SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. —  Lion Dancing, classical Chinese folk art, and exotic candies from around the world were among the festivities as the South Plainfield community rang in the Chinese New Year on March 10th at the South Plainfield Senior Center.  Sponsored by The South Plainfield Cultural Arts Commission and The South Plainfield Public Library, the event was presented by Buddha’s Light International Association of New Jersey (BLIA) and New Jersey Buddhist Culture Center (NJBCC).

“Today is the grand celebration of Chinese New Year in South Plainfield,” said Yiwen Chiang, President of BLIA New Jersey Chapter.  “This is the second time we have hosted such a wonderful event at the South Plainfield Senior Center.  This year we have three major themes —  performances, cultural exploration booths, and Candy Around the World.” 

Over two hundred people attended the event, which celebrated the welcoming of the Year of the Dog.  Dog lanterns, dog dough sculptures and ornaments were the decorative theme of the afternoon as Classical Chinese folk music filled the air and tradition Chinese performances awed the audience.

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“The Borough loves to partner with organizations within the community,” said Mayor Matthew Anesh.  “I think this is a perfect example of that.  There’s no way that the governing body or myself could put on such program with the arts, exhibits and education that are here today.”

“It’s so special that we have so many people here locally,”  said Karen Sun, Board of Directors BLIA-NJ. “Having our neighbors and our friends here with us celebrating Chinese New Year means so much to us.  It’s an honor and privilege to be here.”

“We are so grateful to BLIA and the NJ Buddhist Culture Center for all of the effort they put into arranging for such a vast array of cultural performances,” said Cheryl Nagel-Smiley, President of the Library Board.

“We care about our neighbors and friends in South Plainfield and also in New Jersey,” said Chiang.  “We try to offer different kinds of programs to not only make ourselves known, but also reach out to the community and meet their needs.”

Students from Mid Jersey Chinese School carried on a popular Chinese tradition for luck in the new year called the Lion Dance, which imitates the movements of a lion.  They also performed “Fairy Flute,” a classical dance where the dancer conveys their emotions through movement.  

“I think the performances we saw were amazing,” said Councilwoman Christine Faustini.  “It was really well-received by the South Plainfield community who seems to have a tremendous interest in learning about this culture and all the different things that they do to celebrate the New Year.  I am looking forward to a terrific Year of the Dog for everyone.”

Ms. Hsu, one of the most famous opera singers from the Taiwanese Opera, recited classical poetry.  Tibetan Sleeve Dancing was also part of the show as Dancer Amanda Bai moved gracefully before the audience garbed in silk sleeves.  Master Cheng, also known as “Master of Paper Cutting,” demonstrated his talents of free style paper cutting. Able to create elaborate designs, Master Chen even cut a detailed profile of Councilman Derryck White’s face in an instant.  

“The Celebration was a wonderful opportunity for our community to share in the festive and colorful spirit which makes the Chinese New Year so unique,” said White. I believe our residents agree, as dancers, musicians and an opera singer performed before a packed house at the Senior Center. however, I must say, the Master of Paper Cutting may have been my favorite.”

Performer Max Wei played the erhu, a two stringed bowed musical instrument that is known to convey a wide range of emotions despite only having two strings.  Also known as a Chinese violin or fiddle, the instrument has been in existence for over 4000 years.

“I’ve been playing the erhu instrument for fifteen years,” said Wei.  “It was exciting to perform here for the South Plainfield community, lots of people, happy faces, and very good reports afterward.  Chinese New Year is about family, eating together, spending time together, celebrating, and saying words of good luck.”

The performance portion concluded with Chinese Mask Changing, a highly skilled performance art of China.  Known as the “Man of Many Faces,” Nai Yi Zhao, fascinated the audience by changing his mask so quickly that the switch was undetectable and depicted his emotions with dramatic detail.

“The second part of the event was the cultural exploration booths,”  said Chiang.  “This year we have some new programs including dough molding and balloon sculpture in addition to the very popular fan painting, calligraphy, block printing, and of course, the Year of the Dog lantern.” 

Lining the Senior Center auditorium were stations where attendees could experience Chinese art first hand.  The Chinese Dog lantern booth was very popular as individuals were able to make their own dog lanterns. any waited to receive their own hand painted Chinese fan decorated with flowers of their choice as the artist painted it before them.  Others created dough figurine sculptures of dogs made of rice and flour, a tradition dating back 1300 years. 

“It’s nice to see other cultures,”  said Ana Maria Leal as she waited for her child to finish making a Year of the Dog dough figurine. I’m originally from Latin America and I was attracted to Chinese Arts and performances, so I brought my little one because I think it’s important for her to be exposed to other cultures as well.  It’s very very nice, we enjoyed it.”

The “Candy from Around the World” was a particularly popular display as everyone was able to sample candies from forty-three countries around the world.

“The third part of the event is the Candy Around the World,” added Chiang.  “The purpose of using sweet candy is that we want to share with our community that our temple and our Buddha’s Light International Association are actually around the world in all the continents.” 

“This is a beautiful program,” said Amiee Goyette, who was born and raised in South Plainfield.  “This is so much fun for the kids and for the adults.  It’s a really nice cultural experience.”

“This is my second year helping different committees come together to partner with BLIA Buddha’s Light International Association of NJ, the South Plainfield Cultural Arts Commission and the South Plainfield Public Library to bring this program to the South Plainfield community,” said Faustini. “I’m thrilled to have been working with all the parties to accomplish another really successful event.”

“We’re looking to bring art to the masses, whether they are senior citizens or little kids,”  said Chair of the Cultural Arts Commission Suzanne Lepore.  “We are a sports driven town and we have this great organization that is sponsored by the mayor and council so why not try and bring more cultural things to the community.  Being able to share this with the library and with BLIA organization is really wonderful.”

“This event offered our patrons a chance to experience elements of Chinese culture that they probably would otherwise never have had,” added Hansen.  “It was a wonderful gift to our community, and the library was pleased to be able to play a small part in it.”

Reluctant to leave, the crowd dispersed late in the afternoon with bags of candy and souvenirs. 

“With every organization throughout the year, we look to bring the power of what we have in the community out to all the residents, so I think today’s a great example of that.”  said Anesh.  “Happy New Year to everyone.”

“When I gave the welcome remarks, the first words were my dear friends and neighbors because we feel like we are part of a community,” said Chiang.  “We are very happy to be members of the South Plainfield community.  This event was intended to give a taste of our Chinese Culture, history, and art.  I’m so glad that many people came out today and had such a good time.  A lot of them asked us when we will do it again!”

For more information on upcoming events at BLIA, call 908-822-8620 or email newjersey@ibps.org.