The Emperor’s Nightingale – A Review

Prince Bao (Brett Messiora) and the mechanical bird - photo by Michael Horan

Prince Bao (Brett Messiora) and the mechanical bird – photo by Michael Horan

I attended the press opening and reception of  The Emperor’s Nightingale, a children’s play, playing at Adventure Theater in Glen Echo, April 22 through May 30.  They gave me three tickets for helping promote it.  (I’m guessing I already did that with my last post.)

The story is adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

The Setting

The Emperor’s Nightingale takes place in China in 1723 during the Qing (pronounced like ‘Ching’) Dynasty. At this time, China was a large and powerful empire covering over 8 million square miles and made up of 300 million people. The Emperor lived in a palace that was called The Forbidden City because only his family and government officials were allowed inside.

The Synopsis

The sweet song of a Nightingale saves an Empire. This brand new adaptation set in eighteenth century China, brings to light the younger days of Emperor Qianlong and his brother as they compete to determine who would become one of the greatest rulers of the Middle Kingdom. It takes a magical bird to help the headstrong and aimless Prince to become a King.

Nadine Rousseau as the Nightingale - photo Sarah Straub

Nadine Rousseau as the Nightingale – photo Sarah Straub

Michael Bobbitt, who is the Producing Artistic Director of Adventure Theater MTC mentioned after the show that he spent three years getting this show to the stage, which apparently is typical for a new production.   I’m sure that all his productions are labors of love, but I can’t help but think this production may have a special place in his heart because he is a parent of a child (now teenager) adopted from Vietnam.

Until I really sat down to think about this, I didn’t realize how different this play is from other Asian entertainment I have seen.  Except for the Asian performances I book for my son’s school,  most of the Asian performances I have seen are done by amateurs at free Asian events; Lion Dances done by the Chinese Youth Club or other group, Chinese or Vietnamese dancers done by community groups.   There are other professional performers which  I have heard parents proclaim how wonderful they are, including the Japanese Taiko Drumming performances that tour or the Chinese Dancers/ Acrobats in the Shen-Yun Performing Arts which performs every year at the Kennedy Center.

I’m not sure my eight year old would appreciate an evening of Japanese drumming (he would proclaim it too loud) or Chinese dancing (he only likes Michael Jackson).  But here was an opportunity for a child who is not involved in music, theater or dance to enjoy a professional play about Asian characters, performed by Asian actors, with the production team being mostly Asian, including the director and playwright.

Sue Jin Song as Panda - photo by Sarah Straub

Sue Jin Song as Panda – photo by Sarah Straub

For my child, the most important features of a show are 1) Is it entertaining? and 2) is it funny?  We all enjoyed the show.  I asked my son what his favorite parts were and he liked the two panda’s (played by Mikey Cafarelli and Sue Jin Song) who gossip about what is going on in the territory.  I’m sure there were other things he loved about the show, but when it comes to funny, he loved the pandas.

I liked that the play touched on several quintessential parts of Chinese culture, that a non-Chinese person like myself could recognize.  The tiger, which plays a pretty big role in the show is done as a Lion Dance.  But what makes it really funny and fantastic is the Tiger tail separates from the head and talks to itself.  This was an excellent way of moving the story along, but is also really funny.  I loved both the costume and the comedy of the the tail (Andrew Quilpa).

Tiger (Jonathon Frye and Andrew Quilpa) - photo by Sarah Straub

Tiger (Jonathon Frye and Andrew Quilpa) – photo by Sarah Straub

The Empress Consort (played by Sue Jin Song) fights against the tiger at one point and she brings out her “claws” like an Asian Tiger Mom (of course the kids didn’t get this).   And the show has those two pandas that gossip with one another.

At one point in the show they projected what looked like Chinese Shadow Puppets on to the backdrop.  I’m not sure everyone would recognize the significance of this, but I had seen the shadow puppets at a Montgomery County Library when the Li Ming Chinese Academy did a bunch of different folk performances during a Lunar New Year presentation.

Besides the humor of the Tiger tail, I loved the performance of Prince Bao (played by Brett Messiora).  Prince Bao is the hero of the story and at one point he does a dance with a sword and you can see his dance background in this performance.  And isn’t sword work  another quintessential Asian thing?

This is a touchy subject I know, I don’t actually know the ethnicities of the actors, but I can guess.   Last names can often tell a lot about ethnicity and my guess is that there are a number of different Asian ethnicities that are represented in this production (I’m guessing: Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Philippine.)   And just as important, there are a couple actors (at least) who appear bi-racial which reflect our society as a whole in 2016.  Since the press release mentions an all Asian cast and production staff, I feel that I can bring up that it was also a diverse group of East Asians and Southeast Asians.

I’m really happy that it is an all Asian cast, as too often white people are cast to play Asians.

I loved the story, which being a children’s story, has a moral.  The Nightingale (played by Nadine Rousseau) has a most beautiful voice.  And it is always fun for the audience to have a couple “villains” in the show, Prince Hongshi (Andrew Quilpa) and Minister Wu (Jonathan Frye).

The choreographer, Stella Choi, is the choreographer and instructor of the Fairfax Chinese Dance Troupe. 

Adventure Theater Musical Theater Center in Glen Echo is an intimate theater.  The seating is general; so get there early to get the best seats.  The seats are about as comfortable as the seats at McDonalds, but the show is only an hour.  It is not “The Ring of the Nibelung”, although the person sitting next to me brought a seat pad.

