Photo by Thongenn Lanz Patiam

That Day We Went to Chinese New Year and Got Rained for It

By joseph batcagan

Filipinos love celebrations. I suspect this is part of the reason why Chinese New Years have become a city-wide event for the past couple of years in Iloilo City. Lest it looks like I’m complaining, I’m not; after Dinagyang, Jaro Fiesta, and yes, even Valentine’s Day, we treat celebrations like we do with religion: very seriously, and with much pageantry, at that. Last Friday’s Chinese New Year celebration basically proved it late at the event, but let us not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?

So, after publishing our story on Sun Yat Sen High School’s Dragon and Lion Dance Troupe this week, one of the organizers secured us passes for the event. Because we are good Ilonggos and, like how we treat food, we never let anything go to waste, we basically said, “Why not?” We go there, observe, shoot pics, and try not to have our backs rammed by any errant jeepney or taxi that may be speeding behind us. Easy enough.

Chinese New Year - Project Iloilo
Photo by Thongenn Lanz Patiam

Here’s the thing, though: even though I’ve been a regular to these Chinese New Year celebrations even before the city government decreed it to be a thing that the whole province should observe, I attended many of these events in a passive manner, which is basically code for “drink until everybody passes out”. Thankfully, I never do that nowadays (don’t argue), so it essentially allowed me a little “clarity” into the whole proceedings. As it so happened, the photographer we contracted for this story, Lanz, was also going to the event on a first-time basis, too. We’re essentially going there with a fresh set of eyes, so I thought this was surely going to go swimmingly so far.

And it did, at many points during our time there: the whole thing started out with the parade of the participating Chinese-Filipino business groups and schools (and, because tradition mandates it, even our local government officials, too) from Luna Street, Lapaz. They traversed the entirety of the bridge, then entered City Proper starting from Provincial Capitol in President Roxas on through Iznart Street.

I was expecting the parade was supposed to move about very slowly, akin to a Holy Week precession. However, the opposite was exactly what happened: not only did the parade maximize the hour it was given, it seemed like every participant was “moving” in carefully planned motions. Several of the performers who were slated to perform at the evening programme were already dancing their way forwards, while the dragon and lion dancers were carefully utilizing the minimal spaces afforded to them: try imagining carrying a kilometer-long “dragon” and having to run around in circles in what is essentially a one-way street, all while you’re trying to not bump against your fellow performers. It’s a logistic nightmare, which is why it’s mindboggling why many of them were able to keep their “flubs” to a minimum. Dancers, man.

Chinese New Year - Project Iloilo
Photo by Thongenn Lanz Patiam

The parade eventually got to the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch at the middle of Iznart. We did not enter the area immediately, though, since we’re still bushed from taking shots both for this story and for our Instagram feed (seriously, why are you not following us yet?). After fifteen minutes, we proceeded to brave the ever-present mass of humanity to get to our area. Finally, sanctuary.

Of course, the performances did not start immediately after that: government officials were given time to deliver speeches and announcements (one of which was Air Asia opening direct routes from Iloilo to South Korea and vice-versa. Yay, I guess?). Surely, that’s why the people congregating against the guard rails weren’t there just for the speeches? They want entertainment, and they want it quickly, dammit!

They were eventually rewarded with performances from the four schools who have signed up for the show, which is listed in order of their appearances: Hua Siong College of Iloilo, Iloilo Scholastic Academy, Ateneo de Iloilo, and Sun Yat Sen High School. Similar to the street performances I mentioned above, the space afforded to these performers on the stage weren’t enough to accommodate them all, which necessitated a great many of them deliver their routines on the ground level facing the spectators in front of them. Strangely enough, the whole thing felt like a punk rock show to me: the performers and audiences were basically sharing the same area, and each party is respectful enough of each other’s spaces so as not to intrude on what the other one is doing.

Chinese New Year - Project Iloilo
Photo by Thongenn Lanz Patiam

However, the real “highlight”, at least in my mind, came not with the fireworks, but with the sudden change in the weather. It started with a few drizzles, which anyone were not minding because… well, it’s not hurting anyone. Yet. After ten minutes though, that drizzle started to cascade into full-blown rain, and everyone—from the politicos in the front to us “journos” on the sides—weren’t spared from it. It then seemed for a hot minute that the organizers were considering cancelling Ateneo’s performance, but since the kids looked so much into it, they just let the whole thing slide. I’m dooming myself to Cliché City, but the show did go on during that time.

What was more remarkable was the fact that the heavy rain basically allowed for the “democratization” of the show: with the bigwigs escorted by their security to take shelter to god-knows-where, the spaces they left behind prompted the people watching from the back and outside the guard rails to rush to the front and enjoy the performance fully unimpeded. If anything, the fact that everyone was getting drenched only added to them getting more boisterously receptive. Considering that we Ilonggos have a bad habit of being inconsiderately apathetic to our live entertainment, this should count as a miracle by itself.

Chinese New Year - Project Iloilo
Photo by Thongenn Lanz Patiam

As for Lanz and I? As much as we’d love to stay behind, we simply can’t have our equipment get fried because of it. And so, we trooped back to the nearest dry area we can find—which was a bakeshop, by the way—and took stock of all the things we just came from. Of course, you have to realize that not every Chinese New Year event will end up as crazy as this year’s; as with all things, it’s how you make of it that will determine whether you will have fun with it or otherwise.

So, did this “sell” you the idea of having to experience a Chinese New Year celebration? Or do you have some crazy moments you’d like to share with us? Type ‘em out in the comments section below!



Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.


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