02/06/2011 12:55 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Chinese New Year In Los Angeles

The 112th annual Golden Dragon parade had just started, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was at the head of the pack. He led the crowds in a tri-lingual lesson on new year's greetings: "Repeat after me. This is Cantonese for Happy New Year: 'Kung Hei Fat Choy!' This is Mandarin: 'Xin Nian Kuai Le!' Now let's do it in Spanish: 'Feliz Año Nuevo Chino!'" He paused for a breath and dead-panned, "we do it all here."

Hundreds of Angelenos had gathered in Chinatown to watch the multi-colored dragons snake up and down the boulevards. While high school marching bands, Chinatown beauty queens, martial arts demonstrations, and other elected officials joined in the procession, it was obvious that the huge dancing dragons were the main draw. Delighted parade-watchers reached out and skimmed their hands over the colorful designs, and some who had carefully staked out their viewing spots an hour beforehand abandoned them to chase the dragons down the parade route.

Jostling through Chinatown in the crush of the crowds was just one of the many joyous assaults on the senses that Saturday. The colorful smoke from the parade and the scent of barbecuing meat filled the air. And if children weren't flinging party snappers to the ground, they were begging their parents to buy more (at the going rate of four boxes for $1, it was difficult not to indulge them). Audiences packed the soundstage in the Central Plaza, trying to get cellphone pictures of the plate spinners, acrobats, and gymnasts.

Alleyways and parking lots were crammed with food trucks like the Lobsta Truck, Coolhaus, Calbi, and the Grilled Cheese truck. Their presence was puzzling at first--don't all Angelenos come to Chinatown for the restaurants? But by the time the parade was over, the dim sum had run out and people were scrambling for a bite to eat. Vivian Quintinilla, who was waiting in line at the Crepe'n Around food truck, explained, "we were looking for Chinese food, but we couldn't find it! Every restaurant was super packed." Quintanilla, who has come to the festival almost every year since she moved to Los Angeles fifteen years ago, had managed to drag her boyfriend (and fellow Angeleno) to the event for the first time. "I'm not Chinese, so I didn't feel like it was for me," Gerardo Dellosa explained. Then he looked around at a nearby Indian family, a blonde girl wearing a cheongsam, and Chinese grandmothers wearing bunny ears. "Now seeing that everybody's here, I guess I could come every year too."