Tuesday, April 21, 2009

San Francisco Social Diary

Rare Antique Japanese Dolls from Edo Period at the Pacific Art Fair in San Francisco.
By Jeanne Lawrence

San Francisco — The Year of the Ox. Like the New Yorker who’s never been to the Empire State Building (actually, I have), I’ve lived off and on in San Francisco for over 25 years yet had never seen the celebrations for Chinese New Year, the 5,000-year-old holiday (also called the Spring Festival) that coincides with the arrival of the new moon on the first lunar month.

Why not celebrate in Shanghai, where I’ve been living there for the last six months? Actually, that was my original plan, after spending Christmas with family and friends in Manhattan.

But I learned that my Shanghai friends had deserted the city. Like our Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year is a time when the locals leave town for family reunions, expats go back home for a visit, and others leave in search of warmer weather.

So I decided to celebrate Chinese New Year in SF and enjoy as many of the cultural festivities I could for the first time. There were so many activities that I could sample just a few in one long weekend.

Now I know what I’ve been missing!!!
Pacific Art Fair in San Francisco
Browsing at the San Francisco Pacific Art Fair

Thursday. I noticed in the SF Chronicle that the gala opening of 13th annual San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia show, sponsored by the Asian Art Museum, was being held at Ft. Mason (San Francisco’s equivalent of New York’s Park Avenue Amory).

Over 85 international antiques and Asian art dealers exhibited, and the place was packed with guests browsing booths with beautiful displays of Asian furniture, antiques, contemporary art, books, and other collectibles.
Nancy Hua, Michelle Nguyen and Trang Vo wear their native dress. Visiting monks.
Chinese Antique Embroidery.
More Art and Antiques.
Jay Xu, Director of Asian Art Museum with Inja Yang. Patrons Linda and David Lei.
I met Jay Xu, the Princeton-educated museum director who was appointed six months ago. He told me that the museum is planning a city-wide celebration with its sister city Shanghai, of which he is a native, at the time of the Shanghai Expo 2010. He and I had lots of notes to compare about Shanghai.

Masses of white hydrangeas, tulips and calla lilies adorned the huge exhibition space, where drinks were served and an Asian buffet offered baskets of dim sum and gigantic shrimp cocktails.

Red dots (meaning “sold”) blossomed on much of the art, so it was a successful evening for the museum. For me, too: I ran into Linda and David Lei, who had an extra VIP ticket to the annual Chinatown parade on Saturday.
Martha Hertelendy and Emily Sano (former Director of Asian Art Museum). Publisher Lois Lehrman with Heide Betz. Goretti Lo Lui and Katherine Lo.
Crystal Lee, Lucille Low, and Nancy Hua. Makaii Lee, Maura Morey, Suno Kay Osterweis, and Denise Bradley.
Preeti Caberwal, Chris Gorog, and Meredyth Masterson. Bob Duffy, Judith Duffy and Leo Cheng. Alice Lee.
CA Attorney General Jerry Brown and former CA Governor with wife Anne Gust. Actress Joan Chen. Jane Chang Tom, Jay Xu, and Therese Bartholomew.
The 51st Coronation of Miss Chinatown Friday

Though I called for a ticket to the Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Coronation Ball 2009 at the Hilton the next evening, they were sold out. But how could I pass up this traditional and glamorous event?

Miss Chinatown USA Cindy Wu with Sydney Chan.
I went anyway, thinking there’d be a last-minute cancellation—and there was. Around the ballroom, signs said, “Gung Hay Fat Choy” (Cantonese for “Best wishes and have a prosperous and good year!) That’s certainly a timely hope for this year.

The Winner of the Miss Chinatown USA pageant was Houstonian Cindy Wu, 22, who will serve as a goodwill ambassador for the Chinese community.

Wu and her lovely court were presented by Chinese Chamber of Commerce President Sidney Chan and Board of Supervisor President David Chiu.

Serendipity! I ran into oenophile James Ho, who invited me to join his guests, who included Helen Cheng. She told me the wine—donated by her Hestan Vineyards in the Napa Valley—was named “Stephanie,” after her daughter.

I was introduced to Goretti and Lawrence Lui — his family’s Galaxy Entertainment Group owns the spectacular StarWorld casino hotel in Macau, Asia’s Las Vegas.
Miss Chinatown USA Coronation Gala in San Francisco.
Miss Chinatown USA makes her grand entrance. Cindy Wu, Miss Chinatown USA - beautiful and poised.
A spirited evening.
More contestants and winners of the pageant.
Dancing the night away.
Later I heard enthusiastic comments from Houstonites Linda and Ted Wu, who sponsored their local Miss Chinatown Pageant, about the new Chinese star of the Houston Rockets, 7’6” Yao Ming.

After Miss Wu danced the first dance, her court and their escorts joined her on the floor, all the girls glamorous in long white gloves and glittering, brightly colored sleeveless gowns slit up the side and known as cheongsam in Cantonese and qipao in Mandarin.

