We did so much for Lunar Year this year; I decided to divide it into 2 posts.
Danny actually attends two preschools a day! Yes, it is what his family has decided is best for him and it seems to be working. In the morning he attends a preschool for typical children and does the morning activities, eats lunch and then gets on a school bus (provided by Montgomery County Public Schools) and heads over to his afternoon preschool, which is a collaborative pre-K for 4 year olds with physical disabilities and their typical peers. Danny is one of the special needs kids.
Friday January 27 was a big day. It was the day I came to Danny’s afternoon preschool and gave my Lunar New Year presentation. I promised Danny a special snack of five gummy penguins if he behaved during class and wore his ao dai to show his classmates. (He got his special snack). For this preschool, I served Mandarin oranges, mangoes, sweetened ginger and a vanilla roll cake I had gotten on my first visit to Great Wall Supermarket in Rockville. (That supermarket is incredible!)
And that same night was “International Night” at the elementary school where Danny attends his special needs preschool. They invite all families and ask ahead of time what country you are representing and if you would like to do something special for the event. I filled out the form, said we were coming, that Danny was from Vietnam and he would wear his ao dai (traditional Vietnamese costume). A couple of days before the event, I got an email asking if I would like to be the “Vietnamese Ambassador”, which would be wearing a country flag, and handing out stickers and telling kids something about Vietnam. I told the organizer that I would be happy to volunteer but our situation was Danny was adopted from Vietnam at 7 months and couldn’t they find someone more qualified? She could see my point and said if they couldn’t then I would be ambassador that Friday night.
We arrived at International Night; I put my conical hat in the car in case I was still going to be ambassador. It turned out I was the Vietnamese Ambassador, I wore my conical hat and had a blast telling kids about Vietnam and handing out stickers, which the kids put in their “passport”. The only downside of being the ambassador is that you do it while everyone else is eating, so I didn’t get much of a chance to sample all the yummy food that people brought from all over the world. It is organized by continents; I never got out of the Pakistan area of Asia, (the dishes were really good). Later on I got over to the Middle East and had a yummy Israeli dessert. But I heard I missed out on Ethiopian and Senegalese food along with lots of other ethnic food.
I realized during my ambassadorship, this may be the only year that I will ever be allowed to be the Vietnamese ambassador. There was a Vietnamese family who came all dressed in their ao dais about a half an hour late (after I had already been assigned ambassador). I guess they had not filled out the form so the organizers would know they were coming. They made homemade egg rolls, unlike our family which ordered summer rolls from Pho Hung restaurant in Aspen Hill as our contribution. The only Vietnamese dish I have mastered is not very kid friendly, so we chose to buy something a little more kid friendly. The Vietnamese family had made a display of things from Vietnam and said they would be glad to share ambassadorship with me next year.
That Saturday we met friends from our playgroup of kids adopted from Asia at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, VA. We stayed for several performances. We finally saw a dragon dance (many times promised, but we never got to see them) with performers who were really practiced and really good. We also got to see more Lion Dancers, but these Lion Dancers were also quite practiced and top notch. Of all the places we saw performances for Lunar New Year, it was these performances in the middle of the mall that were the most fabulous.
Sunday was the day of the Chinatown Parade. We headed down for lunch in a Chinese restaurant and got there ahead of the crowd and then went to do a little shopping in Chinatown, and then on to take our places on the street. We stood in the first block of the parade route and Danny got to see where they practiced before starting the parade. If you stand in first block of the parade route, the parade was over in all of 18 minutes from the start. We walked around the block to see it come back but got caught in a large crowd on H Street on the way to the Gallery Place Metro Stop. It was nice to be able to see the parade twice, but Danny had fallen asleep in the stroller in the middle of the second viewing of the parade. I think I would just go home from a different Metro stop next time, rather than be stuck in the huge crowds near the Metro.
The following weekend was a slushy weekend where we again met our playgroup of families with kids adopted from Asia for a Chinese Buffet in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. It was an excellent time for “dinner” because we had much of the restaurant to ourselves. I brought out my Lion Dancer marionette puppet and my ‘goldtone’ coins and we played feed the Lion Dancer for about 45 minutes. I shared my puppet with the kids and also brought some Joker Buddha masks and fans so someone could tease the lion dancer. The kids all took turns playing lion dancer, joker Buddha or feeding the lion dancer. It is going to be a sad day when these kids are too big to want to feed the lion dancer puppet.
Our last event was at his typical preschool, where I brought in my puppets, toys and books and celebrated Lunar New Year with his class. I brought fruit to share with the class, since there are many food allergies. I brought Mandarin oranges, mangoes, kumquats, sweetened ginger and dragon fruit. We were in Vietnam just before Tet when we saw both orange and kumquat trees being delivered around the city. Dragon fruit is grown in the province where Danny is from. I had wanted to bring this to presentations in the past, but it was never available at H-Mart when I needed it for Lunar New Year. But they had it at Great Wall Supermarket!
At the typical preschool, they were learning about China all month long in February. They had made a 15 foot dragon out of a box and long paper the day before. The dad of one of Danny’s classmates is an American born Chinese and his mom had supplied some beautiful lanterns and hanging firecrackers for class which had already been hung up in class when I came to do my presentation. And by coincidence, this dad was the cooper on the morning I did my presentation. He said he had seen but never tried either kumquats or dragon fruit. That helped remind me how the traditions for Lunar New Year are different in the different parts of the world. So our celebration is really a celebration of some of the Chinese elements, some of the Vietnamese elements and our own American traditions which we will refine and embellish as the years go on. I went on to give my presentation in another of the classes at this preschool. I think my third and final presentation was the best and Danny wasn’t even a student in the class.
Our last celebration of Lunar New Year was the next day when Danny and his (typical) preschool classmates went out to a Chinese Restaurant field trip. We dined at Hollywood East Cafe in Wheaton Plaza and they did a Lion Dance for us. I understand that around Lunar New Year, they have regular performances of the Lion Dance while you eat. I will have to check this out next year. I know the restaurant is known for their Dim Sum.
Lunar New Year has not really ended for us yet. Danny continues to play “Lion Dancer”. Dad puts on Lion Dance music on his Ipod and Danny likes to play the Joker Buddha while Dad plays the Lion Dancer puppet and then they come around looking for someone to feed the Lion, which means I “feed” whatever is in hand to the Lion Dancer puppet. It is slowly winding down and I will put away the puppets and masks until next year. I think I promised that Danny and I would make a real Joker Buddha mask this summer, the 3-D kind made with paper maché. We’ll see; I don’t think I have worked with paper maché since elementary school. The mask painting was fun, but paper maché is messy and Danny doesn’t like to get his hands messy, so I might not get much help from him besides him directing me what to do.