Stumbling into the Chinese Lunar New Year, Sydney!

Have you ever found a piece of jigsaw puzzle lying beside the road? All you have is that single piece and you can’t help wondering what the rest of the puzzle looked like but feel completely overwhelmed by the enormity and impossibility of the task? How can you ever hope to assemble the big picture from only one little piece?

You know you can’t and yet you’re almost being eaten alive by curiosity!

What is it?

That’s what it was like for me yesterday when my daughter and I stumbled into the Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in Sydney yesterday. We were simply walking from Darling Harbour to Town Hall Station, via the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), to catch the train home.

After walking through some smokey food stores, we came across this stunning but also intriguing lantern sculpture towering through the QVB.


Queen Victoria Building: a red lantern Sculpture rises to the  dome.

As we walked on, we spotted what looked like an enormous inflatable bee but turned out to be a Tiger.

A Tiger? To mark the beginning of the Year of the Monkey?

Clearly, the tiger is also juggling four different coloured balls. What are they? What do they mean?


Queen Victoria is clearly not too sure what to make of her new neighbour?

When you write a blog, it’s no longer enough to walk past these mysteries and simply write them off as someone else’s culture. You just can’t let ignorance go through to the keeper. You have to find out. Explore. Come up with the answers.

Or, at least ask Google. Find out.


The question is: how much time do you allocate to the quest?

Cultural icons don’t suddenly appear. They have been built up, layer up on layer, over hundreds and even thousands of years. Of course, the complexity and nuance of all this history can’t instantly be gleaned from Google and understood. It really is something you need to live and breathe and to give due respect, almost needs to be your own.


Yet,  if we only stay home and never cross that bridge, we’ll never build bridges between nations, cultures and peoples.

Moreover, have you ever considered that people, not just countries, are multicultural? This means that we even have these mergers and fractures inside our very selves.

While Irish, German and Scottish blood battle it out in my genes, I don’t have any personal connection to Chinese culture, beyond buying take away meals and a fleeting day trip to China from Hong Kong back in 1988.

This makes developing any level of cultural understanding difficult.


So, far Google hasn’t been altogether helpful but what I did find out is that Sydney is hosting what’s claimed to be the biggest Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations outside mainland China. 12 giant lantern sculptures have been erected at iconic Sydney landmarks. That explained why the Tiger was outside the QVB. Unfortunately, we didn’t see our Tiger lit up but it was still an interesting spectacle.

These 12 sculptures represent the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac or Sheng Xiao: Each year is represented by one animal (and one mythical creature, the dragon). There are 12 animals in a specific order, and the 12-animal-cycle rotates every 12 years. In Sheng Xiao these animals are (in order): Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Ram), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.

Apparently, I was born in the Year of the Rooster and in this the Year of the Monkey:

During the year, the Rooster-born need to clear all misunderstandings quickly. It is important to seek expert advice when faced with failure. They can make wrong judgments if they rely on external information without personally delving deeper into what is actually happening. Good luck can be destroyed with careless action when trying to find solutions when faced with financial, family or personal problems.

This sounds like good advice for anyone, don’t you think?!!

You can find your zodiac and read more here

Anyway, in my usual fashion, I made quite a mistake consulting Google and should’ve gone straight to Wikipaedia where pretty much all is explained. Moreover, it confirmed just how much tradition is involved in this ancient festival and that a few photos taken passing by, could never do it justice.

Yet, at least, I paused and looked a little further.

Asked a few questions.

We might not be able to walk in someone else’s shoes but at least we can try them on. Stumble around. We don’t even need to pretend they fit. Indeed, it’s probably better we don’t.

Happy Chinese New Year!

If you are celebrating Chinese New Year or can enlighten me at all, please leave a link in the comments!

xx Rowena


28 thoughts on “Stumbling into the Chinese Lunar New Year, Sydney!

