Here There Be Dragons

It’s customary, on each New Year’s day, for the dragons to go to every shop in Chinatown to offer blessings. Now, I’m not all that familiar with the specifics, as this has been my first official Chinese New Year in Chicago.

Noise is used to "scare off" evil spirits, and firecrackers do the job nicely. Each shop brings out an offering to the dragon (lettuce and sometimes oranges). The dragon dances to frenzied drums and gongs, picks up the lettuce and throws it all over the place.

In addition to dancing outside the storefront, the dragons also enter into the establishment. I wasn’t able to really see that, so these shots are all primarily outdoor ones.

I should also mention that there’s more than one dragon. There are a ton of shops in Chinatown, and there were several different "groups" of dragons canvassing the area.

The drummers. After a while, I realized how friggin’ tiring this must be. Dancing in front of every store, and keeping up this heavy, fast-paced drumming…

Alrighty. What you see (above) is my first little foray with pulling video into Flash.

What you may not be able to see is that the guy is lighting the fireworks with a cigarette. In almost every case where I saw people "set off" the fireworks, they almost always used a lit cigarette to do so.

Man, I really wish there was sound. Those things are really loud!

If you’re having problems viewing the movie, you probably need the latest Flash plugin. Download it here.

Damn my 15 second timelength! This is the continuation of the first movie. Those big strands of fireworks go on for a long, long time! If you look closely, you’ll see a lot of debris flying all around. When I was filming this, I was getting pelted in the face and hair with all the residue.

I was in pretty close, and had no idea how loud they were going to be. I’ve got one finger in my left ear, and the other is on the "record" button on my camera. Towards the end, when the fuse hits the top of the firecracker strand… there’s a whole bunch of the fuckers wired together. When it reaches the end, there’s a HUGE explosion. I wasn’t ready or expecting that, and you’ll see me flinch towards the end of the movie.

Like I said. They’re loud. :)

Changing of the guard. At several times, the dragon people would switch and let someone else take the next turn. I imagine it must get pretty tiring, to say nothing of the noise. My ears were ringing after the first blessing, and next year you better bet I’m bringing earplugs.

Part of the aftermath.

More debris. By nightfall, almost all the sidewalks in Chinatown looked like this.

The drummers. As far as I could tell, the guy playing the main drum was always the one playing.

The second shop/blessing I saw. It’s hard to see, but at the top of the firework strand… there’s a small, circular package. THAT thing is filled with firecrackers, and sets off a tremendous boom when it ignites.

Close-up of the drum.

Ahhh, cigarettes. Is there anything they can’t do?

Once they start going, smoke pretty much fills the air. At several points, since I was fairly close… it even became hard to see!

hahahahaha – this killed me. Blurry shot, but the guy in the center there? Seconds ago, he was the one dancing as the dragon, and was controlling the head. He had just passed the dragon to his friend, and started coughing up a fit because he was dancing so near to the fireworks.

The third blessing Alex and I saw. We’re right on the edge of Old Chinatown.

This is a smaller strand, but you can sort of see the round payload at the top there. And some of these firecrackers are roughly the size and shape of shotgun shells. Huge!

Like I said – it gets pretty smoky. :)

I really like this shot a great deal. Wish it were more focused.

We’re in New Chinatown now, and watching two different dragons dancing. These two dragons were incredibly acrobatic, and I was really impressed by how they moved. Here’s one of those attempted "low" shots I’ve been so fond of lately.

Double Dragons.

Oops – I think these are out of order. This is slightly after the fireworks have gone off.

e Red Dragon, digging in to the offering.

This is the impressive acrobatics I was talking about. Cool, cool moves.

I’m amazed at how close the dancers get. Those firecrackers spit out debris like crazy.

I’m also terribly fond of this picture.


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