Today I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Lunar New Year celebration at the Oakland Museum of California, a day-long festival marking the time when many Asian cultures celebrate the new year. It was a really fun day, with hundreds of visitors of all ages streaming through the museum, enjoying all the performances, displays, food and activities. I got to make mochi, ring bells, chat with visitors, and learn about all the different Asian customs around the Lunar New Year.
The day began at noon with a spirited lion dance, performed by students from the Developing Virtue Secondary School. Always a crowd favorite, the lions danced about, stood on their "hind legs" and raced around the stage. Other students provided the musical accompaniment nearby.
Another popular event was a 24-drum performance in the garden, also done by students. Lots of kids in the crowd clearly wanted to get in on the action, cause who wouldn't want to bang on a giant drum with a stick?
A mochi-making ceremony was also quite popular, to my surprise. A group of Japanese mochi-making experts demonstrated how this traditional Japanese dessert is made during New Year's time, as a way of connecting the young and the old in the community. I didn't realize that mochi was essentially just cooked rice that had been pounded into a thick paste, rolled into balls, and then coated with sweet or savory powders and seeds.
The Japanese mochi-makers demonstrated how to pound the mochi using giant sticks, timing their moves to a drumming crew nearby, while a brave mixer put his hands into the bowl to turn the paste and add water in between strikes. I volunteered with five others to try to pound the mochi, which was a lot harder than it looks. Kids also got a turn with the sticks and mallets, which they leapt up to do.
And afterwards, everyone got to sample the final product, which was really yummy. Nothing better than fresh mochi that you helped make!
More sedate activities were going on elsewhere in the museum, including face painting, mobile making, and wood carving. I loved watching this gentleman practice his craft in the middle of all of his beautiful carvings.
As for volunteering, I had the fun task of going around and ringing a bell to announce all of main events of the day. Basically I got to make a lot of noise and direct people to cool things going on in the museum. Easy-peasy. The staff at the Museum did a great job welcoming volunteers, orienting to the different tasks, feeding us, and encouraging us to enjoy the festival when we weren't working.
All-in-all a great day at one of my favorite museums in the Bay.
See more of my pics on my Flickr set.