(STAR) By Jeffrey Lee Florendo - Bacolod folk witness the Bacolaodiat lantern parade. The Chinese New Year celebration in Bacolod City is unique: it has a name. It’s called “Bacolaodiat,” from the words Bacolod and laodiat (Chinese for glorious celebration), and it’s bound to become a great tourism come-on for the city that has also invented the phenomenally successful Masskara in October, another creative word coinage.

On its fourth year, Bacolaodiat ’09 unfolds with a colorful pageantry of cultural shows, costume and lantern parades, dragon dances, street acts and feasting, culminating in a pulsating and glittering street dancing on Jan. 26, with a symphony of lights and fireworks.

But there’s more to Bacolaodiat than feasts for the eyes. “It’s a strengthening of the relationship between the Pinoy and Tsinoy communities,” says Leonito “Diotay” Lopue, chairman of Bacolaodiat ’09. “Bacolaodiat seeks to acquaint the people with the significance and meaning of the Chinese New Year rituals and observances. It is hoped that with more familiarity comes greater appreciation.”

Lopue, who is head of the local chapter of Kaisa, the Tsinoy assimilation movement based in Manila, headed by the reputable Teresita Ang-See, boasts that “assimilation” or “integration” has never been a big issue or problem in Bacolod, or in Negros for that matter. “I’ll put it this way: we’ve not had a case of Chinese kidnapping in Bacolod.”

Still, Lopue loves the idea of building a Chinatown in Bacolod, in a sprawling area north of downtown called Capitol Shopping (or “Shopping,” as it is popularly called), which is steadily attracting Chinese stores and commercial establishments, including the soon-to-open Triangle Island Plaza mall on Lopez Jaena street. “Our plan for Shopping Chinatown is to create a tourist attraction, like Chinatown in Binondo or in San Francisco and Los Angeles and other big cities.”

Lopue imagines storefronts and business edifices in Shopping emblazoned with calligraphic signages and lit up with lanterns in the evenings. He also imagines a block-long undulating dragon painted uninterruptedly across the facades of stores and buildings, its head on one end of Hilado street and its tail on the other end. “It would be the biggest painted dragon in Asia. People from far and wide would come to Bacolod to see it,” says Lopue.

He stresses that Shopping Chinatown would in no way be an ethnic enclave that would alienate the Tsinoys from the Pinoys. “On the contrary, it will encourage greater cultural, social and commercial exchanges between the two. It will redound to increased economic activity in this district.”

Bacolaodiat is a step in that direction. And on this Year of the Ox, Lopue promises, there will be more lights and fireworks, more dancing and feasting — “more merriment.”

Giant lanterns, inspired by both the Chinese lanterns and the Filipino parol, including representations of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, will be carried in procession through the streets (these will later be brought to the different towns and cities in Negros). Glowering lantern effigies of the Ox, the work of renowned Bacolod artist Charlie Co with the help of local artists, will illuminate the four corners of the city’s plaza with a dragon perched atop the kiosk. There will be floating lights on the circular lagoon in front of the Capitol, which is becoming the favorite promenade for friends and families.

Street dancing boasts the participation of 12 groups from the three Chinese schools in Bacolod and the winning barangay dancers at the October Masskara festival, wearing costumes that creatively fuse traditional Chinese dresses and the fantastical Masskara styles. They will be dancing to music that also fuses Chinese pop and ethnic tribal rhythms with the catchy sprightliness of “Macarena.”

Flame throwers, fire dancers and other street acts will be going around the Chopstick Alley, along Lopez Jaena and Narra in Shopping, where tourists, guests and other revelers can enjoy the best dishes from the restaurants and food stores in Bacolod and browse through the Chinese tiangges with their marvelous little finds.

State-of-the-art fireworks will explode simultaneously from different parts of the city and you will feel, says Lopue, like you were right inside the beautiful lights and explosions. “We’re doing several things that have never been done before to make the New Year celebration in Bacolod special and unique,” Lopue says.

This year they will be honoring prominent Tsinoys of Bacolod born in the Year of the Ox. This conferment of honors will be done every year as a way of recognizing the achieving sons and daughters of Bacolod, and there will be no lack of them.

Be there when Bacolaodiat ’09 happens, starting today until Jan. 26. Bacolod is served daily from Manila by Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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