What began as a tight push forward at a slow pace, soon looks like gridlock. More people behind me are pushing for the crowd to keep going, but there is simply nowhere to go. Tense faces look at each other, some coming and some going, all squeezed tighter than socially acceptable, and a sense of panic begins to rise from our feet, like nervous hooves before a stampede.
A week after the start of the lunar year, the London Chinatown Chinese Association is throwing a party to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. Trafalgar and Leicester squares are deafening with musical presentations, traditional to the biggest festival of the Chinese calendar. But nothing is as busy as Gerrard Street in Chinatown. The corridor of colorful lanterns is absolutely packed, not an inch to spare.
As I look around, I wonder who will enter panic first, and to my utter surprise, it’s me. I’m being pressed by at least four other people and I see myself trapped in the human block. No, I can’t stand here any longer, I just can’t. I begin to push the people in front of me and, somehow, I manage a few steps forward. Just when the crowd is reaching its maximum density, I trip out of it and find myself in a clearing. Was that it? Why is no one standing here? Then I see it: a white dragon coming at me.
The dragon dance is a major highlight of the Chinese New Year celebration. A number of dancers get under a huge puppet-like costume and bring the dragon alive. The one coming at me is a three-person effort with the mission to dance its way to the door of every restaurant in Chinatown, where the owner gives him lettuce for good luck.
A policeman pushes me out of the way, as I appear to be in the middle of an improvised stage. I am now at the edge of this catwalk – dragonwalk, – right next to the restaurant entrance.
The head of the dragon is a huge costume with a thick white beard and painted eyes. Under it is a man moving with much too energy for such a small stage, but he manages to move forward without losing rhythm. Then, just as it’s about to reach its destination, a swing of the head catches its beard on the botton of my jacket.
I was hooked, like a fish hanging from its mouth, desperately trying to get away. But my gloves were making the job of untangling myself more difficult, and I could only look into the dragon’s eyes and hope he would blow some fire and incinerate me already.
I finally managed to release myself from the white beard, and as the dragon resumed its furious dancing, an old Chinese man standing next to me smiled and said “that’s good luck.”