This is a chance for adoptive parents to let our children see Asian faces up on stage in a production made for children.   I think the whole family will really enjoy it.  The last time our whole family saw an Asian production made for children was Anime Momotaro at Imagination Stage in 2013.  That is a long time ago.

The Cast of "The Emperor's Nightingale" - photo by Michael Horan

The Cast of “The Emperor’s Nightingale” – photo by Michael Horan

 

 

 

 

 

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Events for Asian Pacific Heritage Month

I had two people contact me to help promote some events that deal with Asian culture and Asian Pacific Heritage Month.   I thought I would highlight them here as we are coming up on Asian Pacific  Heritage Month.  One is a children’s play which is set in China during the Qing Dynasty.  The other is an award-winning documentary film which is part of the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival.

The Emperor’s Nightingale – All Asian Cast

nighingaleFor all ages:  Adventure Theater Musical Theater Center in Glen Echo, MD is putting on the play “The Emperor’s Nightingale”.

The Emperor’s Nightingale premiers on April 22, 2016, so I have not seen it yet.  It runs until May 30, 2016.  This play is an adaptation of “The Nightingale” by Hans Christian Andersen and it takes place in 18th Century China during the Qing Dynasty.

What makes this play unique is that it features an all-Asian-American cast, playwright, director, choreographer, lighting designer, costume designer, and Princess Grace Award recipient scenic designer, Hana Sooyeon Kim.  Wow!  That is extraordinary that ATMTC has made this an all Asian cast.

It is fabulous that our children have a chance to see actors who look like themselves, as well as so many behind the scenes artists.  I applaud Adventure Theater for bringing both this show and  the all-Asian cast to its lineup in 2016 and for celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage Month with this show.

Why is this so special?

I book the cultural arts assemblies for the PTA at my child’s school.  And I am also the Asian Culture Chair, so I always give all of my money for the Asian Culture committee to the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee to get an Asian assembly each year.  And it is not that easy to book Asian artists.  There are just not as many as I would like.  I have booked Asian artists for three years and two out of those three years I have booked traveling artists because I could not get much locally.  And the one show I booked that was local was the Smithsonian Associates Discovery Theater on Tour presenting Asian tales in a show called “Tigers, Dragons and Other Wise Tales“.    They did a fabulous job with this show, but were the actors Asian?  I didn’t ask, but none of the actors looked particularly Asian to me.  It was possible that they were.  The actor who announced he was from Japan looked white to me, but he didn’t say he was Japanese, only he was from Japan.

I asked Adventure Theater to send me the press release so I could find out about the show before I see it.  Here is a little about what the story is about.

This brand-new adaptation is set in the Qing Dynasty, eighteenth century China, and brings to light the younger days of Emperor Qian Long, who would become one of the greatest rulers of the Middle Kingdom. It takes a magical bird to help the headstrong and aimless prince to become a true leader.

Natsu Onoda Power, director of the production and assistant professor of theater in Georgetown University’s Department of Performing Arts, says of the production, “A young leader, a prince, who learns to prioritize the people he serves over his personal aspirations; he learns to listen to and act on behalf of the underrepresented.  It’s such a timely and beautiful story to tell in Washington, DC right now.”

Tickets are available now for the show.

 

Reunification – a documentary about the contemporary immigrant experience.

Photo 1-FamilyAlvin Tsang, the director of “Reunification” contacted me to help promote this very personal story of his family’s immigration to the United States from Hong Kong.

This award-winning film will have its Washington, D.C. premiere screening at the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival on Saturday, April 23 at 6pm at The Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema (807 V Street, NW  Washington, DC 20001).

Here is the website for ReunificationThe synopsis is as follows:

Between faded family photographs, old video footage, and interviews collected through the years, Alvin Tsang’s REUNIFICATION bears the look and feel of a documentary that’s taken decades to produce. Perhaps it required all that time for Tsang to fully process his family’s history and confront his own emotionally turbulent upbringing. For the audience though, that passing of time is key to the film’s powerful portrayal of tireless emotional reconciliation.

When his mother and two siblings first immigrated from Hong Kong to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, six-year-old Alvin was forced to stay behind with his working, and consequently absent, father. Spending the following three years often alone in an empty apartment, he longed for his family’s reunification. However, upon Alvin and his father’s arrival to America, that dream was utterly and permanently shattered under circumstances the filmmaker has yet to fully comprehend to this day.

REUNIFICATION is Tsang’s poetic and self-reflexive exploration of many unresolved years – poetic in its wonderfully articulated narration and in its restraint as he grasps for any semblance of explanation. Backed by an achingly beautiful score, the film moves moodily across different channels and modes, bending into labor histories and Hong Kong’s colonial trajectories, wading in the mire of nostalgia, grief, and confusion that is his past. And in his search for answers, Tsang turns the camera on his own family, cautiously prodding for answers, but fully acknowledging that the only closure he can get will be from deciding for himself how to move on. –Brandon Yu

 My Tsang recommends that it is for age 15 and older.  Here is the screening and ticket information.

Here is the trailer for Reunification

 

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A Family Guide to Lunar New Year Events 2016

Lion Dancers, photo courtesy of Tet Celebration at Dulles Expo

Lion Dancers, photo courtesy of Dulles Expo Tet Celebration

Some of this is a repeat of my 2015 post, but I have updated it to refer to 2016 events and added more here and there.

As I write this I have 30 events listed on my Lunar New Year events page, and there are more I know about that I’m waiting for additional information.

