Excitement crackles amid lion dancers marking Choy Cheng


POSTED: Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bam, bam, bam. Bam, bam, bametybambam. The drums and gongs burrow into your brain all the way through the earplugs. The fat red ribbons of firecrackers snake their way across blocked-off Chinatown streets, spitting fire as they explode.

  ;  “;Want to jump in?”; asks Wes Tyau of the Hawaii Lion Dance Association. The next thing I know I duck under the fleece-fringed tail of the red lion dance costume, trying to follow the feet of the dancer holding the head, the only thing I can see. Fun for a few minutes, until I feel a tap on my back. Someone else takes over.

“;Good,”; says Tyau. “;Next year you can do the head.”;

Not likely.

The rest of the dancers, mostly young professionals, have been practicing twice a week for three months for this. Although in shape, they're by now sweating through their gray and red T-shirts, despite the nip in the air. Tyau has burns on his arms from flying firecracker paper.

It's Choy Cheng, the night when the businesses of Chinatown welcome the lions with firecrackers, money in red envelopes and a bundle of greens on a stick. It's our job to scare off demons and ensure good luck in the coming year.

We'd gathered at 4:30 at the Chinatown Cultural Plaza, one of a half-dozen lion dancing troupes, each in their own color T-shirts. When the mayor presented a $10,000 check to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the lions hit the stage.

“;Don't kill yourself here. It's going to be a long night,”; said Del Wong, who was marshaling the troupe, some 80 strong, counting musicians, kids in the Cubby Corps, moms watching the kids and discreetly tucking the money collected into oversize purses.

Wong handed out slivers of gao cai, licorice root, to offset the smoke of the fireworks, and we headed out onto the streets, with a list of businesses to bless and crowds of people to entertain.

The lions have a life of their own. Although it's obvious that there are people under the red fabric costume and the wicker and paper mache heads, it was the lions themselves people related to, adults jostling to get close, kids sometimes amazed at their courage in feeding them dollars.

It was nearly 10 when the lions from various troupes gathered at Mauanakea and Pauahi for some final mock combat. Then, we headed off to consume vast platters of Chinese food at the Golden Palace restaurant.

In the course of the evening, we'd blessed the Bankoh Chinatown branch, whose fireworks kept fizzling. There I met consumer banking rep Xiaopei Fan, who'd moved here from the north of China three months ago.

She'd never seen a lion dance before. What do you do at home? I asked. “;It's cold,”; she said. “;We stay home with family, cook food. Here so many people, this is actually exciting.”; The lion dropped a red banner to bless her desk.

Gung Hee Fat Choy.


drop in for shoppin'

“;It's not going to be just a book launch. It's a shopping party,”; said Kathryn Drury Wagner of the last weekend's celebration of her new book, “;The Ultimate Guide to Shopping on Oahu.”;

The women who showed up early Saturday morning at the Honolulu Design Center didn't need much of a guide. Most slipped right past Wagner, who was signing books, and went straight to the racks of merchandise. With stacks of dresses folded over their arms, they disappeared behind the curtain of the communal dressing room.

Ran into HONOLULU magazine's Donna Kodama-Yee. “;Isn't this a nice bag?”; she asked. “;It was only $44, so I bought it in two colors.”; I chuckled. “;Don't you laugh,”; said Kodama-Yee. “;I told your wife all the dresses she was trying on were really cute.”;

Wagner gave a talk in the martini bar - unfortunately not open for business. I learned I'd been remiss all these years not updating my high-quality, neutral basics with colorful and trendy accessories. She suggested always choosing your outfit the night before, even trying on different combinations.

Oh, I asked when she was done, how did she decide on what she was wearing for this event? (A particularly bold print dress, with kimono sleeves and an empire waist.) “;Oh, this old thing?”; she said.


The Tribe Bops On

“;It was a gorgeous and joyful night,”; said trumpeter DeShannon Higa of the launch party for the new CD by Bop Tribal, the rockingest jazz quintet in town.

If, like me, you missed the party, you can still pick up the CD at Borders or iTunes. Or preview it for free at this Friday's concert at the State Art Museum. Wait till you hear a tune about canned peaches called “;Lemon-Scented Suede Shoes.”;


Play's the Thing

UH professor Valerie Wayne has a thing for playwrights. Her husband Richard Tillotson's first play, “;Inside Out,”; opened to a sold-out audience at TAG this weekend. Without Wayne.

She was on the mainland pursuing her other love, Shakespeare. The Modern Language Association flew her to New York for a meeting of the Shakespeare Variorum committee. “;It's no small honor, but it would have to be the same weekend,”; said Tillotson. She can catch her husband's play later in the run, as can you, until Feb. 22 in TAG's new Chinatown theater.


mufi inspiration

At Krazy Karaoke on Young Street, a friend of mine was leafing through the book of selections. Right after “;Songs Made Popular By Hannah Montana”; were songs made popular by, brace yourself, Mufi Hannemann: “;Christmas Time Again”; and “;I Fell In Love With Honolulu.”;

What, no “;Honolulu City Lights”;?

  John Heckathorn is editor of Hawaii Magazine and director of integrated media for the aio Group.