The Lantern Festival is one of the highlights of our year.
It's an ancient Auckland tradition, passed down from generation to generation since 1999, marking the end of the two-week celebration of the Chinese New Year. A great gathering in Albert Park, full of lantern sculpture, more or less tacky Chinese culture, fireworks, and dodgy Asian foodstuffs. A photo-op for politicians - the prime minister gives a speech and shows off his Mandarin - and a chance for dragon-dancers, martial arts schools and Chinese opera wannabes from all over to grab some limelight for a few minutes. All on a sweltering late-summer night.
Lanterns, balloons, badges, brooches and hideous fridge ornaments take the form of great Chinese cultural icons, such as zodiac animals, dragons, Shou Xing and SpongeBob SquarePants. (Nice to see that the li'l yellow dude has decisively replaced all Disney characters at these events - there was not a duck or a Pooh character to be seen. Take that, Mickey: that's what you get for repressing your fans.)
We left it late, this year - it was dusk before we left home - which meant we missed the daylight events. But the main event - the lanterns - are, of course, seen at their best after dark. Since there is no charge for admission, the crowds are always spectacular, and quite often we found our direction dictated mostly by which way it was physically possible to go. We saw the prime minister, surrounded by dark-suited figures whose purpose seemed to be to shoulder his way through the riff-raff. Perk of the job, I guess.
I love the whole thing. My avatar picture was taken at a festival two or three years ago. Several displays this year would have made for worthy replacements - the ever-popular monkey god, kid riding backwards on a ram, a four-toed dragon pausing in mid-descent, as if to exchange gossip with some random old sage. Sadly, however, my trusty Canon doesn't seem to be entering the spirit of the occasion. Rather than the unimaginative yet honest verisimilitude of earlier times, it prefers to render images as opaque abstracts in dark colours, more like an elderly Whistler than a keen-eyed Rembrandt:
I call this one "Year of the Ox". And to think people say that machines can't do art.