If your kids are young or you have never been to a Lunar New Year/ Chinese New Year event and you want to dip your toes in…, I suggest going to one of the library events (free) or Port Discovery (paid). One nice thing about the library events is they are very intimate and everyone is near the action because the rooms are just not that big.

Library Programs

All library events are free, but sadly not all library events are created equal. I have been to many of the Montgomery County Library events over the years. The best ones are the ones that say that a Chinese School or Youth Group will be performing. The ones put on at the library with just librarians just are not the same and do not include a real performance. So if you are only going to go to one performance, skip the ones which do not include students from a Chinese club or school.  I have made bold the library programs which promise student and youth performances.

Fairfax County Libraries are doing more programs this year.  I have not been to a FxCo Library program, but just because it says “Lunar New Year with Dragon Dance and other fun activities”, do not assume that there will be a performance.  It could be a librarian with a homemade dragon costume that the children participate in.  I’m sure it will be a fun program, but if you really want to see a Lion Dance or Dragon Dance performance by students, this may not be the place to see it. Call to find out.

The library programs meet in meeting rooms at the library, but sometimes the performance might move around the library into the stacks.  There is usually good seating in chairs, but get there early to snag a seat.

Port Discovery

Port Discovery, a children’s museum in Baltimore, would also be a good place to dip your toes into Chinese New Year.  I have not been, as there are so many other options.  Of course the celebration at Port Discovery  (Feb 6)  is free with your paid admission to the children’s museum.  This would be a good place to go if you were already planning to do to Port Discovery and participating in the events while you are there.  The line up of things to do, looks impressive for young children.

Big Spaces and Excellent Performances (Malls)

Both Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax and Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, work with Chinese communities and schools to put on some excellent performances.  The space is big and the performances are varied and excellent.  It might be a little overwhelming for very young children and not all the performances are exactly related to Lunar New Year.  There are dancers and demonstrations from many different Asian communities.  When I went to Fair Oaks one year, seating is on the ground or standing on the upper levels to watch below.  So if comfort is one of your must haves, this is probably not the best choice. But at the same time, I saw the best Dragon dance I’ve ever seen at the mall.

Big Museums and Performance areas in DC

The Kennedy Center is doing 5 different events for Lunar New Year.  The Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Textile Museum, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art are all doing Chinese New Year Family programs.  In fact all three museums contacted me this year to help promote their programs.

Sadly I have not been to any of these, although Kennedy Center and the Textile Museum are new to my list this year.  Being that these are well-funded museums, I suspect they do a very good job.  I don’t know if there will be chairs to watch performances.  And if that is something you crave, I would call and find out.  All of these family events are free.  There is one paid event at the Kennedy Center.

The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore  (Feb 7) does a family day to celebrate Chinese New Year.  I would equate this to the Smithsonian events.  It is a 3-hour event which includes demonstrations from Chinese schools.

The Best Seats in the House

There are two events, only one of which I have been to, take place in auditoriums.  One is the Chinese New Year Celebration at Luther Jackson Middle School (Feb 6) , sponsored by the Asian Service Center.  The other one is at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater in Rockville (Feb 13).  In both cases, you have nice places to sit (in auditoriums) and excellent student performances.  I have been to the one at Luther Jackson and in addition to performances, there is food and vendors and lots of people to talk to. I believe the same is true of the Rockville event.

The Real Deal

Tet food table

Serving Food at Tet, photo courtesy of Tet Celebration at Dulles Expo

Vietnamese celebrate Lunar New Year and it is called Tet.  They have celebrations which are mostly meant for other Vietnamese but welcome all.  I’ve seen our Montgomery County county executive speak at the Northwood Tet Festival (Jan 30).  There are a couple in Northern Virginia, but it is harder to get the information, since they don’t have websites or facebook pages. I’m pretty sure that there is one at JEB Stuart HS on Feb 6, which is scout troops and the Vietnamese Community celebrating and another one on Feb 7, (same place).  These festivals are the real deal.  But they are crowded and loud.  And some times they are speaking only in Vietnamese. But it is the place to buy an ao dai for your child or get authentic Vietnamese food. Or buy an orange tree or other Tet decorations.   Or to see and be seen in the Vietnamese Community.  I have been to a few, but my child only wants to go if we are meeting friends there.  Usually it costs a couple dollars to get in, but if you are wearing traditional clothing, you get in free.

There is a Tet Celebration at Dulles Expo Center. (Jan 30, 31)  The website says they expect to attract up to 30,000 people.  It goes on for two days, all day, out in Dulles.  It must be something.  I’d like to hear about it, but don’t think I can get out that far when on the same day there is a Tet Festival in my neighborhood.  This would be an excellent event to get to if you want the real cultural experience.  I suspect they will have food, vendors and performances galore. This one costs a few dollars to get in.

The Tet Celebration at Eden Center is also the real deal. I have not heard about the date and time yet, but it takes place at the Eden Center, a shopping center in Falls Church, VA with mostly Vietnamese stores.   Much of what happens is in the parking lot.  There are speeches and Lion Dances and firecrackers (loud and smokey). The way to do this it to meet some friends there and go have lunch in one of the restaurants in the mall.  Then perhaps the Lion Dancers will come parade through the restaurant when you are eating.  This happened to us and it is the real Vietnamese Tet experience.  This is not the best event for small children, due to the noise and smoke of the firecrackers that happens around the Lion Dances which take place outdoor.  Of course there are not (real) firecrackers inside, but you can buy the fake firecracker decorations there.

Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown (DC)

The Chinese New Year Parade takes place Sunday Feb 14, 2016, according to the calendar of the Chinese Youth Club, which is performing there.  Chinatown is only two blocks, but they put on a parade every year.  My family has been twice.  We went when the weather was above 4o ° F.  I timed the parade as being 18 minutes from start to finish one year.  But it is exciting to go to a parade.  Go early and eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. There are still a few left.  They do fireworks afterward, but we have never stayed for it.

You want to stand near the beginning of the parade and away from the Metro stations for the best viewing location. I will update this when I get more information.

Blackrock Center for the Arts

This Lunar New Year Celebration (Feb 6) is new to me. I’m not sure if they have done this before, but I heard about it in conjunction with the Germantown Library.  Blackrock Arts Center is walkable to Germantown Library and you can go to storytime at the library and head on over to Blackrock.

Conclusion

So there are way too many events for any one person or family to get to them all.  In 2016, Lunar New Year is on February 8, which means traditionally people celebrate on the evening before (February 7).   But the DC area celebrates for an entire month to get all of these events in.  2016 is the Year of the Monkey!

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Lunar New Year Lesson Plan – 2nd Grade

almost-done-webWhen I started writing this lesson plan, I had decided to change books this year, and I wrote a review of some of my considerations.  But then when I checked with the teacher, she said I was welcome to do a presentation, but she had to check with the principal.

I said I needed 40 minutes for a presentation and 20 minutes for eating.  The principal said I could have 30 minutes. And I was scheduled before lunch, so I could not go over.   I guess in public school, there is nothing more important than learning what is on the curriculum.

So now everything was time dependent.  The first thing I did was get rid of the eating part, that was 20 minutes.  The second thing I cut was any talk about adoption.  That was about 5 or so minutes. And then I nixed the last 5 minutes where I got out Vietnamese toys and showed them to the children.

Then I realized I wasn’t going to have time to do any participation like I have done in past years, especially because I was going to talk more about the traditions and include more on the moon.  So I decided I would get out all my props and hand them out and that would be the participation.

I listed all the props I own to help me come up with the presentation.

I also made a dragon for a whole class dragon dance, so I had to allow 5 minutes for that.

The third thing I had to do to shorten my presentation was to make sure I picked short and sweet books, nothing with too many words.  So even after I planned on changing books, I ended up back with “Lanterns and Firecrackers” and “Bringing in the New Year”.

Out of the props I own, I then picked some to hang up for decorations (Chinese lanterns and Oriental Trading Company Spring Happiness Poems).  Then I picked the top 18 things I wanted to use a props, as there are 18 students in his class.

Most of the puppets got nixed.  I decided some of the props were too fragile to hand out, so I would show them myself.

Preparation

Buy

  • Buy chocolate coins (I got mine at Christmas at Costco)
  • Buy lucky red envelopes (Asian store or Oriental Trading Company)
  • Buy a bag of mandarin oranges

Gather Things I have on Hand

  • Red bowl (for oranges)
  • inflatable globe
  • 2 Chinese noise makers (bought in Chinatown)
  • 2 Vietnamese frog noisemakers (bought in Vietnam)
  • another Vietnamese noisemaker
  • silk peach blossom
  • Spring happiness poems to hang up  (Oriental Trading)
  • Spring happiness poem in Chinese (from Chinese store)
  • puppets (dog, pig, tiger, horse, sheep, dragon, horse, snake, ox)
  • Lion Dance marionette puppet (bought at Eden Center)
  • boy Vietnamese traditional clothing and hat (bought from Vietnam or Tet festival locally)
  • girl Vietnamese traditional clothing (bought at consignment sale)
  • boy Chinese traditional clothing (bought at Asian festival)
  • lucky red envelopes (Asian store or Oriental Trading Company)
  • 2 Vietnamese lanterns for children to carry during lantern parade (bought at Mid-Autumn Moon Festival)
  • Chinese Lanterns (from Chinese store)
  • Child’s Lion Dance costume (from Vietnam culture camp)
  • homemade laughing Buddha mask
  • bowl of oranges
  • 2 sets of fake firecrackers, one homemade, the other bought at Tet festival and bubble wrap

Getting Ready for the Presentation

  • Put two chocolate coins in each red envelope, label with child’s name.
  • Determine Chinese Zodiac animal for each child
  • Ask teacher if there is a globe to use or bring a globe.  I have a beach ball globe I bring.

The teacher made a list of which students were born in the year of the pig and which were born in the year of the dog.  I had given her the dates from the Chinese Zodiac entry in Wikipeida.  That way she did not have to give me the birth dates for the students.

Then I made notes of what props I could show during the reading of the books.  I put post-it notes on the pages to remind me what I was going to show, or ask students to show.

The Presentation

I got there half hour early (before school) to put up decorations and arrange my props. In one area for stuff I was showing and another area for stuff I was handing out.

Kids stayed in their seats instead of sitting of the rug mostly because they would be able to see from their seats and my stuff was taking up much of the rug in front of me.

Part 1 – Lunar New Year Names

I explained that Lunar New Year, was called Chinese New Year, Tet (in Vietnam), and in other countries they would have another name for it.  So I was sticking with Lunar New Year, so we could include all the countries who celebrate it.  In China, Chinese New Year is also known as “Spring Festival”.

Part 2 – Where do they Celebrate it?

