The MOCA on the Road team was invited to participate in the New Jersey Symphony’s Lunar New Year Celebration Gala on January 21, 2023 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. This was an evening event dedicated to promoting traditional Chinese culture as well as celebrating the New Year of the Rabbit among Chinese American communities in the New York and New Jersey area. MOCA’s Director of Collections and Research, Yue MA, and Collections staff member, Diyang Zhou, represented MOCA at the event.
Below is a firsthand account of the event written by Diyang:
We set up our tables and displayed exhibition objects soon after we arrived at the arts center around 3:20 pm.
We were one of four groups invited to exhibit in the lobby during this New Year gala. The others were amateur artists showcasing their skills in Chinese knot tying, paper fan painting, and paper cutting. Before the event was open to the guests, the paper fan painter came to our stand and expressed curiosity about our exhibits. Yue gave her a brief summary of the museum’s history as well as the stories behind each object. She was particularly fascinated by the 1957 Shanghai boardgame made by the Coca-Cola Company.
The gala started at four o’clock with erhu music played by a Chinese artist on the stage.
Groups of people came and visited our booth, including one of the event organizers, Calvin Lee, and his son. Yue introduced MOCA and our new archival initiatives to them. Calvin pointed out the abacus on the table to his son, a second-generation Chinese American, and asked if he knew what it was. He shook his head and listened to his father’s explanations. Yue added to this by informing them that the owner of this abacus opened the first Chinese restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown, Hong Far Low, in 1879. Moreover, this abacus was loaned from MOCA for a special exhibition at the Computer History Museum in California to introduce the first computational system in the world. Calvin and his son smiled and thanked us before they left.
A man of Jewish ancestry came by and took photographs of our objects. He chatted with us about his travel experiences in China in the 1990s. He told us he witnessed the early construction of Pudong, Shanghai and the modernization of many Chinese cities. He was excited to see more buildings in the future as well. After that, he opined that there are a lot of similarities between Chinese and Jewish cultures, including a shared enthusiasm towards food. “Both Chinese and Jewish people like to ask friends out for food. The eating culture is embedded into our minds,” he said. Yue and I were very pleased to hear his comments on Chinese history and culture as well.
More and more crowds came at around 5:00 pm. Some visitors expressed interest in the postcards showing the architectural renderings of the new MOCA by Maya Lin and Yue patiently talked about the future expansion of our museum to them.
The stereoscopes were another highlight of our display. Visitors dropped by and took a close look at the old photos of Chinatown from these two devices.
Snacks and drinks were provided at this New Year gala event. Surprisingly, guests at this event were also served delicious dim sum and desserts such as mini buns, shumai, and cookies. We closed our stand and packed up our stuff shortly after the gala reception ended at 6pm. Afterwards, we enjoyed a staff dinner on the third floor of the performing arts center.
The gala was followed by a wonderful concert with Chinese and Korean orchestra music.
A children’s choir performed a traditional lion dance at the beginning of the show. After a few piano pieces, the children’s choir and Peking University alumni performed some traditional New Year songs together. This concert ended with the song of gongxi gongxi (congratulations), which engaged everyone in the concert to sing along.
As we ring in the new year, we are eager to start new journeys in the Year of the Rabbit! MOCA is always on the road.