On February 9, 2018, the Linden Centre hosted a Grand Opening event for our newest Xizhou site, the Linden Commons. The Linden Centre’s mission is to share our love for Chinese, and especially, Bai, culture with others, to build community, and to help preserve the traditions and beliefs of the local Xizhou society. As such, the day was organized to reflect this mission and was full of spiritual and ritual significance. This article will attempt to bring the Grand Opening to life for those who were not able to attend, and to capture the detail that went into the planning and execution of the entire event.
While the concept for the event was developed first by Brian and Jeanee alongside our top management, the person who really pulled it all together was Yang Su Mei, our head of housekeeping and a local with many connections in Xizhou. Without Sumei’s hard work, and the efforts of so many on our team, the event would never have turned out so well.
The Grand Opening was comprised of three distinct traditional ceremonies:
- Taoist and local ritual prayers for cleansing of evil spirits and preparing for the future, Nian Pingan Jing 念平安经 (9am – 4pm)
- Dragon Dance, Wu Long 舞龙 (2pm-3pm)
- Buddhist prayer chanting by local women with temple blocks, Muyu Lianchihui 木鱼莲池会 (3pm-4pm)
The first part of the event was not open to the public and began at 9 am. It began with the presentation of a layered cake prepared with perilla seeds, sesame seeds, and brown sugar, which was then shared by many of our staff and team in celebration.
Women, elders from Xizhou and the surrounding villages, and a Taoist priest arrived at the Commons to begin the ritual chanting for peace and prosperity (念平安经). This ritual chanting, which went from 9 am until 4 pm, is separated into two distinct parts. The first set of prayers serves to pray for the spirits of the dwelling’s past, to pray for those who occupied the Commons previously, and to keep away evil, death, and disease. After this first set of prayers were carried out as the group walked through the complex, the Taoist priest stayed at the Commons to continue praying while the women split into four teams and left to go to four temples in the villages surrounding Xizhou to continue praying for the day. This was when the second set of prayers began, prayers meant to bring good fortune and prosperity to the future of the site, and to the people who will spend time there. Each team going out to one of the four temples brought with them a series of offerings prepared by our staff, to offer to the local gods and earn their good will. The four teams and the priest at the Commons continued to pray until late afternoon, as the rest of the rituals at the Grand Opening continued.
Following the morning rituals, Brian, Jeanee, and our top management had lunch with government officials to celebrate the successful collaboration between our company and the local government.
At 2 pm, the main celebratory event began—the Dragon dance. Before the dragon could enter the Commons, Brian and Jeanee had to perform a traditional greeting ceremony. Outside of the Linden Commons front gate, Brian and Jeanee offered a tray holding incense, silver and gold paper, a cup of tea, and a cup of alcohol to the dragon. They then bowed to the dragon and burned the silver and gold paper. Then we set off firecrackers, to scare away evil spirits and welcome the dragon into the home. After the firecrackers finished, the dragon was able to enter the Commons and the dragon dance began.
The team of dragon dancers was composed solely of Bai women from Dali. This particular team is especially talented and has performed in Beijing at special request in the past. The dragon dance is mesmerizing to watch and is much more complex than one might assume, with a variety of movements including twisting, jumping, shaking, and rolling.
Watching the dancers, I was impressed by their stamina—my arms ached just from seeing them perform.
After the dragon entered the Commons it danced through the first courtyard before making its way to the second courtyard where the dance was paused so that there could be some speeches. Aside from speeches made by Brian, Yujiang, and Kaihan, two of our other team members, Yang Zhang Qi and Michael Chen both spoke. Zhang Qi is a local from the town next to Xizhou, and he spoke about the importance of Bai heritage preservation to him. Then Michael, who is an American born Chinese, talked about his experience here in Xizhou, and the value of cultural exchange and education. Both of their speeches touched on an essential part of what the Centre stands for, bringing people from different backgrounds together, and sharing in an appreciation for heritage and cultural exchange.
After the speeches the dragon dance continued through the rest of the site, scaring away any remaining evil spirits and ushering in good fortune. As the dragon dance winds down, Brian, Jeanee, and Yujiang wrapped red cloth around the dragon’s head and tail, as well as on the baton which directs the dragon’s movements. The dragon dancers chanted songs for good luck, and Brian and the director of the dragon team were given boxes of brown sugar. Our staff then went around and offered the dragon dancers red packets of money, sugar, and Bai traditional three course tea. After this the dragon leaves the dwelling, immediately followed by more firecrackers.
The third and final portion of the event was the Buddhist ritual chanting of Bai women using Muyu, the traditional wooden fish temple blocks. Twenty women, ranging from middle aged to elderly, sat in two rows of ten, facing each other and chanting for an hour.
This was my favorite part of the Grand Opening. Something about these Bai women, singing and praying together was truly spellbinding.
Their songs, in Bai local language, contained wishes for good luck and prosperity and cycled through prayers for each of the twelve months of the year and each of the twelve traditional Chinese sections of the day. In front of the women there was an altar arranged with offerings: sugar, fresh fruit, pickled fruit, and fried rice crackers. In the middle of the altar there was an urn for incense and behind that three cups, one with tea, one with alcohol, and in the middle, one filled with water.
As the women finished their prayers and the event wound down, the Linden Commons was suddenly quiet. Yet to me it did not feel like the same, eery, quiet that had filled the space before, but it was a new, peaceful silence. I’m not an especially superstitious person, but I could have sworn the space felt different.
The opening of the Linden Commons is a big deal for the Linden Centre as a company. As Yang Kai Han, our director of business development writes, “The opening of the Linden Commons is an exciting step forward for our brand because it shows that not only can the Linden Centre model be duplicated, but that it can be enhanced. The Linden Commons, with its upgraded facilities and enlarged public space, offers an entirely different staying experience for our guests, while providing the same intimate and engaging immersion into local culture that has defined the Linden Centre experience.”
This concludes our recap of the opening of the Linden Commons a few days ago. I hope that for those of you who could not make it, this article helps you get a sense of what it was like!
We will be uploading photos of the event to our Facebook page shortly, so check us out there to see even more images from the Grand Opening!