Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chinatown, Chicago. Another Instance of Right Place, Right Time: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 4

I have a convenient tendency to be in the right place at the right time for really interesting cultural phenomena. Examples of this in years past have included living in the Netherlands during the 2010 World Cup, when the Dutch national team made their first final since 1978, allowing me to be with 250,000 or so Dutch fans during the final in Museumplein. A truly amazing cultural experience. I also happened to be in Montreal during arguably the most monumental elections in Canada's history (Bloc Quebecois got completely shattered, and the NDP staged a staggering rise in seats, and the Conservatives got a majority for the first time ever), which was a fascinating thing to witness. I was also fortunate enough to have been in London during May 2009, when the 30-year Sri Lankan civil war came to a contentious end, leading to Tamil protesters filling the streets around Parliament. I've had a fair number of other such situations, and came across a similar (albeit relatively less important/noteworthy) one yesterday.

So yesterday my friend Rachael, who was also on exchange in Hong Kong, and who also lives in the suburbs of Chicago decided to take a trip down memory lane and head to Chinatown, Chicago. After taking the train to the city, we arrived in Chinatown to find police blocks set up and a huge stage constructed in the middle of the intersection of Cermak and Wentworth. Now at this point, let's establish a few things--both Rachael and I did a 5-month exchange to Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is not the same thing as China at all, one would think that we're still both pretty well-versed in Chinese history, as we'd both spent a fair bit of time there. Additionally, we've both traveled a decent amount through Mainland China, which, again, might imply that we're aware of major historical developments in their history.

Apparently not. Upon further examination of the police blockades, large stage, etc, we found that this was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, something that neither of us had heard of. As it turned out, this was arguably the single most important event in Chinese history. Is THAT all?! In short, the Xinhai Revolution ended 2,000 years of Imperial rule in China and laid the foundation for the People's Republic of China. Needless to say, our ignorance was pretty disgraceful. But anyway! The 100th anniversary celebration of this immensely important event in Chinese history proved to be a fantastic backdrop for our trip to Chinatown. In addition to having a big parade with floats representing all sorts of random organizations (Chicago-Guangzhou Association, Association of Engineers and Professors, etc.), there were a number of high school marching bands from various schools in the Chicagoland area. It was particularly interesting to note the ethnic diversity of the people attending the parade--while ~90% of the crowd was Chinese, there were a sizeable number of African-Americans, and a handful of other gweilos as well. It should also be noted that there was a good deal of music blasting, and unsurprisingly it was all western techno/club/pop music. Given that we were surrounded by Chinese, I would have been shocked had it been anything less.

Prior to watching the parade, we also stopped in a phenomenal Chinese bakery. We both got an egg tart, and while Rachael opted for a pineapple bun, I went with a coconut one. And of course, it was washed down with juice-box style tea. A wonderful reminder of the greatest city in the world, Hong Kong. Shortly after that, we ended up meeting the Consul General of the PRC to Chicago, which was pretty awesome.

Overall, definitely a very solid day. Again, it was wonderful timing to have shown up in Chinatown during a parade celebrating one of the most important days in Chinese history. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese put on a great show, and it proved to be a pretty great cultural experience/flashback to good times in Asia. Fortunately, I'll be back there in just a few weeks, otherwise the nostalgia may have just killed me. Seriously.

Anyway, so that was a day in Chinatown that happened to happily coincide with a fairly significant cultural event. It's now Sunday, and on Wednesday I'll be leaving for Denver, then onto Vegas, LA, Hong Kong, and ultimately, Shenzhen.

Anyone around Chicagoland that wants to get together before I leave, feel free to text/message me in the next couple of days.

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