Bao Bao's debut starts Chinese New Year festivities early

Updated: 2014-01-21 04:03

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA)

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Bao Bao's debut starts Chinese New Year festivities earlyPanda cub Bao Bao's public debut at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park over the long Martin Luther King Jr Day weekend got the prolonged, early celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Horse off to a perfect start.

Although the Chinese year won't officially begin until Jan 31, the Washington zoo got people in the celebratory spirit Saturday, by extending weekend viewing hours for the popular cub. It opened two hours early, at 8 a.m.

"It's so cute and it's my first time to see a panda cub," said Ju Qiaoling, who is visiting the United States from her hometown in Shanghai. She described how the fuzzy Bao Bao was playing with a ball.

However, most fans coming over the weekend weren't able to see the zoo's star attraction playing because the 19-pound cub – just 151 days old as of Monday – sleeps up to 20 hours a day. One woman in the panda pavilion said that her granddaughter saw the cub playing in the evening via the zoo's 24/7 webcam.

While Bao Bao's debut has added a strong festive mood to the zoo, fans can feel more of it as a series of Chinese New Year celebrations are unveiled in Washington and other major US cities in the coming weeks.

On Saturday, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, right next to DC's Chinatown, will join hands with the Chinese Embassy to host a Chinese New Year Family Festival as part of the museum's Family Day activities.

While the panda will also be a highlight at the event, with volunteers wearing panda costumes and children receiving free panda toys and coloring games, the program list is long, although kid- and family-friendly.

A college student lion dance group will start the day at 11:30 a.m., followed by live music on traditional Chinese instruments by the Washington Guzheng Society. Visitors can also learn Chinese calligraphy, paper cutting, dough sculptors, lantern making and other Chinese arts on the site.

The Tianjin Puppet Troupe, which will perform at the Millennium Stage of Kennedy Center that evening, will also join the daytime celebration.

At the Kennedy Center on Friday and Saturday, the Ordos Song and Dance Theater of China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, hometown of Genghis Khan, will stage its award-winning show "Wedding of Ordos." The show, which recreates a wedding ceremony from the ethnic Ordos region in northwest China, will showcase Chinese folk song, dance, customs and costume, according to Li Hong, minister counselor for culture at the Chinese embassy.

On Sunday, the World Artists Experiences, an organization that bridges international understanding through cultural and citizen diplomacy in communities, colleges and schools, will join hands with the Chinese embassy to present a day of celebrations of the Year of the Horse at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland, just outside Washington, with a variety of events for kids and adults.

From 2 to 4:30 pm on H Street NW between 6th and 8th Streets, Washington's Chinatown will be the site of a Chinese New Year parade that will include kung fu demonstrations, a dragon dance and live musical performances.

Many restaurants in the US capital also have arranged special menus and events for February to mark the start of the new year.

In Maryland, Chinese New Year celebrations will be held at the Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg from Jan 27 to Feb 9, with performances and workshops in flower arranging, arts and crafts, painting and games.

In Rockville, which has a large Chinese community, celebrations will include a parade, an outdoor Asian street market and musical and dance performances. The participants, sponsors and performers will include not only Chinese, but also Vietnamese, Thai, Filipinos and Koreans who also celebrate the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.

For Chinese, the Lunar New Year is undoubtedly the most important festival of the year. Celebrations usually last from the first day to the 15th day, also known as the Lantern Festival when the moon is full.

Of course, the Washington area is just one place outside China that will stage Chinese New Year celebrations. When the Chinese New Year was celebrated in 2013, the Chinese central government sent cultural troupes to 251 cities in 99 countries with 355 performances.

Li, from the Chinese embassy, said mutual understanding between Chinese and Americans is vital for building a new type of major country relationship between the two nations.

"Cultural exchanges have a special role and the Spring Festival is a natural platform. People get to know each other before they even realize that," Li said.

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