I used my globe to locate where our home is and on the other side of the world is China, Vietnam and other countries which celebrate it.  I explained how in China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Japan, Tibet, and Korea that everyone celebrates the holiday.   I also explained how millions of people in other countries who have family from one of those countries celebrate Lunar New Year too.  Millions of people celebrate it in the US and Canada.  Then I asked who celebrated Lunar New Year at home of in the community.  And for the first time four hands raised in my child’s class. (That was pretty awesome.)

I also showed the class where Vietnam is and explained that Danny was adopted from Vietnam at 7 months.  There was no time to go into adoption. I explained how our family celebrates Lunar New Year (known as Tet in Vietnam) because Danny comes from there and we want to celebrate the holidays from his country along with the holidays from the US.

Part 3 – What is it?

Lunar New Year is a Spring Festival, the welcoming of spring, a chance to start over.  We talked about what happens in the spring, (blossoms, new life).  How in China it is cold when Lunar New Year is celebrated and they are welcoming the warm temperatures and new life. But in the south of Vietnam, it is warm all winter, but they still welcome the spring with Tet.

And in the countries where the whole country celebrates Lunar New Year, is is comparable to having a celebration of everyone’s birthday, New Years Day, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July all on the same day.  We don’t have anything comparable in this country.

From here on out I am going to give you my outline.  I am going to assume you have done other reading on Lunar New Year.

Part 4 – Why is it called Lunar New Year

moon-phasebook001For my discussion of Lunar New Year, I included quite a bit about moon phases because in second grade in our school district they were studying the phases of the moon in school.  In fact the children knew more about the names of the phases of the moon than I do.    Besides using one of the drawings that came home with my child, I used the inside illustration of this book:  “Happy New Year Kung-Hsi Fa-ts’ai!” by Demi.  The book is out of print, but still available used.

  1. Lunar means Moon.
  2. Start date of the holiday is governed by the moon.
  3. Phases of the Moon
  4. Holiday starts on New Moon
  5. Ends on Full moon
  6. Preparation before New Moon
  7. Lunar New Year 2015 was actually Feb 19, LNY 2016 is February 8.

moon-cycle

Part 5. – How long is the Celebration?

  1. 15 days (traditional)
  2. 3 days (modern)
  3. Big feast on New Year’s Eve
  4. There are community events for 1 month in this area
  5. I talked about where in the moon phase particular preparations went on, but I didn’t get into the kitchen God or anything like that.

Part 6 – Traditions Etc.

This is the part where we will talk about traditions.  I handed out props, at least one to each child.  And we read the two books.

  1.  “Read Lanterns and Firecrackers” by Jonny Zuckerlanterns

As I wrote earlier, I put post-it notes on each page that included a prop that I wanted to show or a tradition I wanted to explain.  For example, on the first two pages, is a picture of a girl setting out flowers and a boy cleaning a mirror.  There is a bowl of oranges in that picture.  I had given out a bowl of oranges and my cherry blossom (fake flower).  I explained the traditions of blossoms for New Years (representing new life and spring).  And in my case in the north of Vietnam families use a peach blossom and in the south of Vietnam, families use plum, apricot or cherry blossoms.  In our area, Vietnamese often use Forsythia as the blossom of choice.  I ask the child who has my blossom to stand up and snow the blossom.  I could also provide cards for the child to read, but I had very little time and decided that would take too much time.  I asked the child to show the bowl of oranges and told the class: “Families put out a bowl of oranges for Lunar New Year. Oranges represent Luck and success and wealth.”

So I proceeded to explain traditions that were found on each page of the book.

2. Read “Bringing in the New Year” by Grace Lin.bringing001

For the discussion of firecrackers, I had both cardboard fake firecrackers and bubble wrap, which I ask the student to step on to create the sound,  (since they don’t let us bring real firecrackers to school).

Part 7 – Chinese Zodiac

  1. chinese_zodiac-webChinese have a story that there is a race of animals.  You can read this online. But I just mentioned it as I didn’t have time to dwell.  All animals raced and the first 12 represent a year on the zodiac calendar.  The rat came in first so that is the first year of the Chinese Zodiac.  Here is the order of animals.   I have my homemade poster of the Chinese Zodiac to show the order of the animals.  Instructions for how to make it are here.  If I had the time I would have shared this video of The Story of the Chinese Zodiac.  It is only three minutes and really well done, but my time frame was too tight to include it.
  2. I have the kids recite the order of the animals from my poster.
  3. I discuss that the Vietnamese Zodiac is a little different in that the rabbit is replaced with a cat and the ox is replaced with a water buffalo.
  4. The teacher used this website to figure out which animal each child in the class fell into.  In my son’s class part of the children were born under the pig and part were born under the dog.   So I have two lists of names of the children, those which were born during the year of the pig and those born during the year of the dog.   I talk about how each year is said to have certain characteristics.  I use the text which briefly describes each animal from the last page of “Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year“, but you can find the information all over the web.  I just like the easy language that is used to describe the different characteristics.  I talk about those two years and also the current year animal.

Part 8 – Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

I wanted to have some participation, so I made a homemade Dragon using the instructions from “Chinese New Year for Kids” by Cindy Roberts.  I wrote a post about making this dragon.   There were about 17 kids in class and I got them under it and they marched around the room and had a fun time.  If I wasn’t in such a rush, I would have gotten out my paper-plate-sun on a stick and explained how the dragon chased the sun.  I had some Lion Dance music with me, but it did not play on the teacher’s Promethean board computer, so I had some teachers and students (who did not want to get in the dragon) make percussive noises for our dance.  Next year, I will bring my own boom box so they can hear the music, even if it is for another dance.

