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Celebrating Chinese New Year on Maui

This is the Year of the Rat, and also, the story of how I had my first ever home cooked Chinese dinner.

There is a large Chinese population on Maui having settled originally to help lay the irrigation system bringing water from the mountains. Now second, and even third generations, remain or return for family events such as this one at the Maui Mall.

Many Chinese families reside in Up Country Kula, where I stayed. Often as I was walking up the hill on Cross Road, a waving hand out of a car window would greet me. I would not be a stranger for long. Hawaii has got to be the friendliest place on the planet.

On Sunday when the society members gathered for a potluck meal and a little conversation, my husband and I joined them thanks to an invite through our home owner. What a treat that I will not forget.

Every dish was prepared lovingly by one of the ladies, and as I spooned portions onto my plate, each stood near me while explaining what ingredients were combined into familar dishes considered their personal specialities. You and I both know that home cooking is best, and the freshness of vegetables, herbs and meats cannot be surpassed. Smelling different combinations of spices was amazing that brought forward unique flavors - lemon and ginger in particular - combined with steamed rice and noodles.

What I loved best of all was how the ladies didn't hover while we ate; they stood nearby or sat down at another table, and waited for our approval.

A lot of the folks were of the older generation and they told us about their children and grandchildren successfully working at careers all over the United States. Conversation around the table brought all of us together in spirit.

How gracious the society was that afternoon, and they even took us upstairs to their shrine.

We left with a huge bag of lemons and grateful hearts.

The celebration at the mall lasted all day, and I believe we stayed so as to not to miss a thing. The warm temperatures and cool ocean breezes made it comfortable being outside knowing full well that is was snowing back home. There were Tai Chi and cooking demos, musical entertainment and a children's beauty pageant with contestants outfitted in traditional clothing.

My favorite part was when the dragons appeared with a burst of firecrackers in the background to the excitement of one and all.

I saw these big-eyed, dancing creatures take ... by feeding it a small donation in a red envelope (called hong bao) and I waited my turn, too, until I ever-so gently fed my offering into the giant mouth.

Chinese dragons are a symbol of China's culture, and they are believed to bring good luck to people, therefore the longer the dragon is in the dance, the more luck it will bring to the community. The dragons are believed to possess qualities that include great power, dignity, fertility, wisdom and auspiciousness.

Living among the local population on Maui and not part of the tourist area where things are all familiar, definitely enabled me to have a new appreciation for others.

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