Dragon Year Ushers In Hope For Tomorrow

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

At Thien Hau Temple in Chinatown, an “answer from the gods” promising a year filled with good luck, good health and better fortunes, can be found on the ground, says 38-year old San Gabriel resident Susan Hsieh.

It is Lunar New Year’s Eve at the Taoist temple, and a row of people are kneeling at the foot of an alter, their eyes shut tight as they vigorously shake a canister filled with numbered fortune sticks.

As they shake, they are concentrating on tough questions they have been mulling over. “You can ask about your marriage, your love life, or your career, or whatever you want to ask. The gods will have an answer for you,” Hsieh says.

Eventually a stick pops out onto the floor in front of them, bearing a number that corresponds to a paper square marked with Chinese characters. That piece of paper carries an answer from the gods.

Throughout the night, the desire for good luck filled the air as thickly as the incense in the massive, noisy temple. If crowds of people were not lining up to find out their fortunes, they were clamoring to touch costumed lion dancers in the hopes of catching some good luck.

Patrons check what their fortune says. The slip of paper is written in Chinese, and can be translated by temple volunteers. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

Lion dancing entertained temple-goers throughout the night on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Touching the lions is thought to bring good luck. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

Hsieh, an accountant, said she was there this year to ask the gods if she should move out of the country to find better job prospects.

She is among thousands who turned out to the Yale Street temple in Chinatown on Lunar New Year’s Eve, January 22, to ring in the Year of the Dragon with ear-splitting firecracker shows and lion dances, and to pray for better fortunes in the upcoming year.

Some are visiting for the first time, cameras in hand to capture a unique cultural experience. Others have been coming since childhood, brought there by parents or grandparents.

Even Los Angeles First District Councilman Ed Reyes made an appearance that night to participate in the festivities, and to light firecrackers that were facilitated by permits his staff helped to obtain.

Reyes said this was a chance to share a local community’s cultural traditions with all of Los Angeles. “This is an open door celebration, a chance to see everyone,” he said.

Some have long taken advantage of what Los Angeles has to offer. Gabriel Jimenez, 32, of Boyle Heights said he grew up visiting places like Thien Hau Temple and watching the annual parade with his family.

It was a fun activity for a family of six to do for free, he said. “We just ride the bus out here, walk around, try out all of the different restaurants, sample different arrays of cuisines, family style,” he said.

Jimenez brought his camera with him this year to document the experience. “Today, I’m just trying to capture people in prayer for the New Year. They’re isolated from their everyday environment. It’s kind of nice to celebrate that with them too,” he said.

Like some of them, he is wishing for good health for family, friends, as well as himself. “It wouldn’t hurt to make more money, as opposed to living check to check,” he added.

Huntington Park resident Adol Vergara, 42, is a fan of the holiday and tries to get those around her excited about Los Angeles’ Lunar New Year celebrations by inviting parents at the preschool where she works to go to the annual parade in Chinatown.

“I go to the Internet and I print out the flyer, and I put it in my school and I invite the parents to bring their kids to the parade every year,” she says.

She is wishing for peace this year, “because all around the world there are happening a lot of things, the problems in other countries, especially Mexico, a lot of problems with the narco traffic and all that,” and also for a better economy, because “well, the economy is not too good.”

Melissa Lim, 29, of Tarzana is Catholic but she visits the temple every year because of her Buddhist grandmother. “I grew up with it. It’s a tradition and a belief,” she said.

She was there to improve her family’s luck. “It’s been a bad year,” she said. She is also sharing the tradition with some younger members of her family, bringing her 13-year-old niece and 19-year old nephew with her to the temple this year.

Lim took the opportunity to fit in some good lessons. She winks at her niece and tells her, “we’re praying to study harder, to get better grades… super grades.”

Lim says her earliest memories of Lunar New Year visits to the temple with her grandmother are dominated by the memories of the sheer number of people who show up each year. “Everybody is trying to start a new year, a better year.”

See related: Celebrate Lunar New Year Around Los Angeles

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January 26, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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