Chatswood is alive with the Year of the Pig Festival having started and this lover of festivals was lucky enough to be invited to the opening ceremony. Treated to cultural performances, giant pigs and market stalls, it was just a snippet of what one can expect in this celebration of the Lunar New Year.
After a welcome from the MC, speeches from the Mayor of Willoughby and a number of dignitaries, the festival was officially open and performances began. First to entertain us was a Korean flute player. The serene background music was in perfect harmony with the tune from the flute and such a beautiful start to what was to come.
Next up we were in for some Tai Chi with a difference. The white uniforms were there but the performance was more like a dance than martial arts with the sheer squares of cloth providing colour and movement. This group, of mostly ladies, are wonderfully talented and coordinated.
More colour came in the costumes and the performance of the next display of artistry, showcasing Korean drumming. Dressed in royal blue and yellow, tradition and technique shined bright in this class act of women.
At celebrations of this kind, you will often see a fan dance, an ancient form of folk dance that has been around for over two thousand years, serving the purpose of passing down stories and traditions of culture to both tourists and younger generations. These proceedings delivered with a soloist swirling around the stage, almost like a floating angel at times, in very graceful motions.
Asian heritage in the all-important traditional lion dance shone through next with martial arts performers mimicking lions' movements whilst dressed in bright, larger-than-life lion costumes. With the sounds of the drum and gongs, the flamboyance and acrobatics is said to ward off evil spirits and, in the process, bring good luck and fortune.
There will be plenty more of the above types of performances on various dates throughout this three-week festival, along with dragon dances, kung fu demonstrations, Chinese drummers and face changing artistry, to name just some of the live entertainment.
The festival has you covered with food and market stalls as well. Chatswood Mall has been transformed into the Golden Market, a replica end-of-year market commonly found in cities across Asia where it is customary to purchase new clothes and wares in celebration of the New Year. Over 35 unique stalls are selling food, decorations, toys, flowers and clothes, whilst daily themed activities include a special Korean day, children's day, K-Pop night and a comedy evening.
From Japanese pancakes to icy cold Mini Melts, your taste buds are covered
One of the most anticipated events and festive dishes of the Chinese New Year is that known as the Salad Toss. It consists of pieces of fish, usually salmon, mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments that are tossed into the air with guests exclaiming prosperity and other good fortunes. The Prosperity Salad Toss at Westfield will be the largest of its kind, with 88 people invited to participate. Watch it in action as it's not something you see that often in Australia.
You can also go on a tasting adventure with the award-winning Taste Cultural Food Tours, trying everything from traditional to modern, authentic and fusion food, as you learn about the history of Chatswood and the culture of its residents. From Korea to Hong Kong, with China and Japan around the corner, your taste buds will be delighted on this 3.5hr experience. Bookings for this are essential with tickets ranging from $55-$99.
Arts and crafts are another prominent part of Asian culture and here you can experience pictorial calligraphy, lucky slogan calligraphy, painting on silk and free Korean weaving crafts where you can make a lucky straw bag or a stamped leather tea coaster.
There's also a whole lot of other interesting sights and activities with the happy and easy going pig taking centre stage, being represented in sculptures, displays of various kinds, opera and films.
Giant inflatable pig sculptures, adorning Chatswood Mall and The Concourse, become a beacon of the festival as they transform from day to evening, lighting up the CBD. Designed by interactive lighting and design studio Amigo and Amigo, you can take a photo with them (share it on social media with #chatswoodlny) and children can even enter the pig naming competition by downloading the colouring-in sheet on the website.
For the most number of pigs in one location, visit Westfield Chatswood and see the 88 Golden Pigs display, along with prosperity trees, welcoming health and wealth for 2019. Whilst there, try your luck on the Lucky Golden Claw near H&M on Level 4. Just spend $50 in-centre and then visit the Claw for your chance to win a share of almost $4,000.
Performances, food sampling, demonstrations and special offers are also happening in this mega shopping centre, along with the Chinese Zodiac Fashion Display. This is a uniquely curated 'shopping guide' based on the Chinese Zodiac to inspire your fashion choices for the Lunar New Year. The display features the 12 animals of the zodiac with style advice based on the animals' characteristics and fortune outlook for the year.
Nearby, at the Council Foyer Exhibition Space in Victor Street, is a free exhibit of Chinese pig paintings and traditional Chinese New Year decorations, thanks to the Chinese Cultural Centre (NSW) and Willoughby City Library.
Paper cuttings make for traditional New Year decorations
On Friday and Saturday nights, you can enjoy Flicks for Piglets on the Urban Screen at The Concourse. They're free with both Chinese (with subtitles) and English movies screening. Classics include Babe: Pig in the City, Charlotte's Web and Sing, along with newcomer Journey to the West with Pigsy, the inspiration for Peppa Pig.
Plenty of meal options are available for sit down dining and takeaway before you cosy up with friends and loved ones at this outdoor cinema experience. Don't forget to bring your picnic rug or chairs.
For Chinese opera, there's Pigsy's Wedding: Journey to the West, showcasing favourites as well as new drama and song. Enjoy the exquisite makeup and costumes as you experience the drums, gongs and music of a ten-person live band, directed by John Clifford and percussionists from Hong Kong.
Classical and new repertoires are highlighted with the likes of Stopping of the Horse, Woo Song & Pan Jin Lien: Fatal Attraction and the afore-mentioned wedding in the title.
Bookings are essential for this theatre event at The Concourse with tickets from $25-$65.
All of the above, together with a God of Fortune, magic shows, special celebration days, a twilight parade and more, make this one huge festival of fun and interest. What's also good is the fact that all the festivities are close to one another, making it easy for those less mobile. Trains and buses are handy too and parking stations abound for those that wish to drive.
For further information and all the specific timings and dates, click on the website link here.