x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Lunar New Year brings Chinese in Dubai together

For many Chinese traders like Yang Hangwen, the lunar New Year today - the biggest holiday in their home country and a time to visit friends and family - will be an ordinary work day.

A dancer performs a traditional dance during local Chinese New Year celebrations at the Boracay Night Club in the Asiana Hotel in Deira.
Antonie Robertson / The National
A dancer performs a traditional dance during local Chinese New Year celebrations at the Boracay Night Club in the Asiana Hotel in Deira. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // For many Chinese traders like Yang Hangwen, the lunar New Year today - the biggest holiday in their home country and a time to visit friends and family - will be an ordinary work day.

Yet some created their own sense of celebration and community by gathering over the weekend at a hotel in Deira for a feast for 150 and traditional dances performed by volunteers.

The event provided a break from the six-day work week and an opportunity to connect with other Chinese, several said.

On New Year's Day, "I will go to work and leave work," said Mr Yang, 31, who moved to Dubai a decade ago and mans his wholesale shoe business in Deira daily except on Friday mornings.

"At home, you feel more like celebrating," he said. "But I always attend Chinese festival events."

He took a rare Friday afternoon off last week to attend the New Year's festivities, leaving his table often to chat with others and snap photos.

A traditional lion dance opened the programme, to the applause from the tables of people watching. The red and gold animal, a costume filled by two people, pranced on stage and flitted its eyes to the sound of gongs and music.

Next, the organiser of the event sang in a booming tenor the Chinese patriotic song "Flying Flag", while behind him the large red banner was waved in grand strokes.

Gathering Chinese for such a major holiday was a "must", said the performer, Ying Zhenzhong. Though the Chinese community has grown more connected in the 10 years that Mr Ying has lived here, he said Dubai could still feel lonely for newcomers. And many, like him, did not speak English.

Several event-goers said they worked six days a week and, on their day off, found little to do. Some said they surfed the internet at cafes.

To counter this, Mr Ying and a few staff manage a website called dibaichina.com where people could sign up for different outings every Friday, perhaps to gather at a park or visit other emirates. Around 32,000 people have joined the site, and events are capped at 40 to prevent crowding.

The New Year's event relied on website users, from photographers to performers. Jiang Yue, a 20-year-old university student in China visiting her parents, who sell carpets at Dragon Mart, did a graceful dance in a satiny pink outfit that she had choreographed herself.

Some went nontraditional: a breakdancer in a baseball cap and black track pants spun sideways and lifted himself off the ground with his arms. A belly dancer in a red glittery outfit shimmied on stage. And a hipster sang a pop ballad while carrying a red Angry Birds doll (a gift, he later explained).

Others drew from China's minority cultures. A young woman in a white top and long pink skirt stepped gracefully across the stage in a dance representing the southern Dai ethnic group.

Guan Zheng, 25, belted a powerful Mongolian operatic song in a fur-lined blue robe with a red sash, commanding the attention of the audience. The outfit had arrived from China just one day before the performance.

The former music student said he aspired to a career in singing, and in the few months since moving to Dubai, had been invited to perform at a few hotels. Today, he said, he would stick with his day job, running a wholesale hat business in Deira.

Liang Shuqi, a Chinese medicine doctor who opened a clinic in Dubai a few months ago, brought her family here for the new year. She took three days off, though her daughter, sister and two other relatives will stay for the week.

Her family brought rolling pins so they could make dumplings as per tradition on New Year's Eve. They said they would start the New Year by ascending the Burj Khalifa and enjoying dinner at the Burj Al Arab, and later see the Atlantis Hotel and the desert.

"What matters is the festive atmosphere," Ms Liang said. "They came here so I wouldn't feel lonely."

chuang@thenational.ae