Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 30, 2001



Alex Ching put the shine on the Sentinel Bears, like that on the
cover, for Honolulu City Lights.

Bright lights

Artistic elf Alex Ching adds new
flourishes to a holiday tradition

By Shawn 'Speedy' Lopes

While Thanksgiving marked the first day of the holiday season for most, it usually begins much sooner for Alex Ching -- sometimes as early as June or July.

"I actually got started a little late this year; early September," said the City and County art specialist whose contributions to the popular annual Honolulu City Lights exhibit in and around Honolulu Hale turn heads of countless passersby each year.

The task of designing and assembling a new monumental holiday display in time for tomorrow's opening is a daunting one, even with help from fellow C&C artists. While a sculptor molds several figures from Styrofoam with a variety of power tools, Ching painstakingly coats each one with cement, a polymer adhesive and fiberglass mesh, followed by a second coating of cement. Then comes a process of sanding and priming for a smooth surface, applying masking tape (a two-to-three hour job for one person), flat color, then a clear coat. The finished product, Ching hopes, will be quite a sight for commuters driving down King Street as well as those who stop and get out of their cars for a close-up view.

"They're dressed up in toy soldier uniforms with coats, straps across the chest, with tall cylindrical hats," he says in describing his latest creation, a spectacular family of 9-foot-tall candy-colored bears. "Kinda like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

In building these figures, Ching has holed up in a Pearl City warehouse seven days a week for the past three weeks, taking only Veteran's Day off. "It's kind of labor-intensive," he says.

While Ching's deadline has passed, the entire City Lights project will not be complete until December.

Oahuans can count on familiar favorites like Santa and Mrs. Claus, a flock of penguins, a snowman family, an oversized wagon, gnomes, "Mele Kalikimaka" letter blocks, and Rudolph's sleigh displays of years past to decorate Honolulu Hale and its surrounding areas.

Within a few short weeks, the ooh-and-aah-inspiring lighting displays will be added to the holiday spectacle, and the "Avenue of Trees" that spruces up the Honolulu Hale courtyard with Christmas trees (each one dandified by a different City department) will be on display. Even the Honolulu Fire Department will assist in the decorations by stringing colorful rows of lights around streetside trees, although this may not be so much for safety reasons as practical ones.

"They might be the only department with the equipment to get up that high," says Ching with a chuckle.

Let there be City Lights

Where: Honolulu Hale and surroundings
Admission: Free
Call: 527-6060

The events

>> 3 p.m. -- Island music concert and food booths at Sky Gate.

>> 5 p.m. -- Holiday service at Kawaihao Church.

>> 6 p.m. -- Tree-lighting ceremony featuring the Brothers Cazimero performing "Honolulu City Lights" and a medley of Christmas songs. All of downtown's holiday lights will be illuminated simultaneously as Mayor Jeremy Harris lights the city's 55-foot Norfolk Island Pine. This year, Restaurant Row businesses will join the display, extending the corridor of lights from King Street toward Ala Moana Boulevard.

The Public Workers Electric Light Parade, sponsored by Hawaiian Electric Co., will pass in front of Honolulu Hale at this time, with floats and marching bands from Aiea, Baldwin, Castle, Farrington, Iolani, Kahuku, Kailua, Leilehua, Nanakuli and Waianae high schools, plus the Royal Hawaiian Band, Holy Family Academy and the Dole Middle School Band.

>> 7:30 p.m. -- Santa's scheduled to arrive, and he'll listen to childrens' wishes until 9 p.m.

A two-hour concert featuring Maunalua, Colón, DisGuyz, Tino & the Rhythm Klub, Anelaikalani, Reign, Marty Dread and Moke Boy will close the event.

>> Through Jan. 2 -- The lights will be on display and holiday entertainment and choir performances will take place nightly in the Honolulu Hale Courtyard. Visitors are encouraged to bring a toy for the Marine Corps Reserves' "Toys for Tots" donation box in the Honolulu Hale foyer. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 17.

On television

>> The tree-lighting festivities, parade and concert highlights will be cablecast from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and after the KITV evening news, at approximately 7 to 8 p.m. tomorrow. The parade announcers will be KITV reporters Mary Zanakis and Ben Gutierrez.

The 2001 Honolulu City Lights ornament will be available for purchase from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Saturday opening celebration in front of Honolulu Hale. The ornament features images of the Shaka Santa and Mele (Mrs. Claus) seated next to the City Christmas tree.

The cost is $16 per ornament, also available at Oahu Macy's stores, Borders Books and Music and Cafe, and the Honolulu City Store at Ala Moana Center.

Ornaments can also be purchased by mail, for $19, including shipping and handling. Write: Friends of Honolulu City Lights, P.O. Box 8877, Honolulu, HI 96830.

Funds raised go toward continuing Christmas programs.

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