The Lunar New Year continues…


The Chinese New Year period starts with the New Moon as the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later.  So this year the Lunar New Year celebrations began on February 3rd and will culminate with the Lantern Festival (Yuan-Xiao Festival) on the 17th.

The annual DC Chinese New Year’s Parade was held last Sunday but on the Saturday night we had hosted a Big Lebowski party which included a movie viewing and way too many White Russians…….   so  we barely raised the blinds last Sunday!

Today I was “downtown” to meet a friend and took a few snaps of the Friendship Arch as I got off the train at Chinatown.  It doesn’t make up for missing the parade, which is so wonderfully colourful, but the history of our Chinatown arch is quite interesting.

In 1984, then Mayor Marion Barry went to Beijing for a ceremony which established Washington and Beijing as sister cities and where the planning of the Friendship Arch project began – to be in the style of the Qing dynasty (1649-1911).

Construction began in June 1986 and it was completed by November 1986.   It stands 47 feet tall at its highest point; it spans 75 feet and weighs over 128 tons!  The roof alone weighs nearly half that at 63 tons – there are 27 tons of steel and 38 tons of concrete.  

There are 7,000 glazed tiles,  35,000 wooden pieces decorated with 23-karat gold,  12 carved dragons and 272 painted dragons. 

The 7 pagoda roofs were made in China as were the 59 dou gong supports (cantilevered carved wooden brackets which support the roofs). 

In June 1990 one of the 100lb carved dragons fell off – the same evening Marion Barry announced he would not be running for Mayor again at the end of his term (he’d been arrested in January for possession of cocaine).
In 1993 there was a major renovation of the Archway funded by both DC Government and the Chinese Government and then again in 2009 the entire archway was sanded back and repainted.  
It’s also pretty from the underside –  though not advisable to stand in the middle of the road admiring it!   Actually most of its the construction was done at night so that the roads did not have to be closed to traffic during the day.


37 responses

  1. If this were ancient China, the dragon falling off of the arch would have been considered a bad omen, especially for a head of state: so Mayor Barry’s resignation seems fated to happen, lol. But I love seeing things like this in cities, not just because it’s indicative of the presence of a Chinatown, but because they’re so beautiful. There’s one in Portland, OR near the Classical Chinese Garden, and of course in San Francisco, though it’s become so touristy and congested there I haven’t gone back to see it since I’ve moved back to California.

    But the important thing is, how are the Chinese restaurants out there? Do they serve a dim sum brunch? You still have time to plan a Lantern Festival dinner with the manservant or a friend or two. Don’t forget to write poetry celebrating the beauty of the full moon! 😉

      • The Chinatown arch in SF is supposedly the most traditional or “authentic.” But I love the ones that are lacquered and covered with ornate decorations.

        My younger daughter grumbles that the restaurants and shops in San Francisco’s Chinatown are overpriced compared to the places in her neighborhood, so we just don’t go there. I enjoy just strolling through Chinatown for the ambiance—it is the most amazing Chinatown in the U.S. , and I’m not saying that because I’m a local. But I get a little tired of the tourists who crowd the sidewalks and ask me if I know where such and such is or if this restaurant is any good. I want to say to them I’m not Chinese, but it makes no difference. And I love the smells—ginger and garlic and all the spices, and sandalwood and smoked duck and pork (even though I’m a vegetarian, lol!). It makes me almost drunk, the smells are so intoxicating.

    • LOL re Mayor Barry. He keeps bouncing back though – he’s currently the Councilman for Ward 8. I’ve been to Chinatown in San Francisco as a tourist 🙂 Chinatown in Sydney is near the really lovely Chinese Gardens at Darling Harbour – next time I’m home I will go and take photos of it. The best dim sum in the DC area is actually in Wheaton/Silver Spring, Maryland! They also have the best Asian grocery stores. I think the DC Chinatown is a little sad……

      Any poetry I attempted would be reminiscent of teenage angst stuff from 40 years ago! 🙂

    • Thank you for the link – it would’ve been interesting to follow along as the Arch was constructed. I notice that yours has 2 more pagoda roofs than ours! 🙂 I also had to smile at the way Sydney was spelt “Sidney” on the photo of their Chinatown arch.

      Apparently DC also brought specialist tradespeople from China to work on this but some visas were held up which resulted in the mortar work being done when the weather had started to turn colder – resulting in it not “setting” properly and may be the reason some bits of the Arch started to fall apart relatively quickly.

  2. I love Chinatown in DC. I took my son there once and I love how you go up and up the stairs and out under that impressive arch! We ate at the New Big Wong, wonder if it is still there? (what a name!) I love Pearl River for shopping.
    You had me at Marion Barry…what a putz.

    • LOL – Yes!! The New Big Wong is still there! I’ve not tried it though perhaps I should now I know someone who’s eaten there! There are a lot of stairs up out of the metro there – though I always take the escalator! Marion Barry is still entertaining us …… 🙂

  3. You had me at the Big Lebowski party!

    Great snaps, Emjay! You have such a good eye for detail. I love clicking then clicking again and savouring your enlarged photos.

    Barry and his crack cocaine. Poor D.C.

    • LOL Cyn – the Big Lebowski party was too much fun. More than half of us had never seen the movie before and it got better the more Russians we drank (I had to swap to black Russians to preserve my waistline LOL). Marion Barry is the mayor who just keeps on giving …. last year I saw an HBO documentary on him – he was very enigmatic and so promising for DC before the crack took over.

  4. Wow – that’s really nice! I’ve been to DC a few times but have never seen the arch. It’s on my list of things to see for the next trip there (whenever that will be).

    • My first trip to DC was in 1999 and I never left the National Mall – there is so much to see there that I’m sure very few tourists ever get more than a few blocks away. Let me know when you are coming ……. 🙂

  5. Insanely cool pictures, Emjay. Nice detail – and white russians, I wish I could have joined you! (In college we’d spend the next day with the blinds closed and lots of cigarettes at hand. How did I survive those years anyway?)

    • I love statistics GOF – I’m one of those annoying people you find reading all the fine print in museums etc. I went somewhere recently where they did not have a little leaflet explaining an exhibition I was looking at and I was really disappointed. When I asked for one I was told that they “hardly ever” print them anymore because people either don’t want them or take them and throw them away at the exit!

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