Monks on Mulberry

Monks on Mulberry Street

First there are the crowds, jostling and pushing, stopping suddenly to take a picture, tapping impatiently with a cane, and tripping you with tiny, child feet. The streets are full of the humming of humanity. During tourist season, it can take almost an hour to walk from the subway stations on Canal Street to the bustling businesses on Bayard.

Parades, which happen pretty frequently around here, are spontaneous carnival beasts. You’ll get an inkling of one when police barricades mysteriously appear at the curbs of Mott or Mulberry. There are the glorious, fiery dragons of Chinese New Year, the endless, cheery yellow procession of Falun Dafa devotees, and the East Meets West flotilla of Chinese-American and Italian-American citizens waving on floats through Chinatown and Little Italy. One minute you’re sitting on the couch watching television or reading a novel. The next minute finds you freezing on the fire escape, with a coat pulled over your nightie, at the first sound of drums. This is followed by cheers, and sometimes firecrackers or the Crimson Kings, Chinatown’s very own youth marching band and drum, fife, and bugle corps.

Yesterday was no exception to the “parades will happen when they happen” rule. Stepping downstairs, I was greeted by the sight of monks in saffron robes, exquisitely adorned flower bearers, giant golden lanterns, and a phalanx of middle-aged scarf dancers whose precise flicks of the wrist foiled every click from my camera.

The beauty and pageantry of yesterday’s parade was stunning, even by Chinatown’s colorful, noisy standards. With the sun shining above, and the brilliant hues of saffron and fuschia billowing against the dingy, dirty gray of the streets, it was easy to believe that Buddha’s birthday was waiting expectantly around the corner, and that it would usher in a time of greater compassion, illumination, and peace.

This momentous day marks another grand occasion: the birthday of my paternal grandfather, Don Moy, who would have turned 99 today. It’s both fitting and auspicious that I dedicate this first blog post to him.

Flower bearers for Buddha

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