If you live near Chinatown, you can do something that is otherwise only possible from Korea: Make a daytrip to China.
There are famous Chinatowns in many cities, the most famous probably New York and San Francisco. But you have Chinatowns in many other places, including non-English speaking countries like Japan and Thailand.
But while people in Bangkok - even those Thai who are not of Chinese extraction - celebrate Chinese new year with gusto, in most other places the celebrations of what in mainland China is now called the Spring Festival tends to be localized to the Chinatown (and Chinese restaurants) of the area where you live.
If it is just a marketing ploy to draw visitors or if it is a genuine celebration depends on how big that neighborhood Chinatown is. In San Francisco, for instance, you will occasionally be hard put not to believe you are in some small town in central China. But you even in a location as tourist-oriented as the Yokohama Chinatown, where people from greater Tokyo and all over Japan flock for a taste of China.
You can get there from central Tokyo in an hour - the location is a legacy of the black ships of the American admiral Perry, who forced the Japanese military government to break its almost 300 years old policy of not letting foreigners work and live in the country. To make sure the foreigners were kept at arms length, they were originally only allowed to establish themselves in a few well-defined locations. One of those was the little fishing village of Yokohama.
What does that have to do with Chinatown, you may ask? Well, opening up Japan did not only apply to Europeans and Americans. Chinese merchants, who had previously been limited to the city of Nagasaki, could suddenly open up shop anywhere in Japan. Almost anywhere. Well, Kobe and Yokohama.
So they settled in and got started. And while the Europeans, Americans, and their businesses soon moved into Tokyo, the Chinese stayed in Yokohama. Now it is a small enclave where you can feel like you are in Hong Kong or Taipei.
Every Chinatown around the world has its own characteristics, inherited from mixing Chinese culture with that of the host country. In every country the Chinese culture takes a local flavor, just like the Chinese cooking. And it takes flavor from the original Chinese cuisine that the Chinese immigrants brought with them.
Even though northern China has its own distinctive cuisine, as different from the red-pepper fiery cooking of Schezuan as spaghetti is from soba noodles, both steamed buns and mabodofu are recognizable as Chinese. And to some extent it is the same with the culture - although there has been a huge homogenization in China in the past 50 years, supressing local traditions over national.
Luckily (for us) the celebration of the lunar new year, with the parades, the lion dances, the floating dragons and the Chinese fire crackers is part of the parcel of approved national celebrations.
You may be able to see the parade, you may be able to eat steamed buns from streetside stalls (careful that your kids do not scorch themselves - the meat center is a lot hotter than the bun), but you may not be able to buy paper cars, paper TVs, or any of the other paper products which are bound for the afterlife. The ancestors of the Chinese did not have TV sets or Gucci wallets. Not even black-and-white TVs. And no Gameboys. That is why Chinese will buy paper mockups and burn them so the essence of the products can be consumed in the afterlife.
In most Chinatowns you will not find the paper mockups on main street. They are religious objects, after all. Not for tourists. And there has to be a significant minority of Chinese who would buy the paper mockups for them to be on display in supermarkets like Tesco-Lotus in Bangkok. And even there, they are treated like seasonal objects, and not available in the religious objects aisle (yes, they have one, where you can buy alms for the monks).
But in any Chinatown around the world, you can bet there will be a party around the Chinese new year. Chinese like to celebrate and even though the Chinese new year may not be a holiday in the country where the Chinatown is, you can be sure there will be celebrations.
If you happen to be in London, San Francisco or New York, the Chinatown is only a short subway ride away. In Tokyo, the subway ride is a bit longer (Yokohama is actually a separate city). In other cities they are typically as easy to reach. But usually with public transport. Since Chinatowns are usually in city centers, parking can be a huge issue. You do not want the hassle. And if your kids are not big enough yo walk, public transport is typically built to be stroller (and wheelchair) friendly.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.