  1. New Journey

    What fun….it was like a bonus coming upon this…and so interesting…great pictures….very interesting actually…..good Monday to you my friend, its actually Monday night in the land down under…..Good morning to ya….night from me…..kat

  2. roweeee Post author

    Monday night by the time I got to your comment, Kat. Walking back from the theatre wiped me out for today but it was all worth it. A day we’ll never forget! xx Ro

  3. merrildsmith

    The red lantern sculpture is beautiful. Philadelphia is going to have a Chinese lantern festival in a park during the spring–I guess more pleasant weather for people hanging out there at night. It’s the first time they’re doing it, so I hope to get there and write about it.

  4. Alison and Don

    Well I don’t know if you had me at the word Sydney (being Australian born) or at the picture of the tiger (I was born in the year of the tiger and have guardian spirit tigers). I love the red lantern sculpture. And you brought back memories of so many years ago when I was in Sydney and I too stumbled into Chinese New Year – there was a dragon winding it’s way down one of the main downtown streets.

  5. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Loved the photo of the lanterns hanging in the Queen Victoria building. What a piece of luck finding yourself in Sydney at the right time to see it. Does this mean you are rehearsing again for another event. I can’t throw any more light on the Chinese New Year traditions but agree the more we understand the closer we can move towards crossing those bridges.

  6. roweeee Post author

    No more rehearsals here apart from every day life and that is hugely challenging. Oh my goodness! Those notes from school!!! We can be so smart and capable in some areas and totally useless in others! xx Rowena

  7. roweeee Post author

    How amazing. I always love chatting to other Aussies on my blog because most of my readers are from overseas.
    So, how about a “G’day Mate”!!

  8. roweeee Post author

    That would be really interesting Merril. Hope you get there.
    I went to see “Matilda The Musical” with my daughter on Sunday in Sydney. It was absolutely incredible. Have you seen it? I just written a post. They had this photo spot where you can pose with the Matilda sign and I’ve seen so many friends pose there with their daughters and then there we were. So special!
    Hope you’re having a great week!
    xx Rowena

  9. roweeee Post author

    I have never read the book. I know so many people have talked about growing up with Roald Dahl and the “Revolting Rhymes” but aside from reading “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory”, I didn’t read much of his stuff. I was more into Enid Blyton.
    Hope you are having a great week!
    xx Rowena

  10. roweeee Post author

    It was funny because that what I was thinking. I have never read Matilda so knew nothing about it but I guess what made it for me was my daughter being small like Matilda and how that doesn’t stand in your way. That was a powerful message. I haven’t been to many shows and I really get dazzled by all the special effects and lighting etc. It was a bit understandably farcical at times but there are always those more extreme cases you hear on the news.
    Fiddler on the Roof will be coming soon. Have you seen that? I miht be tempted by Sydney Writer’s Festival is coming up.

  11. merrildsmith

    Yes, I have seen Fiddler on the Roof–show and movie. (And my daughters’ high school did the show one year.) I think you would enjoy it very much. Your daughter would probably like it, too.

  12. roweeee Post author

    Thanks Kat. It’s taken me a few days to recover from Sunday. Am feeling a bit off. Am still wondering whether my tooth with the crown is okay or not. Might have a virus. Just not sure xx Rowena

  13. roweeee Post author

    Thanks. I am taking it easy but the next few days will be busy back and forth to Sydney. I’m having a neuropsychological assessment tomorrow as I’ve had some residual memory problems after the chemo and wanted to check it out. That goes for about 2.5 hours. That’s going to be a long test! xx Ro

  14. merrildsmith

    There was a line in the play we just saw–something about people expect more if they’re spending $5.00 on a Broadway ticket. It was set in 1959. People in the theater laughed.

    It’s not like seeing the show, but if you haven’t seen the movie, you could do that. 🙂

  15. roweeee Post author

    Definitely. I’m still catching up from the end of last year. Being a stage Mum is over-rated and there’s definitely no time or money for looking glam yourself. Lucky to get a haircut! xx Ro

  16. Minuscule Moments

    Our doctor is chinese he said what ever happens on the three days leading up or on the actual day (can’t remember which) is what your year will be like. He admitted he had, had a hectic day and so that meant he would have a busy, hectic year. On a brighter note its the year of the monkey my son is a monkey and so I hope its a good year for him Rowena. My daughter is fascinated with anything to do with China.

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