BZ's Chinese New Year Parade

Photo Gallery

2009 (well, most of it anyway) is the year of the Ox according to the Chinese zodiac. On a Saturday a few weeks after the start of the lunar new year, San Francisco hosts the Chinese New Year parade. When it is not pouring, it is estimated that a million people line the parade route.

We were fortunate this year that the weather was so cooperative. The two days before had been raining almost continuously (which is a welcomed thing for drought stricken California). However, on the day of the parade, there were clear skies and relatively warm temperatures. Being San Francisco, warm is a bit relative - as night fell, it still got plenty chilly - even with a coat on!

Due to the economic siege mentality everybody has adopted, it is no surprise that this year's parade was not as extravagant as in prior years. Still, the earsplitting din of firecrackers popping non-stop, the thumping beats of the lion dancers' drums, and the visual treat of the many costumes and floats is guaranteed to lift one's spirits, and chase those doldrums away!

Used a Nikon D200 with a 18-105mm VR lens, and SB-600 flash. Shot in shutter priority exposure mode, with single autofocus. Hope you enjoy the show!
- Bernard Zee

Throngs of people were in the streets of Chinatown for the street fair. A huge line means free stuff!

San Francisco Chinatown is a great place to visit with a rich history. Superficially, it is dominated by gift shops for the tourist. But take a closer look, and you'd find an amazing community tucked in and about those storefronts!

On the surface, it may seem odd to find Japanese dolls in Chinatown. On the other hand, guess where there were made in! Of course, stores will stock anything that it can sell. I just liked this picture for some reason...

The parade route starts at Market and 2nd street. Here, parade participants start to gather prior to the start - which is at 5:30pm. These are the honor guards from Galileo Academy of Science and Technology.

This is one of the longest dragons at over 200ft, requiring 100 people to carry!

The Abraham Lincoln High School JROTC drum corp warms up before the parade.

Close by was the Lowell High School JROTC drum corp.

These are the Lowell Girls Drill Team.

Incidentally, Lowell High School is one of the oldest public schools, and is the highest rated one in san Francisco (so sez my co-worker who graduated from there!)

The little drumers waiting anxiously to start.

The Lincoln drummers thrilling onlookers with their precision beat!

The Drill Team getting ready to go.

There were no shortage of lion dancers at the parade.

At the heart of lion dancing are the drums and cymbals. Even after all these years, I never get tired of hearing it. Something very upbeat, yet chaotic about it... it's like each instrument is playing to it's own beat, and they never line up. Some sort of secret code I haven't been able to crack!

The staging area was every bit as exciting as the parade - with groups and individuals moving about, trying to get to their right spots.

The SFPD sponsered a large contingent of lion and dragon dancers.

Every dragon and lion head is unique in it's design and decoration.

Some Mills High School lion dancers cheerfully posing. It's awesome that a school would have its own lion dancing troupe!

Miss San Francisco 2009 Amy Chu flashes a winning smile!

Some young drummers from the International School of the Peninsula warming up.

Did I mention it was the year of the Ox (cow)? Mooo!

West Portal Elementary School had a huge lion dance troupe!

These are the Oakland Military Institude Honor Guards.

Perennial favorites at the parade are the two Guardians from the Matsu temple. The red one is named Qianli Yan, and can see for a thousand miles. The one with the green face is Shunfeng Er, and can hear every sound carried on the wind. Quite the awesome early warning system!

Cathay Pacific sponsered float with ribbon dancers.

A West Portal lion dancer tries on the laughing Buddha mask (some call it the big head monk). The comic Buddha character carries a fan and interacts with the crowd and teases the lion.

Young lady with a nice smile on the Verizon sponsered float. I thought she was using the cell phone, turns out it's part of the prop!

According to legend, these two demons were originally Matsu's suitors. But Matsu chose a life of celibacy, and converted them to a spiritual path. Matsu by the way, is known as the goddess of the sea, who protects sailors and fishermen.

A friendly wave from an oars person on a float!

Some 'eye' candy on the Sina float.

Sina by the way, is a Chinese media company. Helps explains the eye icon.

Man, oh man. The start of the parade route was packed! If you got there late (half hour before the start of the parade), you won't be seeing much of anything!
The smoke is from a large string of firecrackers going off.

My family saved me a spot about 2/3rds of the way down the parade route. Lots of people there too, but a little more manageable. Still, people had a tendancy to keep crowding further and further into the street, basically cutting off the angles for my shot (arrrgh, inconsiderate people are everywhere. Sigh. Maybe I'll ask for a media pass next year.
These are of course, the Lowell HS Drill Team members passing in review.

Followed by the drum corp.

Color costumes were the rule of the day. Much nicer when they are not covered up by a rain poncho! As I said, we really lucked out this year. The days before, and immediately after the parade were not so nice.

Besides the firecrackers, Lion dancers come in a close 2nd in my favorite things at the parade.

Of course, there's the never ending stream of dignitaries in the convertibles. It was kind of fun to try to spot a familiar face. Familiar only because we see them occasionally on the local news channels! Leeland Yee is a California state Senator representing San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

Kind of a cute costume. I'm thinking duckie for some reason (instead of horsie).

Jeff Adachi. Not that I really know anything about him. Thought it was a cool car, and a neat shot!

I believe these big headed monks are students from Galileo High School.

The Matsu Guardians are accompanied by continuous strings of lit firecrackers. They have that great long arm swinging walk. Definitely a crowd favorite!

The shrine for Matsu follows the Guardians.