Part 9 – Lucky Red Envelopes

I had no time left, so I gave the lucky red envelopes to the teacher and she either handed them out to the kids or put them in their cubbies to take home that day.  We had already talked about them during the reading of one of the books.

So that is my shortened program for 2nd grade.  If I ever do a Lunar New Year program again, I do hope to add food, since food is such an integral part of Lunar New Year. During the reading of one of the books,  where the family is eating, I had some pictures of typical Chinese and Vietnamese food found at New Years.  I also explained the type of food people eat at Lunar New Year is dependent on where they live.  The Chinese eat dumplings, the Vietnamese eat Bahn Tet, which is a rice and meat surrounded by banana leaves.  And our family has a tradition of eating dumplings, and macaroni and cheese and instead of eating a real whole fish, we eat a cake shaped like a fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating Asian Heritage at School

2014 Display

2014 Display

2015 Display

2015 Display

My child’s school has only about 7% Asians.  Unlike Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, our school does not have enough families to make a core and have an evening program celebrating Asian Heritage.  But I still want to celebrate Asian heritage at his school.  You can read about how I became Asian Culture Chair at my son’s school here.

The first year, my son’s kindergarten teacher volunteered to get a group together to plan events for Asian Pacific Heritage Month.  I wrote about that here. She left teaching for a year or so and the next year no one volunteered to step up and organize something.  So without school help, our celebration was smaller.

In 2014, the librarian still displayed Asian books in the library and put up posters of Asian Americans around the school.  I created a display in the atrium of the school and used the money I got as chair of the Asian Culture Committee to contribute to an Asian performer for the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee. And one of the teachers wrote announcements to highlight prominent Asian Americans.  These announcements were read during the morning announcements throughout the month.

2014 Display

2014 Display

Last year, we had Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo perform Asia Fantasia for our school.  He did an excellent job and he was well received.   For my display, I didn’t plan that well in advance. I displayed two Vietnamese outfits (ao dai) and a Chinese boy outfit.  I displayed some lucky money envelopes and a Chinese fan along with a small picture done by a Chinese artist.  And a couple of small lanterns.

This year, again, the librarian put out the Asian books, and posters.  On one of the afternoons they are going to have a “Drop everything and read” and read Asian themed books for half and hour.   And they are going to do the announcements to highlight famous Asian Americans again.

2015 Display

2015 Display

I spent a little more time planning my Asian Heritage display.  I posted on our school list serve if people have some Asian items that I could display vertically that were neither valuable or sentimental.  No one volunteered items.  But one of the parents on the International Night Committee is married to a Malaysian, so I asked and received the use of a Malaysian outfit and then she emailed some pictures I could print out.

Rather than do the same thing I did has year, I surveyed my display area and decided to have three themes this year.

Theme one was “Rice”.  I had an empty 20 lb. bag of rice. Rice is a common food in Asian countries and is a big export item.  I googled pictures of rice being grown and rice dishes from various countries.  I printed them out in color on a color printer (Staples) and put them up. I also added a conical hat, used by workers in the rice fields in Vietnam. I also printed out explanations of the pictures and a little about rice production in Asia.

Theme two was “Malaysia”.  I created a “Malaysia” sign, because we didn’t have one from previous years.  The mom who let me the outfit, sent me some information about it and some pictures of Malaysia from here iPhone.  I was going to use the pictures and print them out, but the resolution was too low to print 8″x10″.  So I googled the place names and found some pictures on google with higher resolution and printed a couple of them out along with a map.  I captioned the photos, explained a little about the outfit and showed where Malaysia is on the map.

Theme three was Chinese Lion Dance.  I have a child size Chinese Lion Dance costume.  I printed out a photo of people doing a lion dance along with a laughing Buddha.  I included a little bit of information about the Chinese Lion Dance.  And then when I looked at the display, I added a fan to the top, since the laughing Buddha usually teases the Lion Dancers with a fan.

Around the display, are the names of Asian countries where students are from.  I advertised that the display was in the school Atrium to our school list serve and. The display was finished just in time for grandparents’ and special friends’ day, and was at least appreciated by the older crowd.  I also let my child’s teacher know it was there and hoped that she could lead the class by it sometime during May.

I gave my money as Asian Culture Chair again to have an Asian themed performance.  I don’t know if the actors are actually Asian, but the theme is Asian.  The Smithsonian Associates Discovery Theater on Tour is performing “Tigers, Dragons, and other Wise Tales“.  At the time I booked the program, the actors had not even been hired.  Our school will see the program later this month.

There may only be six years that our school celebrates Asian Pacific Heritage Month, but we will be celebrating this while my child is a student here.

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Making a Chinese Dragon for the Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

There are two kinds of dances you find at Lunar New Year.  The first is the Lion Dance, which is two people and a head that looks nothing like a lion. You can see a quick video of a lion dance here.

Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance

The second dance is the dragon dance which is much less common, in my experience, than the lion dance.  The dragon dance is done with many people holding poles that hold up the dragon.  There may be 5 – 21 people dancing the dragon dance.  And the dragon chases the sun, which is held by the smiling Buddha.  I have seen this dance at the Chinatown Parade and also at a performance at Fair Oaks Mall during their two week celebration of Chinese New Year.  But it takes a lot of people, and a lot of practice and coordination to do the dance.  Not to mention the costume is very expensive.

