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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #41
February 06, 2008

Year of the Rat

Together + Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration

To be uprooted from your home and set down in a strange city is the ultimate outsider experience. We remember arriving in a new city with just a few cardboard boxes, but would we risk as much with our children in tow? That's just what a poor farmer does for his talented son in Together; the peasant from a small rural village takes his only child, a violin prodigy, to Bejing to find him the proper teacher. The father, who works as a cook, finds a series of instructors eager to help the boy, but, of course, the city has much more to teach than just music. Doors open for Xiaochun, and we were riveted as he travels up through the social strata of the city. But the clash of culture is profound for the father; ambition always carries a cost. Together is a modern fairy tale which delivers a satisfying, five-hankie Hollywood ending.

It's fun to learn to say Gung Hay Fat Choy (Happy New Year) and even more fun to learn about another culture's traditions. Visiting Chinatown is filled with wonderful sights and smells all year, but we chose Lunar New Year to make a foray downtown with our kids. We started the day off with a treat for our taste buds by sampling dim sum. The kids unnwrapped banana leaves to discover a nest of sticky rice with pork pieces and gobbled down a plate of potstickers. After, we treated our kids (and ourselves!) to dessert at a local bakery, where families were picking up sticky bow-tie sweets for their holiday meal. Taking our cookies on the road, we gave the kids a few dollars so they could shop among the colorful shops that lined the streets. We moms were thrilled to find some modern, design-y houseware shops and art galleries. Our kids were greeted by friendly shop owners who were happy to point them toward kid-sized purchases, like silky pajamas, origami paper, chopsticks and holiday poppers. After a few hours of celebrating the Year of the Rat, we came home sated and excited to make Lunar New Year an annual tradition.

Film Title: Together
Directed By: Chen Kaige
2002, Rated PG, 119 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:
  • Why This Film was Worth It: Together is a beautifully made film for kids over eight. Its classic set-up pits the Dad's simple past against the son's marketable talent. Be ready for a wonderful, but heart-wrenching ending. The film is subtitled, but between gorgeous music and a child who doesn't speak very much, the pictures do most of the storytelling making it a good choice for a first foreign film. We watched as a family, and only had to jump in a few times - once to explain why the boy changed violin teachers and once to explain a plot twist in the final scene.
  • Red Flags: Xioachun becomes friends with Lili, a woman who lives in the next apartment. The boy witnesses the ups and downs of Lili's love life and clearly has a crush on her. It's not clear what kind of job she has (there is vague hint she is a prostitute), but she cares about Xioachun, and guides him to the correct direction when he becomes confused.
  • COOL FACT: The professor is played by the film's director, Chen Kaige and the character of Lili is played by his real-life wife.

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom for Talking to Your Kids about this Film:
  • Music Savvy: Ask the kids if the film would have worked as well if the child was a prodigy in a field other than music; the violin allows the audience to get right into the heart of characters, it seems to be singing their feelings.
  • Cinema Savvy: The characters in Together are caught between an old and a new China. If the father stands for tradition, and the boy has the chance to become famous and potentially wealthy in the newer version of that nation, what do you think the filmmaker is trying to say about the contrast between the ancient and modern values of his country?


Celebrate the Lunar New Year in Chinatown

Age Allotment: 4 and up
Time Recommendation: 2 to 4 hours, including a meal

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: We started our adventure with a dim sum meal; we had fun figuring out how to order, what the dishes were, and mimicking the customs of the locals. With a few tips from a savvy friend, we knew what dishes were kid-friendly. We wanted to have plenty of time left to take in the festivities and shop - dim sum makes for a quick meal.
  • Find your Child's Lunar Birth Year: Growing up with a diverse posse of friends, our kids know their lunar birth year -- we have two roosters, and two boars between us. Click here for a chart where you can find your birth year.
  • Best Time to Visit: You'll find the community decked out for the New Year, so it's quite festive. Normally, we do this trip on a school day-off and have the place to ourselves.
  • The Legend Behind the Festival: Ancient myths tell of an angry beast who comes down from the hills and slips into homes to eat humans. The Chinese would begin the year by making loud noises (firecrackers) and bright colors (red) in order to scare away the monster.
  • How the Holiday is Celebrated: Everyone comes home to be with their family for a New Year's feast; red packets, with an even amount of cash, are given to children who are meant to spend the money on something sweet. Nien Gao is a traditional sweet rice cake which is eaten on the holiday - the idea being that the sticky cake will keep the family together. Other sweet treats (such as melon seeds, candied lotus seeds and coconut) are customary to insure a happy new year. Holiday festivities last for fifteen days until either the Lantern Festival, or a Chinese Valentine's Day.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:
  • Anywhere: Google your city + Chinatown, Chinese new year, parade, celebration
  • Boston: Boston’s Chinatown, the only historically Chinese area in New England, the 3rd largest Chinese neighborhood in the country, is centered on Beach St., and it sits in a densely populated way between the Financial and the Theater Districts. The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year for more than 25% of the world, so head to the Kneeland St. area between Feb. 7-21 for the two-week celebration, where dragon dancers, parades, and fireworks enliven family get-togethers and Chinese cuisine.
  • Chicago: There's no better place to celebrate Chinese New Year in Chicago than Chinatown. Located in the near South Side (centered on Cermak and Wentworth Avenues), Chinatown will be hosting a variety of different events to celebrate the year of the rat, including a parade on February 10th at 1pm. There will be floats, marching bands, the newly crowned Miss Chinatown and Miss Friendship Ambassador, and a 100ft dragon.
  • Houston: Celebrate the Year of the Rat in style at Houston's 2008 Chinese New Year Festival on Saturday, Feb. 9th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Chinese Community Center.  The kids will enjoy the dragon lion dance, lots of food, fortune telling, traditional arts and crafts, the Asian Heritage Tour and much more!  Click here for more information.
  • New York:  There are two ticketed performances in town in celebration of the Asian Lunar New Year: Chinese New Year Splendor, at Radio City Music Hall, featuring a spectacular showcase of classical Chinese performing arts, through February 9. Tickets from $58 and the 23rd Annual Lunar New Year Festival presented by the New York Chinese Cultural Center celebrates the Year of the Rat at the Skirball Center for Performing Arts, February 16 & 17. Tickets $25 & $35.  Here are our picks of the many free New Year attractions and celebrations; On February 7th, the Empire State Building joins Asia Society with a special Lunar New Year lighting. Sunday, February 10th, The 9th Lunar New Year Parade & Festival. 1-5 pm, Mott Street (between Canal and Bayard); Since you're in the neighborhood, stop by the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard Street and sample such exotic flavors as lychee, ginger, green tea and red bean!
  • San Francisco: In San Francisco, Lunar New Year's events continue throughout the month, including: carnival, Miss Chinatown pageant, coronation ball, Chinatown Run, Chinese New Year Community Street Fair, and Chinese Culture Center Spring Festival.  The series of activities culminates with the impressive Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco, named one of the Top Ten parades by the International Festivals and Events Association.  For more information visit  For Oakland's Lunar New Year's Bazaar and StreetFest, visit the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.
  • Washington, D.C.: The Chinese Lunar New Year will be celebrated on February 10th in Chinatown (H Street between 6th and 8th Streets) and kicks off about 2:00 pm. The festivities last about 3 hours and include the traditional Chinese Dragon Dance, live music, parade, and a five-story firecracker!  Everything is free, just get there early, bring a chair and enjoy. 

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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