Chinatown celebrated its annual Chinese New Year festival

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Jasmine Cho

A Chinese lion participates the Night in Chinatown parade.

Chinese culture explodes in celebration bringing in residents from all over the island and tourists visiting Hawaii in Chinatown.

On Feb 2, Honolulu celebrated its Night in Chinatown event. The streets came alive with booths filled both sides of Pauahi Street (between River and Bethel Street), Hotel Street, Smith Street and Maunakea Street.

“You’ve got all these different cultures coming together to celebrate one major culture, which is great because that’s what Hawaii’s all about,” said Vina Cristobal, a Chaminade University sophomore.

All day, the sound of drums and cymbals could be heard throughout Chinatown. Chinese lion dancing groups performed in different parts of Chinatown. Every time the drumming started, a crowd would draw around the lion dancers. People of all ages could be seen waving a dollar bill in the air, waiting for the lions to “eat” their money. In the Chinese culture, the lion dance is thought to bring good luck and fortune while scaring away evil spirits.

Many booths sold food, and a popular choice of food was Chinese food. The Buddha’s Light International Association Young Adult Division’s booth sold vegetarian Chinese food. The vegetarian foods included jai, fried noodles, fried tofu, and spring rolls. Clementine Tran Tang, 19, a member of BLIA YAD, said the adults in the organization cooked everything in the morning and chose their choices of food by whatever produce they “bought in hand.”

The food in this festival was not only limited to Chinese. Booths sold food items such as corn on a cob, Vietnamese food, kalbi plate lunches and waffle dogs. Food was one of the highlights of the event. The trashcans were filled to the rim, and many people had a food or drink in their hand.

Other booths like the Chinatown Improvement District advocated its organization. Lee Stack, the president of the non-profit group, was recruiting volunteers, getting a word out about its project and providing information to those who were interested in its organization. Stack gave an example of one of its projects by pointing out to a sidewalk. She said that particular sidewalk was one of the projects they worked on called “safe sidewalk.”

“What it [safe sidewalk] does is it ‘extends the life of the sidewalk’,” Stack said. “It saves the city money and to keep people from falling down… It improves the safety for thousands of people, like at this festival. Thousands of people are walking around this area, so we’re really helping a lot of people for something that seems so small yet significant.”

The Chinatown Improvement District organization is a non-profit organization that strives to improve Chinatown conditions, while also preserving its cultural, ethnic, and historical value.

Some people come to the Night in Chinatown every year. Others have only started coming for the past few years.

Jessica Song, 17, a senior at McKinley High School, said she goes to the Night in Chinatown festival every year because she lives in the Chinatown area.

“It’s much cheaper than the [Punahou] carnival,” Song said. I waste a lot of money when going to the carnival, so it’s money saver to come here. I came for the food, and it’s very convenient because I live around this area … It’s [also] a tradition for me because I’m Chinese.”

Cristobal, who is from Kapolei, said this year was her second year at the festival. She enjoys the festival because a lot of activity going on at the festival. The event she looked forward to the most was the parade.

Another couple that came for the parade was Keith Weiser, 36, and Victoria Keener, 32. Weiser and Keener moved to Hawaii two years ago and currently resides in Kaimuki. Weiser was born in Pennsylvania and Keener is from Washington, D.C., area. This was the couple’s second year at the festival. They said last year they wandered by accident. This year, they knew about the Night in Chinatown by word of mouth. Keener said she has seen other Chinese New Year parades in the mainland, so she wanted to see “how it stacks up” in Hawaii.

The Night in Chinatown parade on Saturday started at 3:30 p.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m. The parade drew in hundreds of people. Hotel Street was blocked off and cluttered with people, each desperately trying to get a good view or spot to take pictures. Police officers watched over and controlled the crowd in case trouble occurred.

The parade started off with the radio 104.3 van. Other participants who participated in the parade included the Girl Scouts, the Miss Chinatown queen, the Royal Hawaiian Band, the Au Shao Lin Arts Society’s dragon and Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

For those who missed last week’s Chinese New Year festival, the Chinese Cultural Plaza will hold another festival on Feb 8-9.