It is this dragon dance costume which I made for my son’s second grade class.  I wanted something simple to make; I did not make a complicated costume to be held up with poles.  I followed the instructions from Chinese New Year for Kids, by Cindy Roberts.  It is this dragon that I made.  There is a great YouTube video of a much more complicated dragon.  I did not make that one.  It looks great, but she has several teenagers helping create this costume.

The dragon dance costume I made is the costume made out of two cardboard boxes, one a regular cardboard moving box and a shoe box.  The author used plastic table cloths for the back of the dragon.  The chapter on making a dragon dance costume includes an illustration of the costume, and after reading it, I was still not sure the author ever made the costume, since there were so few details.  But then I found the Adopt Vietnam website where there are actually photos of the dragon she made.

Equipment needed:

  • 1 medium size moving box
  • shoe box
  • wrapping paper, red, gold, yellow, other
  • clear plastic packing tape
  • scotch tape
  • paper towel holders (I used 4)
  • plastic cups (red, yellow, white)
  • cellophane paper  (optional)
  • speedy sewing awl (optional)
  • glue gun  or household glue
  • poster board
  • polyester pillow filling
  • poster board
  • fusible interfacing (optional) or copier paper
  • 2-3 plastic table cloths  – I used 5 yards of cheap cotton woven fabric + 2.5 yards of felt.
  • acrylic paint (white, black, gold)
bigbox-web

Medium box, covered with wrapping paper.

shoebox-web

Athletic shoe box, covered with wrapping paper.

The author suggests covering both boxes with red wrapping paper and wrapping it like a present.  Well I did that, but I cut the pieces of wrapping paper up so there were a lot of places where my wrapping paper is taped onto the box.  The reason I used so many smaller pieces of wrapping paper vs, wrapping like a package, was so that the wrapping paper would be attached better and in many places.  Then you can see I cut holes in both boxes.  The child carrying the dragon head will be able to see out of the open mouth.

I tried to use a glue gun to attach the shoe box to the larger box, but that did not hold.  I suppose you could just tape it a lot.  I wasn’t sure exactly how well that was going to hold given there was a lot of wrapping paper on top of the box.  I would have had to cut away the wrapping paper, taped it directly to the box and then put wrapping paper back on the main box.

sewing-web

Part of the sewing of the mouth onto the head

awl-web

Sewing Awl

Instead I decided to sew the shoe box onto the main box.  I have a Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl, which I had used a lifetime ago to repair some camping equipment. I couldn’t remember how to use it, but thanks to YouTube for the How-to video, I was able to learn.

dragon-head-1-webIt worked well.  I sewed the shoebox onto the main box.  And this is how my dragon stayed for a long time while I tried to find a couple of yellow Solo cups without having to buy 100 cups and spending $8.   I never did find fewer yellow cups and finally found some white paper cups and painted them with gold paint.

Before adding the cups, I added the spike on the top of the head with poster board and covered it with gold wrapping paper.  I used some wrapping paper I already had to add some stripes around the head. I covered paper towel rolls with the same wrapping paper.  I actually used two paper towel holders per horn. I cut one and put one inside the other.  I added some red  cellophane paper to the top of the horns because I had the paper.

almost-done-webOn the nose, I had to cut the gold painted cups to very short because there was not enough room below the eyes.  I taped the cups, horns and spike on with packing tape.  This picture is before I put the beard and mustache on.  I used red Solo cups and painted the eyes with acrylic paint.

I used old polyester filling.  It was not in a roll. I suppose if you had the filling from a roll, it would work better.  I think I was supposed to glue the polyester batting onto copier paper.  I had a piece of fusible interfacing and ironed the polyester onto the interfacing for the eyebrows, mustache, and beard.

For the body.  The article suggests two plastic table clothes taped together and fortified with more packing tape.  I bought my yellow plastic table cloths at a dollar store.  Those table cloths were so thin, I decided not to use them.  I had a third plastic table cloth that I bought at a party store (red).  It turns out that the party store plastic table cloth was much thicker than the dollar store table cloth.

Alas, I decided to find some cheap material.  I found some yellow woven material at Joann’s Fabric which was cheap and using my 50% off coupon, got the fabric for $2.00/ yard.  I bought red felt (also on sale).  I bought 5 yards of yellow fabric and 2.5 yards of red felt.   It wasn’t clear how the tail was supposed to look, so I improvised.  I had bought this product called “Dritz Quick Turn” and wanted to use it.  So I made three long tubes (because that is what this product does) and braided them together for the tail.

The Body

dragon-body-webAs I said before, I had 5 yards of cheap yellow woven fabric.  After making it, I though 5 yards might have been too long, until I got to class and the kids barely all got into the 4.5 yards of dragon body.  I cut off about half a yard of the yellow fabric and put it aside.  I had 2.5 yards of red felt.  I cut four pieces of felt which were 10″ wide and 2.5 yards long.  Then I sewed the felt together so I ended up with two long red pieces of felt, 10″ wide x 5 yards long.  The yellow woven material is 44-45″ wide.  I sewed the pieces of red felt to the yellow fabric along the selvage of the yellow fabric, so it was as easy as could be. This added both length to the dragon (on the sides) and the heavier felt material made the dragon sides drape better.

