Chinese culture ram-ming

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By Fatima Najm

More than 100,000 Torontonians took $9 detour to china last weekend to celebrate the lunar New Year at Exhibition Place.

As dragons and drums ushered in the New Year amidst a flurry of red and gold, a sea of people, mostly members of Toronto’s diverse Asian community, roamed the 275 stalls in the Automotive Building.

While the auspicious pounding of drums and clanging of gongs mesmerized the audience at the Toronto Star stage, wafer-thin models slipped into designer Alice Ko’s custom-made cheung sam collection backstage. Out on the catwalk, the models fused the five elements of fire, earth, water, wood and gold into a fashion show. More remarkable than the elegant outfits were the flamboyant hairdos. Fire’s hair was gelled into stiff, red flames, while Gold sported a massive lantern-like style and Wood’s tresses were wrapped in foliage and twigs.

Sharing the stage with the 10-metre long golden paper dragon were traditional kung fu demonstrations and anything-but-traditional hip hop performances. It was the first time in the celebration’s seven-year run that fashion and hip hop have been incorporated into the entertainment schedule. The decision to introduce modern elements to traditional New Year festivities came out of a need to engage Asian-Canadian youth in their culture.

“This used to be an event where you would see mostly middle aged people, but now look around,” said Alex Yeung, coordinator of the three-day event, gesturing at the multitude of twenty-somethings sampling dumplings in the food court.

“We wanted to get the young people excited about their culture so we got them involved,” he says.

If the collection of cuisine was anything to go by, the trip to China turned into excursions to the rest of the Far East via Taiwanese bubble tea, Vietnamese snacks, Japanese sushi, Thai satays, Malaysian curry and a plethora of other offerings

In another culture-crammed corner of the exhibition, Ryerson graduate Hamzat Bramo shelled out $300 for a Chinese sword in an intricately carved wood sheath, while his friend acquired an even more pricey purchase; a $500 Japanese sword.

Bramo, who was at the celebration for seven hours, and said he felt totally immersed in Chinese culture. “You really get an authentic taste of the traditions. We’ve been looking for a simple Diet Coke but all we can find is stuff like this,” he said, pointing to a can covered in Chinese lettering.

Rosita Ieong, a second-year food and nutrition student, wasn’t as impressed with the event, saying it was “too commercialized.”

She said there weren’t many booths that specifically had to do with the Chinese New Year.

Michael Lai, a third-year computer science student, agreed, adding that for $9 he expected a more impressive experience.

The three-day festival ran from Friday to Sunday. The celebrations were packed with non-stop performances.

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If you missed the weekend festivities you can join the Chinese Scholars Student Association in their celebration of the lunar New Year on campus at the Oakham house, 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb 5.

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