CLEVELAND, Ohio – "Does anyone here have a light?" A man asked the crowd of people in Asia Plaza.
In a few moments, the noise of firecrackers exploding in full sails exploded in the crowd and a cloud of smoke filled the air. From that smoke he hurled a lion – dancing spasmodically, with that kind of wild enthusiasm that could only signal one thing.
Bring the pig's year.
Last Saturday, a crowd of Notheast Ohioans crowded the Payne Avenue shopping center to celebrate the Lunar New Year and dedicate themselves to what has become an annual tradition. For 30 years, Asia Plaza, which is based at AsiaTown, has hosted celebrations that mark, yes, the arrival of the new year, but also the vibrant life of this district of Cleveland.
"This mall, this neighborhood and the New Year celebrations have brought people downtown for years, even if other places in the center were closing," said George Kwan of the Kwan Lion Dance Team when he arrived at the Asia Plaza. "It is an honor to be a part of this celebration of Chinese culture and a long Cleveland tradition."
For 39 years, the troupe of 15 family members has been at the center of the lunar New Year celebrations. The Saturday sound of the Year of the Pig was not different.
The lively and noisy lion dance paraded throughout Asia Plaza, beginning with its largest tenant, the Li Wah restaurant, a Chinese restaurant renowned for its dim sum. On this day, the lion had appetite for lettuce heads, hung from the ceiling by the occupants of the mall.
"We hung lettuce outside our activities to bring us money in the new year," said Carol Ruan, owner of R & R Gift Shop. "These celebrations are about bringing luck to people".
And of course, entertainment.
Tradition dictates that the lion, which is guarded by two people, reaches and snatch offers of lettuce and red envelopes full of money.
Saturday's celebration was more than a grab of money; it was an animated show full of playful interaction with the crowd. The lion teased and taunted the participants as members of Kwan's crew filled the mall with a joyous and rhythmic cacophony of boiling drums and junk.
It skilfully moved through the narrow lanes of the souvenir shops of Asia Plaza. When he entered the Sisters Gift Shop, the dance resembled an ongoing bull-in-a-china-shop scenario.
But no: it was not damaged a single ceramic dragon or a shaking cat or a party bauble in the realization of this performance.
The children stood on tiptoe, staring at the windows to admire the turbulent movements of the colored lion.
Fran DiDonato, of Cleveland, brought her daughter, 3, and her son, 6, to the event – to admire the sounds and attractions, but also to experience something more extensive going on in the city.
"I have come for years and I want to expose my children to other cultures," he said. "This marks a new start for people in a new year – and, you know, it's also simply fantastic."