Using a newspaper for a template, I made an isosceles triangle out of the extra yellow woven fabric.  I had some extra red felt and cut some more 10″ pieces.  I sewed the red felt on to the bottom of my triangle of yellow fabric.  And then I sewed the triangle on to the body of the dragon to make the rear end.   After that, I sewed the sides to the back and then I sewed the tail onto the rear end of the dragon.

dragon-velcro-webThen I just had to figure out how to attach it.  In Cindy Robert’s explanation, she used packing tape (and a lot of it) to secure the plastic table cloth body to the head.  I chose to go back to Joann’s Fabric store.  And I got a yard of 1″ thick Velcro ® that had glue on one side.  After removing the wrapping paper from the flap, I glued two strips of Velcro onto the flap.  I then sewed two strips of Velcro on the other side of the dragon body.

The last thing I did was iron the fusible interfacing to the polyester fill and cut out 2 eyebrows, 2 pieces of mustache and a beard.  Then I used a hot glue gun to attach them to the dragon face.

dragon-all-webWith the Velcro on the box and on the body of the dragon, I could easily separate them and put them together.

I think we were able to squeeze 16 kids under the costume.   We used it for my class presentation and then we used it at home when we celebrated Lunar New Year with friends.

If I were to do this again, I might forget the wrapping paper and glue the cups and paper towel rolls on with a glue gun.  And then papier mâché over the whole head to keep the cups on.  And then paint the whole thing.  But then again, the last time I did papier mâché, it took a long time and was pretty messy.   So maybe this is the best and easiest way to make a dragon head.

I’m hoping to use it in years to come when we get together for Lunar New Year with our adoption friends, at school and at home.

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Lunar New Year: Which Event to Take the Family To?

IMG_1061So you see my list of Lunar New Year Events for 2015, but which one is the one for your family? (Updated 2/7/2015)

Here are some suggestions for where to go to celebrate Lunar New Year, which is known as both Chinese New Year and Tet (Vietnam).  Chinese New Year and Tet are the same thing.  So you will see events called “Chinese New Year” and others called “Tet Celebration”.  They are different communities celebrating the same holiday.

If your kids are young or you have never been to a Lunar New Year/ Chinese New Year event and you want to dip your toes in…, I suggest going to one of the library events or one at Port Discovery. (UPDATE) Sadly not all library events are created equal.  I have been to many of the Montgomery County Library events over the years.  The best ones are the ones that say that a Chinese School or Youth Group will be performing.  The ones put on at the library with just librarians just are not the same and do not include a real performance.  I went to one a couple years ago where the librarian didn’t even know much about Lunar New Year.  The one I saw recently was OK.  It said it was for all ages, but in reality it was like a pre-school program.   So if you are only going to go to one performance, skip the ones which do not include students from a Chinese Club or School. I have now highlighted the MC Public Library performances which have clubs or schools performing, so you can easily note them.

If your children are just a little bit older, then taking in the performances at one of the malls, Lakeforest or Fair Oaks is a place to see wonderful performances, but there is not a lot of audience participation and it can get pretty crowded.

I have not been to the Smithsonian celebrations, one at the Freer and Sackler galleries and one at the Museum of American Art.  I suspect they are both very family friendly for all ages.  If I were choosing between them, I might go to the American Art Celebration, only because I have heard good things about that one and because the Freer and Sackler Galleries have Asian art, they may depend on too much looking at art in the galleries for young children.

(1) There is a parade in Chinatown (2/22/15).  We went there twice, the second time I timed it (Year of the Dragon) and the parade lasted 18 minutes.   You want to get near the beginning of the parade route and further away from the Metro stop because most people stay near the Metro stop and it can get very crowded there. It is a small parade, but authentic for a very small Chinatown. I understand they have fireworks about 2-3 hours after the parade, but I have never stayed for the fireworks and I don’t know where they are.

(2) Tet Celebration at Eden Center (2/21 -22/15).  Eden Center is in Falls Church, VA and is Little Saigon.  This is crowded.  They celebrate with Lion Dances and speeches (in Vietnamese). They celebrate inside the mall and in the parking lot.  Parking is hard to come by, and you might have to park in the neighborhood.  The Lion Dancing that happens outside is accompanied by fireworks (the loud kind that just smoke and make noise — not shot into the sky).   The best way to celebrate at Eden center is to meet friends there and go to a restaurant in the mall and eat lunch/ snack or whatever and then come outside and see the Lion Dances outside with the noise and smoke.  This is almost all Vietnamese people at this festival.

That leaves (1) The Chinese New Year Celebration at Luther Jackson School (2/14/15).  I have not been to this yet, but plan to go. I have heard it is well done, the performances are in an auditorium.  I have heard the food is not so good.  So go for the performances and vendors and go someplace else for food.  This is well organized and advertised and put on by the Chinese Community. (2)  There are three Tet Festivals, one in Maryland at Northwood HS and two in Virginia and J.E.B. Stuart HS.  These are all about as authentic as you can get.  It will be mostly in Vietnamese.  There are vendors and performances and it is all pretty crowded and loud.  From the ones I have been to, there was no special place for the performances and it was hard to see.  As for the food, it is very Vietnamese, and not so much necessarily the Vietnamese food that Americans like.  If you want the authentic Tet experience, then go for one of these events.  But it is not the place I would choose to introduce my young children to Lunar New Year.  We’ve been to them lots, but my child is from Vietnam, so we expose him to it and we meet friends from our adoption group here usually.  Plus it is the place to get a new ao dai or some other Vietnamese stuff.

That leaves just the Walters Art Gallery celebration, which I have also not been to, but I would probably equate with the Smithsonian celebrations.

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