Love at First Paradeby Christina Hoang
The first time I ever heard of the Chinese New Year Festival & Parade was in January 2009. I just started a new job at an Asian-American Experiential Marketing Agency and jumped right in. We worked the West Coast Lunar New Year Festival circuit – From San Diego all the way up to Seattle, Washington.
I had flown in from Los Angeles on Friday night to get ready for the Parade weekend. We had treated our clients with a night out on the town and remember being exhausted and without cash. The next morning, without any cash-on-hand for a Taxi, I got dressed and walked from the Tenderloin to Chinatown at six in the morning. It was so cold. Perhaps the coldest I’ve been since moving to California from Virginia. I remember hobbling in full business attire thanks to my company not telling me otherwise. What a rookie move. Did I mention it was cold?
I get to Chinatown to set up our festival booth and before I knew it, we began working through the large crowds. In a sleepy haze of physical and mental exhaustion, I could not believe the sheer number of people that came to the street fair. There was such a diverse crowd. All I saw were a sea of smiling faces with genuine interest and enjoyment of my favorite holiday.
My co-worker, Eric, just so happened to be in town and stopped by the booth. I asked what he was doing there, and he told me his family helped organize the parade every year and he’s never missed a parade as a kid or as an adult volunteering as a parade marshal. I either didn’t think much of it or I could barely pay attention. I needed coffee so he joined me for a quick cup. We sat down at the cafe and I remember it felt so good being off my feet. As I was gulping my coffee down, I tell him about my entire trek to Chinatown while he listened quietly, providing small chuckles to reassure me that it was definitely a rookie move to wear heels in San Francisco. After coffee, I head back to the booth while he took off to a “section leaders’ meeting.”
The rest of the day had gone and it was now time for the Parade. I get to the formation area at 2nd and Market to find our float. As I get there, I was told I had been “recruited” to ride the float. “This must be a new person initiation or something,” I thought to myself. As we wait for the parade to start, I see my co-worker appear with a hat and gloves. “You’re going to need this,” he said with a smile and quickly ran off. I climb up on the platform of the float and put the hat and gloves on. My clients gave me a scarf and off we went.
At first, I was miserable, counting down the minutes this thing was over so that I could sleep in my bed. But once our float made it to the parade route, my eyes lit up and I was amazed at what I saw. Hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets of downtown San Francisco waving and shouting at us. I was in awe. It was definitely a *gasp* filled moment. I had never seen anything like it and suddenly I was filled with so much pride. I was right where I needed to be.
After the parade, I immediately went back to my hotel room and passed out. By 11 pm, I had woken up hungry with no one on my team around. I reluctantly call Eric and ask him if he’d be willing to pick me up to find some food. We go to a late-night Thai restaurant and I engulfed my food. He drank a beer. Afterward, I was energized and ready to take in the sights. Eric takes me on a midnight tour of San Francisco. We drive down Lombard street and through the Marina and Chrissy Field to see the Golden Gate Bridge in all her glory. We head to the Presidio, check out the Racoon guy at the Legion of Honor, and make our way to Coit Tower. We sit there for a couple of hours, looking out at the horizon and talk about who knows what.
Since that 2009 Chinese New Year Festival & Parade weekend, I have only missed one parade. Year after year, I look forward to walking through the streets of Chinatown to see the newest booths and activities. To see the crowd, feel the energy of the people, and the excitement of what’s to come that night. For each parade, I look forward to sitting in the telecast zone and watch the loud marching bands, vibrant lion dance groups, and magical floats.
12 years later, I work for that awe-inspiring parade.
12 years later, I’m married to that co-worker and we have an 18-month-old son. 12 years later, I can honestly say that I fell in love at first Parade.