The Sydney Lunar New Year Festival is best experienced at night when the lanterns light up. That’s not an option for me living where I do. Instead, I decide to enjoy the self-guided Lunar Tour on the Sydney Culture Walks App by day.
Discovering the Sydney Lunar New Year Festival
Still anxious about catching public transport, I drive to a railway station close to the city to minimise my time on the train. I mask up, tap on and find a quiet seat on the train.
The walk begins at Circular Quay where I walk beneath a series of three gateways. Each one is different, reflecting Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean architecture respectively. Until only year ago, I referred to the celebration as Chinese New Year. Now I know to call it Lunar New Year, celebrated throughout South East Asia.
The Year of the Tiger
2022 is the Year of the Tiger and a large inflated tiger stretches out across the Customs House forecourt. His soft friendly eyes welcome passersby, and a short queue forms as people stand between his front paws for photographs and selfies.
From Circular Quay, the route leads to George Street. “Banner Galleries” by different artists who have interpreted the Lunar New Year theme flap from tall flag poles. I feel sad when I read that the banners by Andrew Lee represent Asian businesses that closed or were affected by the pandemic. In each work, a tiger can be seen superimposed on the façade of an iconic business.
New Discoveries in Sydney
Looking up at the banners I’m delighted to notice – for the first time – a pressed metal strip decorated with three tall Waratahs (or are they Gymea Lilies?) lining a balcony on the Morrison Bar façade.
To my left down Dalley Street, an enormous suspended tree root sticks out from Underwood Street. Underwood Ark by Michael McIntyre is one of my favourite sculptures in Sydney and one not many people know about.
The light rail glides to a stop and passengers alight. A ringing bell warns pedestrians as it continues up George Street. I chuckle to myself as I pass the tall and round building that is Australia Square.
Diverting down Palings Lane, I pass a bottle shop window delightfully decorated with a nature scene and whimsical monkeys. There’s Palings Flowers and then Lorraine’s Patisserie where for once there isn’t a queue.
Suited men and women in office clothing chat over pre-lunch drinks at outside tables in Ash Street. I feel out of place in my walking gear. From Angel place I hear the calls and chatter of birds, part of the installation “Forgotten Songs”, another favourite Sydney public artwork.
An enormous mural depicting an Australian landscape curves around the façade of the Cartier Oceana Flagship due to open in Spring 2022. “The Coastal Cliffs”, by Paul Milinski takes its inspiration from Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and The Twelve Apostles. It is one of four murals which will decorate the façade for three months each until the store opens.
I haven’t had breakfast and am decidedly peckish. Just over the road down Temperance Lane is a hole in the wall dumpling place I’ve wanted to try. Hopefully Baba Wu has survived the pandemic. It has and I’m today’s first customer. The bite sized pork and chive dumplings sprinkled with chili and soy sauce perfectly complement my Lunar New Year walk.
A smiling pink pig dances joyfully across from the QVB. The pig is one of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. I was born in the year of the pig which apparently makes me compassionate, generous and diligent. Sounds good.
The blurb on the app describes how Chrissy Lau, the designer of The Ox lantern, incorporated a waving arm to beckon people to receive lucky packets, reminiscent of the beckoning cat seen in many Asian stores.
A little girl, runs laughing down the street towards me. Her mum sweeps her up and positions her in front of the Ox for a photo.
The numbers on the app don’t quite correspond with the positioning of the lanterns. That’s not a problem. They are all easy to find and quite wonderful. Two tigers (of eight) face each other, front paws stretched out in front of them with their tails in the air, looking as if they are about to bound off in play.
There’s a purple and orange concertinaed snake, three little monkeys balancing on top of each other and a horse galloping down the road.
The Lion Dance
When a group of dancers wearing orange T-shirts and trousers with thick silky yellow, red and purple fringes circling their legs walk up the Town Hall steps, a small crowd gathers. The clock strikes midday. A dancer removes the clear plastic protective sheeting from two large lion heads.
Rhythmic drumming begins. The dancers become lions blinking their fluffy red eyelids and nod their oversize heads from side to side. They descend the steps and approach the onlookers whose eyes betray smiling faces hidden behind the now ubiquitous mask.
The lions nudge and encourage people to pat and stroke their soft red and yellow furry faces. Old folk and children alike laugh and smile. It’s great to see such pleasure around me. A man approaches a lion, red packet in hand. He waits then pops the envelope into the gaping mouth. A woman holds ten dollars aloft while her friend takes a photo as she too feeds the lion.
More Lanterns and a Cheesecake
Further down George Street, I pass a gold and white rooster, a fluffy puppy, its plastic ‘fur’ rustling in the wind and an orange and yellow dragon that looks like it’s about to step onto a football field with the earth as a ball. There are more tigers and two gold robotic looking rats.
Uncle Tetsu beckons and I succumb and purchase a Japanese Cheesecake tart. The warm butter pastry encases sweet soft cheesecake filling that jiggles when shaken. The perfect treat.
A strong breeze rustles leaves on the trees as I look out for the sheep and the rabbit. The rain has held off and the weather perfect for a day wandering the city.
Inspired by the ancient art of paper folding, the origami-like rabbit enchants me. A blue, red and white design on the smooth sides reflects the wrapping of ‘white rabbit candy’. This folded ‘paper’ rabbit lantern and the large tiger with its soft beckoning eyes at Customs House have won my affection.
After walking through the body of the red sheep, I turn towards Chinatown.
Ending the Sydney Lunar New Year Tour
The self-guided tour ends in Dixon Street. I walk beneath the last display of the tour, a series of pale blue, yellow and white lanterns suspended above the road. Chinatown is unusually quiet for this time of year. Businesses here are struggling.
Hopefully the Sydney Lunar New Year Festival has improved business somewhat after a very difficult two years.
- The 2.6km walk takes about 50 minutes if unlike me you don’t stop for dumplings and to watch a lion dance
- Find the app for the Lunar Walk and other Sydney Cultural Walks here.
- The Sydney Lunar New Year Festival for 2022 ends on 13th February