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British Chinese gear up for Year of the Rat

world Updated: Feb 06, 2008 10:01 IST

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Britain's Chinese community is busily preparing for Wednesday's Lunar New Year with celebrations that could see more than 300,000 people thronging London's streets at the weekend.

Hundreds of red, decorative lanterns have been strung between the buildings above the narrow streets that make up London's Chinatown district alongside triangular-shaped red, blue, yellow and pink bunting.

At street level, shoppers with bulging plastic bags of gifts and food weave around dawdling tourists, double-parked delivery vans and street stalls of flowers and vegetables as the smell of roast duck and dumplings fills the air.

"It's always busy at this time of year," said Lucy Leung, arranging the Chinese New Year greetings cards and calendars in the Chinatown Market on Newport Place, as tourists pose for pictures under the red pagoda outside.

In the Chinese Community Centre on the main thoroughfare of Gerrard Street, elderly Chinese tuck into bowls of steaming rice, specialist tea shops are full and herbalists in white masks weigh out medicines on antique brass scales.

"There's much more awareness now," Leung told AFP. "English schoolchildren are studying Mandarin and Chinese culture, including New Year, so they're all coming here to buy stuff like lanterns, red packets and cards."

About 250,000 people of Chinese origin live in Britain, a third of them in London, according to the 2001 census, with Chinatown a magnet for those living outside the capital at this time of year.