities.

Food stall preparations at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Crowds thronged the main-stage hours before the performances and the long row of stop-light red food stalls offered up mounds of fresh, steaming food for the hungry masses gathering nearby. The mysterious preparations on stage included huge dragon heads, odd without their accompanying long dragon bodies, being unceremoniously hefted into place.

Constructing the stage at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Crowds make use of foodstalls before the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

And that’s in that moment I wished I could spend the next hour through the eyes of a child…

The little boy is rapt with attention on the empty stage at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Little girl on her dad's shoulders at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

…the little boy dutifully minds his helicopter parents as food is pushed between his parted lips. Mechanical chewing as the child eats his food but refuses to move his glance from the on-stage preparations; he’s fearful of missing a single moment of the performance, which in his mind will jump-start into life the very moment he loses focus.

A jumble of balloons briefly obscures the stage and the child is distracted; the shininess arrests his attention from the stage just as the next mouthful of food is shoved into his gaping mouth. He manages to utter a muffled grunt and point, an obvious and instantaneous request for the newest object of his fascination.

Huge bouquet of balloons at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Cotton candy! Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The parents confer while the child already begins to plot out which balloon is the best decoration for his petite wrist; he knows that today is a celebration. And that means balloons.

And cotton candy.

The vendors pick their targets well and even a few adults (including a tall, farang red-head) are captivated by the thought of sticky-sweet, colorful cotton candy.

The vendors pass, the chink and jingle of a few extra Thai baht audibly weighs down their pockets as they scan the crowds for more easy targets.

Then the murmur and sudden silence of the crowd confirms the child’s suspicions. The moment he was thoroughly engrossed in his cotton candy and balloons he missed the opening beats of the performance.

Dragon performers leap between posts at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Standing tall and proud, the dragon show at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Dragon show and fireworks at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A dragon leaps onto the stage. The legs underneath the dragon look awfully human-like but the child’s eyes are invariably drawn, instead, to the enormous dragon head bobbing across the stage. The dragon’s blue eyes light up with a flash and the child knows: this performance is for him alone.

In fact, he’s so engrossed in the jumping, jiggling, gyrating dragon he scarcely notices as his mom gently pries the cotton candy out of his fingertips and his dad lifts him overhead and settles him firmly into place. Dad’s shoulders feel so natural so he rests his hands on his dad’s forehead and settles in for the rest of the show.

Amazed by the dragon performance at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Ladyboys dancing on stage at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The dragons give way to the giggle-inducing ladyboys who dance and prance around the stage with umbrellas and balls. Their antics are meant in jest and the crowd can’t help but chuckle right alongside the child.

Dancers, no older than the child, delicately walk onto the stage. The heavy makeup, applied with absolute precision, cannot hide the fact that they’re just children. The boy, still hunkered down on his dad’s shoulders, imagines that one day his little sister might dance on a stage like this too.

Child dancer rapt with attention at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Dancers watch and wait their turn on stage at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Dancer's ornate hair designs at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The music changes and just as his attention starts to drift, the dragon is back. Except, this dragon is different. The dragon’s rainbow of colors trigger a different part of the child’s imagination and instead of asking to get off of dad’s shoulders, he imagines himself a dragon slayer. He is up on stage and everyone is cheering him on, chanting his name, and relying on him to save the day.

Lite up dragons at the Chinese New Year festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The dragon show is abruptly over; the boy lost track of time and didn’t even notice the minutes tick by as the dragon show progressed. His baby sister is getting tired and mom and dad insist it’s time to leave. More dancers are up on stage but his dad has already started to weave through the crowd. The child throws one last thirsty glance back at the stage.

The Chinese New Year festivities will continue throughout the night, but every cotton candy sugar coma has to wear off at some point. The child lets out a plaintive whine, he doesn’t want to miss a second of the shows, but already his parents have turned the corner.

The festival is over for him. But tonight?

Tonight he’ll dream of dragons.


A big thanks to my friend Claire Balgemann, she was with me for the festivities and several of these are her photos  :-)

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22 Responses to A Little Wonderment…A Child’s Journey Through Chinese New Year

  1. Sarah Wu April 4, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    What a colorful and alive photo essay you have here.

    • Anonymous April 4, 2011 at 2:14 am #

      Thanks Sarah :-) It was such a colorful evening!

  2. Sofia - As We Travel March 23, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    beautiful, great concept!

  3. Mike March 19, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Wow, beautifully written. Really enjoyed this!

    • Anonymous March 19, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      Thanks so much Mike! Hope you are enjoying yourself, CM misses you! :)

  4. Kerry-Ann March 18, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    I love the way your story and photos captured the wonder of seeing it through the eyes of a child. We can be so blase about things as adults, forgetting what it is like to be captivated by the wonders and colours around us.

    • Anonymous March 18, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      It is really easy to forget that there is some amazing beauty in the world,
      so it’s the child’s dropped jaw that always pulls me back into the moment :)
      Thanks for stopping in and commenting Kerry-Ann :)

  5. Alicia March 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Sometimes, I envy the courage and innocence in children. We really need their sense of wonder!

    • Anonymous March 16, 2011 at 12:41 am #

      I agree Alicia! Exploring a new situation with that in mind though,
      especially on the road, can add a fun element :)

  6. bluegreen Kirk March 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Child are always better at things than adults. They are carefree, truthful, and arent afraid to go after what they want. In fact it is often the parents that put the limitations on the childs mind. Oh to be a child again care free playing and having someone else feed me.

    • Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

      That’s exactly what I was going for here – there is a pure innocence to the
      way they approach everything, nothing to fear, everything is still handed to
      them in so many cases, so they are free to be purely creative as they
      explore their world. Now the trick is for us adults to take back a bit of
      that feeling! :-)

  7. Rebecca March 14, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    Great photos – looks like a lot of fun! I really enjoyed reading this piece, particularly how you wrote it through the “eyes” of this young boy.

    • Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

      Thanks Rebecca for the comment, kind words, and for stopping in. :) The
      whole piece was inspired by that photo of the boy with the red balloon –
      he’s just so very engrossed the world, oblivious even to me and my
      camera…now we need to figure out how to focus on the world with that same
      intensity as adults! :)

  8. Eurostar March 14, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    Very nice pics and also like this place…

  9. Angela March 14, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    So sweet, I was in Shanghai on the lat day of the Spring Festival. Needless to say, here too red lanterns all over the place, very suggestive. In Yu Yuan, downtown Shanghai, they also organized many things for children, and kids were happy indeed!

    • Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 7:47 am #

      I bet celebrating any festival in China is pretty epic, if they’re anything like Thailand then the locals throw themselves into the celebrations wholeheartedly! :)

  10. Anonymous March 13, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

    Lovely! And those balloons! The Hello Kitty ones, esp.! I want some too! :)

    • Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 4:16 am #

      They have a big thing for Hello Kitty over here, so you would be in
      heaven! Thanks for stopping in and commenting! :)

  11. Andi Perullo March 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    I LOVED this post! I have celebrated Chinese New Year all over the world, except for China. It’s on my BL. I’m hoping to do it next year when my bro is over there. Looks like they celebrate it in style in Thailand too!

    • Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 4:19 am #

      I hear that the big cities are just mad-houses of festivities for the New
      Year – and considering CM was celebrating in style, I can only imagine what
      it would be like in China! Look forward to seeing the photos when you check
      that one off of your bucketlist :)

  12. Saravana K March 13, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Enjoyed reading this post and the photos… good stuff.. :)

    • Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 4:19 am #

      Thanks Saravana! And I appreciate you stopping in and commenting :-)

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