Feb 10 2013

In my next life, I will love crowds. I will spend each New Year’s Eve in New York City at Times Square and each Chinese New Year in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown.

Today is 2013’s Chinese New Year, a year of the Snake. It will be celebrated in fine style, here in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown. If I didn’t mind crowds, I’d be there. Or, if I could use the Popemobile, and be encased in plexiglass while I zoom around, that would be OK as well. But, just being me, I have to enjoy the festivities on TV or YouTube, safely sequestered away from the crowded excitement, but missing out on lots of it. Even so, I’ve got the pitch that celebrating the Chinese New Year in the District of Columbia is a very good time.

A targeted view of the D.C. Dragon Dance winding around.

When we go to the National Gallery of Art, we come home by way of 7th Street, a main north-south artery of the City. The City was carefully planned as the Nation’s Capital by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, appointed by President George Washington in 1791. All of the streets are on a naming system with all of the north-south streets being numbers and all of the east-west streets being letters of the alphabet. When we drive on 7th Street, we cross H Street, passing right by the Friendship Arch signaling the beginning of Chinatown at 7th and H. For those interested in going to Chinatown by subway, there is a convenient Metro stop, Gallery Place/Chinatown.

The Friendship Arch welcomes visitors to Chinatown, D.C.

Washington’s famous Friendship Arch is the world’s largest arch of its kind. It is a “seven roof arch” consisting of three large and four small tiled roofs. The Arch was erected in 1986 to celebrate our friendship with Washington’s sister city of Beijing, China. Designed by local architect, Alfred H. Liu, the arch boasts 272 dragons, reminding the viewer that many Chinese people consider themselves People of the Dragon.

The Washington, D.C. Chinese New Year’s Festival, 2012.

As with all political situations, there are many stories and back stories associated with the Friendship Arch. Many of Washington’s Chinese businessman did not want the Friendship Arch to be built in association with Communist China. As their sympathies aligned with Taiwan, they were intent on building a second arch on the other side of Chinatown to represent what they considered the true government of China. After many years, the funding for the businessman’s Taiwan Arch never materialized and the present Freedom Arch was built in concert with Beijing and the Communist People’s Republic of China.

Making New Year Cake or Nian Gao.

My parents lived near San Fransisco, CA in the early 1950s and were friendly with their Chinese neighbors. My father developed a definite fondness for sweet Bean Paste Cakes which you can study by clicking on the Guide to Chinese Pastries. Whenever I was near any sort of Chinatown with traditional Chinese Bakeries, whether in Los Angeles, New York City or Boston, I would always buy a box of Bean Paste Cakes to insure a happy homecoming and see his big smile. Although the Bean Paste cakes are eaten all year long, the New Year Cakes seen in the video above are special to the Chinese Lunar New Year.

By watching the video above, you can bake them “just like your Chinese grandmother use to make.” Sounds good to me. I LOVE recipe secrets! Happy New Year, everyone!

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