For many Australians, the traditions surrounding Chinese New Year are a once year celebration – but for the Lau family, the excitement of Chinese culture and contemporary Australian life continues every day.
Just ask 11-year-old Andrew Lau of Surry Hills. He’s passionate about playing rugby league, soccer, basketball and handball – but last month, he took time out to be one of 3,500 performers in the City of Sydney’s Chinese New Year Twilight Parade, in honour of the Year of the Snake.
The celebration brought together Andrew and his best friend, eight-year-old Edison Zhu. The boys spent weeks practising a traditional lion dance to perform in front of their parents, friends and more than 100,000 spectators on George Street.
“Edison and I practised our lion dance for more than six weeks before the parade,” Andrew said.
“Even though I knew there would be a huge crowd, I wasn’t nervous at all. It feels fantastic to perform along with the music and in front of that many people, and it was so awesome to hang out with my friends during the parade. I think I did a good job!
“I usually play the lion’s tail, but when the parade reached Darling Harbour, we all got a chance to be the head. We all jumped on each other’s shoulders and that was the best part of the whole night.”
Andrew developed his interest in lion dancing and Chinese kung fu after a family friend introduced him to the performance troupe at the Chinese Australian Wenhua Centre in Haymarket.
This community group gives young people in Sydney a chance to explore Chinese culture through education programs, activities and performance. Students from a wide variety of backgrounds – including Chinese, Korean, Thai and Indian – take part.
Andrew’s father Tim and mother Jane met in Sydney a decade ago, after migrating from China and Vietnam respectively
The traditions of their homelands are important to the Lau family, and each Chinese New Year, they spend days preparing Buddhist offerings for the annual celebration. There are dim sims and vegetarian pastries to be cooked and incense and fresh carnations to be bought and placed as symbolic tributes to the holy spirits, wishing for good luck, health and karma.
At least twice a week, Andrew visits his ‘shifu’ – kung fu and lion dance master – in a studio above a Chinese restaurant in the heart of bustling Haymarket.
“I was very excited when my ‘shifu’ told us we were going to be in the parade for the very first time,” Andrew said.
“Everyone in our class started off not knowing much about how to perform kung fu and dance at the same time, so we had a lot to learn in just six weeks.
“The lion head is actually pretty huge and it’s very heavy to carry, so you have to practice again and again and make sure you’re fit enough to hold it up while you do the dance.”
When he’s not busy practising for the world-famous Chinese New Year parade, Andrew is a typical Aussie boy.
His favourite league player is Billy Slater from the Melbourne Storm, and the reason is simple – “he’s one of the fastest in the whole country.”
Andrew is also a keen soccer player, known throughout his team as an indispensable defender and top mid-fielder.
He idolises the Socceroos, as well as Manchester United, and dreams of playing soccer at a professional level one day.
Andrew’s upbringing has been unmistakeably multicultural – he grew up speaking both English and Cantonese at home, and he can also hold a conversation in his mother’s first language, Vietnamese.
When it comes to food, he enjoys the best of both worlds – with a taste for traditional Chinese dragon beard noodles and spring rolls, as well as the Australian after-school favourite, hot chips.
Although he’s never visited China, Andrew is fascinated by his parents’ tales of the orient.
“I want to go to Beijing, because I want to see how long the Great Wall really is,” Andrew said.
“I saw it in The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan, but I don’t believe it’s as long as everyone says. I think I could probably run along the whole thing without stopping!”
Andrew’s dad’s best tip for Sydneysiders wanting prosperity and good fortune during the Year of the Snake is to work hard and be as energetic as his young son.