Then everyone else joined them in a very non-traditional dance -- the Bunny Hop!
Kristine Law with Sydney Chan, Pres Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Tabitha Wong with SF Supervisor David Chiu. Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce 2008 and Fourth Princess 2009.
James Ho, Goretti Liu, and Helen Cheng. Goretti and Lawrence Lui.
Linda and Ted Wu from Houston. Supervisor David Chiu leads for the first dance with Cindy Wu.
The Chinese New Year Parade

Saturday. This being the Year of the Ox —the 12-part lunar sequence includes rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar— many floats in the Chinese New Year Parade had ox themes.

By 5 p.m. a remarkably mannerly crowd of tens of thousands, in what for many is a family tradition, had gathered along the route —from Market Street to downtown Union Square and up Columbus Avenue in Chinatown.

Perfect moon during the Chinese New Year Parade.
Dating back to the days of the Gold Rush of the 1860's and now telecast to millions, this annual parade is one of the world’s best and the largest of its kind outside Asia. It’s a spectacular show: colorful floats, brilliantly turned out martial artists, high-stepping stilt walkers, gravity-defying Chinese acrobats, and enthusiastic youngsters marching and waving flags.

I joined Linda and David Lei — he’s been involved with the parade since 1964 — in their bleacher seats outside Macy’s at Union Square. It’s a prime location, since the paraders stop here to perform before the television cameras

As elaborate as it is, the parade also has a warm, old-fashioned quality thanks to the feeling of community spirit. It seems that the entire city is involved. Mayor Gavin Newsom and wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom and other politicians rode in open-air vintage car alongside firefighters and police officers, school bands, and Asian organizations, many with their families.

But the biggest attraction was the much-talked-about new Golden Dragon (gum loong, in Chinese). Brilliantly colored, at 238 feet, it’s the longest float in the parade history — so long and so heavy (over 1,000 pounds) that 38 dancers plus a 100-person support team were needed to carry it.

The sounds of drums, school marching bands and firecrackers filled the air, as did the smoke — meant to scare away the evil spirits. We covered our ears during the grand finale, when 600,000 firecrackers were lit (by professionals; otherwise they’re illegal).
San Francisco Chinese New Year Celebrates the Year of the OX.
Lion Dancers.
San Francisco's finest participates.
Mark Leno, CA State Senator.
SF Supervisor Michela Alioto and family.
Crowds line up on Geary Boulevard at Union Square.
Waving Flags.
Police Escorts for the Golden Dragon.
New Golden Dragon in brilliant greens, oranges, reds and golds.
The 238- foot Dragon is the longest float in parade history.
The spectacular Dragon glows from fluorescent and LED lights within.
Sponsor Southwest Airlines - Luv is in The Air, celebrates the family.
Miss Chinatown USA 2009, sponsored by Harrah's Casino.
School Marching Bands.
Lucky Stores festive dancing rice bowls.
Even the young ones participate.
Macy's Chinatown Treasures - carved work.
Bank of the West, Emperor Ox Brings Prosperity.
Cathay Pacific Airlines - Clouds.
McDonalds's Pearl River Delta theme.
Thailand represented too.
Grande Finale with 600,000 firecrackers to scare away evil spirit.
Family Day at the Symphony

The next afternoon at four, another family affair took place when The San Francisco Symphony held its own annual Chinese New Year Celebration. Chinese “lions” started things off, dancing down the aisle and onto the stage to everyone’s delight.

Carolyn Kuan of the Seattle Symphony conducted the unique blend of Eastern and Western selections. Celebrated Chinese violinist Siqing Lu performed The Butterfly Lovers Concerto, the Chinese music ensemble Melody of China played traditional instruments, and the Crystal Children’s Choir sang Jasmine Flower by Bay Area composer Gang Situ.
Sunday afternoon Family Concert. San Francisco Symphony Celebrates Chinese New Year.
Dragons Dancers Captivate.
Crystal Children's Choir.
What makes this a must for families is that after the concert the Symphony Hall’s foyers are turned into a child’s fantasy. Youngsters could watch Asian dancers perform, visit fortune tellers, attempt Chinese calligraphy, listen to traditional Chinese music, make balloon animals, get their faces painted, and snack on Chinese tea and dim sum.

What a wonderful way to entice future generations to become Symphony supporters!
Lots of Flavor. Concert for the Children.
Body art for the young at heart.
After concert music.
Young ones are the center of attention.
Learning Calligraphy. Look!
Balloon creatures.
Dancers Perform.
For the adults, there was also the sold-out Imperial Dinner, fit for any emperor and his lady. Festooned with butterflies and red lanterns, the setting recalled Raising the Red Lantern, the beautiful film by director Zhang Yimou. (He’s the one who produced the awe-inspiring opening and closing ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.)

This is a celebration not to be missed! Consider a San Francisco visit starting February 14, 2010, when the Year of the Tiger begins. The weather is ideal, the events are enticing and you’ll have an experience you won’t forget. Unless I’m in Shanghai or Hong Kong celebrating, I’ll be there, too!
Elegant Imperial Dinner.
The end of a lovely day and evening.
Photographs by Drew Altizer; Corbett Lee, and Jeanne Lawrence. New York-based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.