Knoxville Asian Festival 2016

Yesterday, I got to do something really cool. I got to experience different cultures from different countries…without even leaving my own backyard.

Knoxville has been my hometown now for going on 26 years and it has changed in many ways. I like to think we’ve become a lot more progressive, culturally diverse, and the population has boomed. Since I’ve always lived here, I’ve never thought it was that big of a city. Until I met some people from Union County and Lenoir City and they kept saying how HUGE it was. 

Our claims to fame are: Pat Summit, The Volunteers, and The Sunsphere, which was built at the 1982 World’s Fair.    I like how it randomly comes up in this episode of The Simpsons. Pretty much hits the nail on the head. There is an information desk up there, and last time I checked, some kind of nightclub. It changes every few years.

Chances are, if you live here long enough, you’ll excavate all kinds of World’s Fair memorabilia. My favorite is when I go to a garage or estate sale at someone’s house and they have cases and CASES of World’s Fair Beer. 😂 A lot like collecting Coca Cola bottles with game dates plastered on the side of them, that never made much sense to me.
So, Knoxville has been growing and changing a lot over the last 20+ years, downtown especially. I can remember when downtown was a ghost town; we would often times only come down to it because my dad worked at the fire department headquarters. Back in those days, Market Square was barren and home to one seedy looking cafe that had windows so dirty, you couldn’t see inside. Now, it is a diner’s Mecca, with 17+ restaurants, retail spaces, and events that are hosted almost every month.

The Asian Festival celebrated its 3rd anniversary this year—and I have no freaking idea how it escaped me that this event has been taking place in August for the last few years! I love anything having to do with Asian culture: the dancing, the traditions, legends, clothing, food, you name it. I have kind of always secretly wanted to be Asian. 

So, when I found out about this event, I of course, paused Memoirs of a Geisha, and called up a friend, who equally loves Asian stuff, and asked if she wanted to go. It was 90 degrees or more, but that didn’t deter our enthusiasm one bit!

And man, was it worth it! 

There was a parade at the beginning of the festival, which included The Dragon/Lion dance. We were handed fans with maps of Asia on them. This came in handy not only for keeping cool, but also just getting a sense of how many countries were represented at this festival. It’s sad, but when I took geography, I feel like we just skimmed over most countries, unless we had personally gone to war with them or if they’re just a big country, like China. Laos was one I didn’t know much about at all!

The MCs of the event also introduced each country on stage and had them say “hello” in their national language, which I thought was awesome. Some of them, I knew, but others, I got to learn!

I think it was also amazing, as we were walking between all the vendor booths and stalls representing each country, just how many people were there. Thousands, easily. It was probably the closest I’ve come to culture shock in a while. I heard so many different languages! 

We got to enjoy art from many of these places and got our names written in Chinese and Japanese. We even tried on kimonos, like the first picture shows. I was fascinated, watching this lady wrap and wrap and wrap the fabric around me, pulling it tight and tying things in different places. I told her about the time I had been to an 1800’s finishing school where we would have to get up at 5am every morning to put on corsets and hoop skirts. Watching her put the kimono on me and tie my obi was almost as complicated as that! It was an art form in itself, which I definitely could appreciate. “You are tiny!” she also told me, which I took as a compliment, as she kept wrapping around me. I had been thinking right around that time how tiny all the Japanese women flocked around me were!

We also enjoyed a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. 

We removed our shoes before going on the tatami mats and bowed. I watched as the green tea was whisked and prepared. I think that is one thing I find so fascinating about Asian cultures—their rituals, traditions, and symbolism.

We were given little sweets; mine was made from sweet potato. We ate this and then were given our green tea, which we were instructed to pick up with our right hand, place in our left palm, and turn twice to the right before drinking out of. The woman conducting the ceremony told us that tea is to be enjoyed, never rushed. It should be pleasant and taken in slowly.

After our experience at the tea ceremony, we got lunch at one of the vendor stalls. The lines were long, so we jumped in line for sushi and were not disappointed! I got a hand rolled California roll. I should have looked around at more, but there was dim sum, stir fry, and chapatis, lentil soup and chicken masala. I’m not going to lie, I loved when one of my friend’s introduced me to Indian food and took me to a place down west that serves it perfectly. I LOVE Indian food now! So, my only regret is that I didn’t find some at the festival yesterday.

Speaking of India, we had a lot of fun at their booth! My friend and I both got henna tattoos, something neither of us had done before! The tent we stood in smelled like cardamom and other spices and everyone packed in there with us was wearing these beautiful, vibrant colors! 

Confession: I’ve always wanted to be Indian also. I think it stems from my family living in America for several generations and not really knowing much about my family history, other than the fact that we’re Irish. And…while I love me some Irish folklore about rolling green hills and leprechauns and the like, I just can’t get into cabbage. Or doing a jig. Bollywood, however, I ADORE. ❤️

​​I’ve always wanted to learn how to Bollywood dance! My brother has a friend who is Indian and I want to ask him so many questions about the culture and music and everything else, but I don’t want to bore him to death! 

I love getting to experience other people’s cultures. I think not only is it respectful, but it opens your eyes and makes you see that the world is a big place, full of different beliefs, and practices. And I think that’s a good thing!

In summary, the 2016 Asian Festival in Knoxville, TN was my favorite. If you haven’t been, you should! It’s usually held on or around August 28th each year, 11:00am-7:00pm at Market Square in downtown Knoxville, TN with free admission.


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