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Year of the Dog
Jamie lives in the foothills like I do but is from Hawaii. She's lived in California only long enough to know it doesn't compare to home. Well it does compare to home I guess, in the sense that everything is "backwards" here.
We caravanned downtown together yesterday, husband, boyfriend, and little girls in tow, to watch the Chinese New Year Parade. She woke up unexpectedly at 5:30am she says, not by choice but out of anticipation for a day out of the ordinary, which it was.
You couldn't say that Fresno's parade was the grandest or the most highly attended. The dragons weren't as long as the ones in Hawaii, and the Taiko drummers rode in the back of a beat up looking pickup. Of all the foods sold in the handful of booths, Hawaiian Weenie Bowls were the closest to actually being Chinese. Saucy looking weenie slices smothering a bed of steamed rice, they did look tasty, but Jamie says she's never actually seen them back home.
But there was magic in the air, undeniably. Chinatown felt so hopeful and alive, with people strolling the sidewalks, sitting on curbs and parked in lawnchairs. No one had to jostle for a perfect view of the parade, and people of all ages and colors smiled at each other and waved as brownie scouts, SPCA mutts, motorcycles, current City Council members (Cynthia Sterling), City Council hopefuls (Blong Xiong), and celebrities (Kopi Sotiropoulis) passed by. Children ran to the edge of the street to catch candy as it was thrown to them. One well positioned little boy gathered much more than he could possibly eat and delivered a generous handful to Jamie's daughters who were sitting behind him. What is an authentic community? I'm not sure, but the feeling of something wonderful was definitely in the air.
After the parade we headed to Central Fish. I've been trying to drag Jamie there for months now, plying her with gifts of fresh fish, Japanese candies, and other surprises like tiny dry roasted crabs, which have ended up being horrible mistakes. I've wanted mainly for her to walk down every aisle with me telling me what the hell everything is. I finally got my wish but had to lobby for her attention. Like a kid in a candy store, she gushed over lao lao, frozen poi, fish cake, Hawaiian Sun soda pop, Aloha shoyu, Japanese bubble gum and many other Japanese and Hawaiian imports she's been begging her parents to send via air mail, sometimes with success and sometimes not. "Kahea, do you know how much it would cost to send it all the way to the mainland refrigerated?" Now she was grinning from ear to ear and her exuberance made me grin too. The festive atmosphere in the crowded market added to my feeling that we were all together in the right place at the right time.
As we made our way down the last aisle I heard a commotion at the front of the store and the loud pop, pop of fire crackers. Upon investigation I found that the Taiko drummers and the dragon were outside the front door peering in, to the surprise and delight of everyone inside. Could that explain the heads of lettuce hanging by red string in so many of the shop windows? Was it some sort of enticement? I reported my discovery back to Jamie and the girls. Her cart was piled high and she was wistfully eyeing a $225 Zojirushi rice cooker. Time to head for the cash register she said.
We made our way to the front of the store and the sound of the drumming. I felt a strange tickle on the back of my head, like someone playing with my hair. I turned around and found myself face to face with the dragon, blinking, bobbing its head, and gaping at me playfully. Surprised and startled, I darted forward laughing and alerting Jamie and the girls to look behind them. The dragon danced past us in front of the fish counter, greeting children, playfully "biting" adults, and warning evil spirits that they would find no home in Central Fish this year. It wound its way through all the aisles and eventually to the stairs leading to the gift shop, sending those people on their way down back up again. With surprising gracefulness it ascended each step to the top, making its rounds upstairs, only to come back down backwards, tail first. Good thing the dragons in Fresno aren't as long as the ones in Hawaii.
On its way out the front door, it disintegrated our offering of lettuce. More firecrackers snapped and the drummers pounded out a grand finale. Outside, the dancers stripped themselves of the dragon's skin. They were sweaty and grinning too. A little boy looked in wonder at the dragon's empty head, and one of the dancers lowered it carefully over him, covering him completely. I had my camera with me the whole time and wish I had the presence of mind to capture some of the images I saw. Maybe it wouldn't have been good manners or good luck, I don't know. Besides, I was too caught up in the moment.