the garden island
KALAPAKI BEACH — The gong of the Chinese cymbol perked ears and the welcome of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, was under way.
“We did this every year when I was the GM on Maui,” said Bill Countryman, general manager of the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club. “The Au Shao Lin Martial Arts Club would come each year and welcome the Chinese New Year with the traditional lion dance and kung fu demonstrations.”
Countryman said in Wailuku, there is a well-known Chinese restaurant where Au would perform his “Dragon’s Whiskers” kung fu, working dough that stretches throughout the exercise.
When it was long, he would toss it in the air, and the elongated dough would crash to the floor in tiny pieces that resemble dragon whiskers, Countryman said. These were then prepared for people to enjoy as part of the Chinese New Year celebration.
To ring in the first day of the Chinese New Year, the Marriott offered guests calligraphy and cooking demonstrations, a full menu of Chinese cuisine at the Kukui‘s Restaurant, and the traditional lion dance performed by Au’s martial arts group.
“The associates’ cafeteria is also decorated in keeping with the theme,” Countryman said. “We also have a special Chinese menu for the associates today.”
Festivities began earlier in the day with first of two appearances by the lion, which offered blessings to each of the resort’s shops and businesses on a tour of the hotel that ended at the pool.
Cameras and cell phones avidly recorded the cultural vignette as the lion accepted lai sih, or red packets, from Countryman and numerous guests that lined the lion’s path.
The lai sih, also spelled lai see, is a traditional red envelope passed out during the Chinese New Year from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors.
These envelopes always contain even-numbered amounts of money, as odd numbers are given during funerals. Since the number 4 is considered bad luck, money in the red envelopes never adds up to $4. The number 6 is considered lucky and $6 is commonly found in the lai sih.
The resort upped the ante, hanging a head of lettuce with a red envelope containing $88 in the main walkway through Kukui’s for the lion.
Earlier in the day, Kaua‘i artists Kyle Chew and Patricia Yu led a calligraphy demonstration in the breezeway, teaching guests how to write their names in Chinese characters.
Sous chef Ray Montemayor whipped up batches of Spicy Shrimp on Singing Rice for guests drawn in by smell of cooking shrimp wafting from a special tent near the hostess station. Once dinner got under way, the tent became a de facto buffet station, offering up special dim sum.
But the day was perhaps summed up best earlier, when Sierra West, upon finishing her calligraphy, dipped a finger in red ink to sign her piece and exclaimed, “Kung Hee Fat Choy! This is fun!”