– 新年好 –
In a smokey, bustling, industrial Manchester, there were seven Chinese families recorded in the 1911 census.
Chinatown was born after the fall of the cotton trade, when cotton warehouses provided cheap rent for the Chinese community to grow their businesses – first laundrettes, then restaurants and take aways. Chinese immigration into the United Kingdom was uncommon, until the 1950s where the British Nationality Act made it easier to enter the country, thus letting this small area grow into the rich and vibrant community it is today. It is an area, which although fairly small and compact, remains a micro city within the city. A place for leisure, organising your finances, eating (you can purchase my favourite snacks from Ho’s Bakery – delicious bao filled with roast pork), healing ailments, a place to live out your last years…
Chinatown has been built over many layers of Manchester’s history, the streets overflow with neon signs which are tacked against Manchester’s red brick. Parts of the old city however still lurks in the corners – if you look closely you’ll find a old cubby holes lined with iron; a place for you to remove dirt from the soles of your shoes before entering the warehouses that used to line these streets.
Curiously, Chinatown also is home to the Guardian Exchange – an unassuming nuclear bunker, designed to protect officials in the event of a nuclear holocaust. To this day, the bunker (which leads to miles of underground tunnels) is shrouded in mystery with little information on it and hides behind the glowing and distracting lights of the area.
In the past few weeks, the city has been taken over by delicate paper lanterns, draped in the trees and across buildings. On the weekend of Chinese New Year (which delightfully coincides with my 26th birthday this year), the city will be inundated with overwhelming smells of delicious food with steam from bamboo steamers, and thick smoke from hot woks floating around St Anne’s Square. Light shows and artists and fireworks will streak Manchester’s skyline with vibrancy and electricity.
A traditional dragon parade will make its way around the city, representing Nian, a dragon that took particular delight in eating children. The myth goes that after a visit from the Gods, one villager places a red envelope on his doorstep, along with some firecrackers which deterred the children eating dragon, as he was afraid of the colour red. In the modern day, it is traditional to wear red during New Year to represent good health, long life, and happiness. And also to deter the dragons.
Celebrate Chinese New Year in Manchester between 4-8 February.