More fireworks, this time preceeding the Golden dragon! I was happy that the firecrackers came out so well on the long exposure shot. Love the ones that get tossed in the air and explode!

Leung's White Crane brings out their huge golden dragon. Lit up, this 201 foot beast is a magnificent sight!

The 100 person team switches off every so often. I'm sure it gets tiring real quick!

The dragon is thethered to a truck (following close behind) by a long cable which provides the juice to run the thousands of light bulbs.

Usually, the parade closes with the Golden Dragon. This year though, it was moved to the middle.

A float sponsored by the Macau Tourist Office.

A float by the California Lottery. You can win a chance to be on a show, to have a chance to win some money. Honestly, if I was going to play the lottery, I'd rather just win it outright!

Little Ox soldiers from Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy. Maybe.

Some pint sized lion dancers (from Tat Wong Kung Fu, I believe).

Being too cheap to buy grandstand seats, we take our chances on the desolate stretches of the parade route. Once in a while though, we get lucky and the parade stalls with some lion dancers in front of us!

This is the Loong Mah (Dragon Horse) Lion Dance Group.

Loong Mah is a non-profit San Francisco group which teaches young kids the art of lion dancing and builds character.

There were various sized lions there. Some of the lions were crewed by girls, which is a break from the traditionally male dominated activity.

A young lion gets right up to my lens!

You can see the finger actuated mouth flapping here.

A bystanding looking a bit freaked by the close encounter of the lion dance kind!

It takes a lot of dedication to make the lion come alive.

It was a treat to have the Loong Mah lions spend some quality time with our section of the route!

Like the dragons, the lion dancers have to switch off too. Tiring work, entertainig the masses!

Performers from the Gordon Lau Elemetry School. Cowboy themed for the year of the Ox.

Southwest Airlines was the major sponsor for this years' Chinese New Year parade

The UC Davis Aggies Band-Uh are so cool they have to wear shades at night!

Kids from the Alice Fong Yu Alternative school. I believe they are supposed to be red packets (given to kids during the New Year by adults, usually containing new money!). Sadly, I no longer recieve them, but must give them out instead...

The lion dance drummers usually get to ride in the back of a truck. I wonder how they did it before automobiles?

The local Channel 2 (KTVU) newscasters make an appearance in those fake trolley cars.

The precision garbage drill team makes a mad dash to close the parade gap. Those reflective stripes certainly plays havoc with normal camera flash exposure.

A cool looking antique garbage truck. That was before catalytic convertors and smog pumps...

Lucky rice bowls. What if they had to scratch their nose?

Tuba player from 'Get a Life' marching band.

'What can Brown do for you' had a float there. Not sure the significance of the light sabers though.

Commodore Sloat Elemetry kids team with the Yellow River Drum group.

That's a very colorful headdress he's wearing.

Precision Drill Ministries from Oakland makes the trip across the bay to join the parade.

I'm sure there's an official name for this, but I'll just call it napkin twirling!

The Foothill Pleasanton band had a Scottish motif going.

Characters from the legend of the Monkey King on stilts. I believe they are from West Portal Elemetry.

This is the Thunder Valley Casino float. Indian gaming is big business in California.

The King Ox from Bank of the West. It's something out of the scene from the Ten Commandments!

There was a group from the Thai Cultural Center in the parade as well.

Elemetry school aged dragon.

An Ox float from the International School of the Peninsula.

What a lousy time to run very low on batteries for the flash. Just in time to screw up the Miss Chinatown beauty shots!

Miss San Francisco 2009 is in the pink dress in the middle of the screen.

This is Cindy Wu, the 2009 Miss Chinatown USA winner. She's a t.u. (University of Texas) graduate, but I won't hold that against her :-) She really does have a dazzling smile!

Another golden Ox themed float, this one from Sing Tao (newspaper, not beer! Thanks to my wife for the correction - she's from t.u. too!). BTW, the year of the Ox symbolizes strength and prosperity. But of course, every year is a good year!

It's sad that we're no longer trusted to set off fireworks in California. I remember as a kid playing with all sorts of dangerous explosives like bottle rockets, roman candles, and plain old firecrackers. I'm surprised I'm even alive now!
I think I got some really cool firecracker shots here. I'm surprised they came out so well!

Attack of the SFPD dragon!

These guys were working hard! Running the dragon on a slalom route.

A cool artsy shot of the dragon conveying a sense of action and mysticism.

The final dragon of the night was from Yau Kung Moon.

This was followed by even more firecrakers! I risked additional hearing loss and enjoyed it without covering my ears!
Firecrackers were originally used for "keeping away evil spirits and exorcising ghosts, suppressing demons and seeking happiness". Hey, works for me!

The final float was firecracker themed.

It is said to be lucky to touch the dragon as it passes.

In front of the Grand Stands is of course, where all the interesting stuff takes place.

At the end of the parade, the last of the firecrackers (which they were for some reason saving up) were set off. Last chance for me to get some firecracker action pics!

Another objective lesson

I was hoping that I've learnt of all the major pitfalls and lessons that photography has to teach me. Alas, that is not yet the case!

My hard knocks lesson for the parade was to bring LOTS of extra AA batteries for the external flash! Oh, I had enough rechargeable batteries at home - but based on prior usage, I thought having one extra set was more than sufficient. It would have been too, had the batteries charged properly! A flaky charger meant that my spare batteries barely had any juice in it. Losing the external flash was a huge blow.

Next time, 1) many sets of spare batteries for the flash, and 2) verify the charge level with a voltmeter. :-)