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That’s Lucia. She was born in Madrid but her family is from Zheijiang. With a smile on
her face is how she responds to the festive ambiance in the Chinese New Year’s
fiesta at Plaza España where she feels quite at home in the crowd.

by Rose Maramba
Photos: Jack Wright unless noted otherwise

In a sense, where interactive friendship is concerned, the Spaniards and the Chinese are deadlocked.


The celebration of the Year of the Iconic Dragon has come to an end. In Madrid, it lasted one month,  from 2 to 29 February. It was low-key as in previous years. The Chinese and the Spanish people don’t seem to be in a hurry to forge a closer, interactive friendship that could bring about multitudinous fiestas. It seems obvious, though, that the reticence is on the Chinese side. You can count on Spaniards – more so the Madrileños – to welcome strangers at the drop of a hat but even then, the hospitable gesture needs to be reciprocated. And the Chinese haven’t been responsive.

In a sense, therefore, where friendship is concerned, the Spaniards and the Chinese are deadlocked.

Parade celebrating the New Year in Usera district, popularly known as  Madrid’s Chinatown. The Spaniards came to watch at close range, curious to know what makes the Chinese tick./Cristina Shan

The Spaniards who came to the New Year’s festivities scattered around cities did so because they just couldn’t resist street parties. An equally important factor was curiosity; the natives still had to decipher the Chinese. They came to satisfy an urge to get to know the Chinese on their turf, so to speak, the celebrations being theirs albeit in Spanish plazas.

They want to know, face-to-face, how the Chinese celebrate their New Year and see at close range – not on TV – how the Chinese culture is played out in such an event – celebrate with them if only the celebrants would meet them halfway.

“Instead of the expected taciturn, they had a ready smile for anyone who approached them.”

Actually, there is quite a discernible change in the Chinese attitude, and this is especially true among the second-generation Chinese in Spain or those who’ve been here since they were kids. At the Plaza de España, a major venue for the New Year’s celebrations in Madrid, watching these people from Zhongguo, meaning the Middle Kingdom, the Chinese name for their country*, is an eye-opener. The Chinese walked about freely, from booth to booth, among largely Spanish crowds, their painful self-consciousness shed, their seemingly ingrained desire to keep to, and among, themselves set aside.

Cristina Shan, born in Valladolid, and Lufan Zhou,  Madrid-born: Happy to be in a country where, as Cristina says, the “warm”  people are./Cristina Shan

Instead of the expected taciturn, they had a ready smile for anyone who approached them and asked questions. (They still haven’t reached the stage when they would initiate a conversation.) They have become more open and one is bound to suspect that it was largely because of the Spanish gregariousness. Somehow, it has gradually rubbed off, if thinly, on the chinky-eyed Asians! As Cristina said, a young Chinese born in the northwestern city of Valladolid, the Spaniards are “warm.”

Cristina’s young friend, Lufan, who was born in Madrid, and had been helping man the Information booth in Plaza España, noted not without pride and satisfaction that more people had come to join the celebrations this year.

The Dragon is depicted in handpainted posters. Lufan is glad there were more people in the New Year’s celebrations than in the previous year./Cristina Shan

Even the Baby Boomer and Generation X Chinese had lost some of their self-consciousness though this might have been momentarily, for the duration of their stint in the plazas.

It’s the Year of the Dragon, the Wood Dragon. It began on 10 February 2024 (the Chinese New Year) and will end on 28 January 2025, the Chinese New Year’s Eve. According to Chinese culture, the mythical Dragon is awesome, an extraordinary creature whose talent and excellence have no peer. The Dragon is the most powerful sign in the Chinese zodiac, alongside the Tiger (symbol of strength and bravery, great for exorcising evil) and the Monkey (supersmart and witty). The Dragon is power and luck personified.

The powerful and fortune-endowing Dragon hangs at one of the booths in Plaza España

So if you’re thinking of embarking on some changes in your life, the Year of the Dragon is the time to do it. Dragons never shy away from challenges; they achieve their goals not only out of extraordinary tenacity but also because of the high-powered luck they possess.

It’s the Year of the Dragon. Go ahead and accept the gauntlet thrown down your way.

In Chinese culture, the Dragon, which is the only imaginary animal in the Chinese zodiac (the others are derived from real-life creatures: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig), is a auspicious, noble and extraordinary creature. Apart from power and luck, it symbolizes nobility, honor, and success. Accordingly, 2024 augurs extraordinarily well, being the Year of the Dragon. It will bring on opportunities, changes, and challenges.

Thinking of changing directions? Best to do it now. Your chances of striking gold, as it were, are good.

And yet, consciously or unconsciously, the Chinese in Spain didn’t seem to have felt put upon to wait for the Dragon to help effect some changes in their dealings with the extroverted Spaniards. Of course, the Dragon which, being Wood Dragon is both mythical and earthy, may have been their talisman, steering them to earthly success in the endeavor. And their success, if modest at this stage, is there for anyone to see, in the plazas of Spain, in this Year of the Dragon!


*One etymological legend claims that the modern word “China” was first used by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century.