BANGOR, Maine — The brightly colored Chinese lion was asleep in the lobby of the Oriental Jade restaurant Sunday until Gov. Paul LePage awakened the mystic beast with a couple strokes of a small paint brush.
The mysterious lion is a symbol of protection from evil spirits, and its awakening kicked off the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, or spring festival. This year is the Year of the Snake, according to the Chinese zodiac.
“It’s supposed to chase away the evil spirits,” Steve Wong of Brewer, who controlled the two-person dancing lion’s head, said after the dance ended. “He starts out asleep. You wake him up and he dances for you, so it’s lucky.”
After LePage awakened the lion, it danced around the packed restaurant two times, being led and teased by a little Buddha with a fan and followed by three musicians, playing a drum, cymbals and a handheld gong.
At the end of the traditional dance, Lilian Lo, who is part-owner of the restaurant, presented the governor with a bamboo plant, formed into the shape of a heart, and a red envelope filled with “lucky money” for payment for his services during the lion dance, which is another ancient tradition.
“It’s a real pleasure to be here to celebrate the Chinese New Year,” LePage said during a short speech. “It’s the second new year in a year. That’s great. Just a month ago [we] had ours and now we celebrate again.”
The governor went on to talk about his recent visit to China, where he went to Shanghai and Hong Kong and was welcomed with open arms by friendly and outgoing people.
“I was absolutely amazed,” he said.
LePage said he was especially interested in the Chinese educational system and learned a tremendous amount about the ancient Asian culture during the September trade mission.
“It was a humbling experience to be there,” the governor said.
Bangor City Council Chairman Nelson Durgin and former Maine Department of Transportation commissioner David Cole were on hand at the event, as were a number of other local dignitaries.
Cole, who also visited China in 1991 and again in 2007, said he agreed with LePage about the friendliness of Chinese people. He said he loved the many traditions of the
country, which is growing economically.
“They are going through the same kind of industrial revolution we went through 100 years ago,” Cole said. “In 1991, I visited Hong Kong and everybody was on a bicycles. Now you go back and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ It’s cars everywhere.”
Sunday’s Year of the Snake celebration also included a number of speakers, including Ryan Bradeen, Cultural Affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Singapore; Gerry Palmer, speaking for the Chinese Language and Cultural Center in Bangor; retired U.S. Foreign Service officer Bob Sargent of Sargentville, who displayed images of China captured by his grandfather in 1903 and 1904; and others.
Harvey Sargent was born in 1875 and grew up in Sedgwick. When he was 28 and working for the U.S. Geological Survey, he was asked to go to China, his grandson said.
When he arrived, Sargent and another member of the USGS did not have transportation, so “they ended up walking across China,” Bob Sargent said. “Fortunately for us, my grandfather had a camera with him. He clicked off images that caught his fancy.”
The framed images, put together by Linda Packard, were on display behind the small podium.
Palmer, a former Bangor mayor, spoke to the crowd about Bangor’s sister city in Harbin, China, and a planned Chinese New Year parade in the Queen City, scheduled for Tuesday and hosted by the Chinese Language and Cultural Center.
The parade, which will include Chinese dragons and paper lions, is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. at the Bangor Chinese School, 53 Cumberland St., proceed down Center Street to Park Street and then circle the west side of Broadway Park and end at Chopsticks Restaurant on Center Street, where hot tea and light refreshments will be served. Christine Chou, owner of several Asian restaurants in the area, has been named the parade grand marshal.
“The Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, which has been celebrated for centuries,” Jing Zhang, executive director of the Chinese Language and Cultural Center of Maine, said in a statement. “This celebration spans 15 days and honors themes of happiness, peace, friendship, good fortune, wealth and longevity.”