Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Sales up for Chinese New Year's

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jonathan Lau strolled along Maunakea Street yesterday in an unsuccessful search for sweetened squash, carrots and lily root to celebrate the start of the Chinese new year today.

"Everybody's sold out," said Lau, an architect with Group 70 International Inc.

Artist vendor Zong Chen Liu does Chinese calligraphy on North King Street for customers celebrating Chinese New Year's. Banners carrying wishes for health and fortune are also popular to ring in the year.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

On the eve of the traditional three-day New Year's celebration, Chinatown merchants yesterday were enjoying a 20 percent to 40 percent bump in sales as last-minute shoppers scooped up roast duck, red-and-gold blouses and dresses, fireworks and papier-m‰ché lion heads the size of softballs.

The boost in business came just in time for produce businesses like Sue Lau's family-owned Cheap Market.

Recent rain storms damaged the family's Kahuku crops and hurt sales, sending them plummeting about 30 percent, Lau said. But shoppers have swarmed Cheap Market since Saturday, particularly looking for different types of lettuce to welcome the new year.

Lau held up a bag full of Romaine lettuce and said, "This means get rich and stay healthy. Over here — Chinese celery is for the younger generation to work hard and listen to the older generation."

The food and products that shoppers buy in Chinatown for their New Year's celebrations are as diverse as their individual family traditions, based on region and religion, said Cynthia Ning, associate director of the University of Hawai'i's Center for Chinese Studies.

"China is such a huge place and Chinese New Year's customs can vary by village, by family, by township, by county," Ning said. "It's like asking an American what happens for Christmas. You may have a Christmas tree. You may go to church. You may drink eggnog. You may exchange presents. But if you ask any individual what you do on Christmas Day, it varies."

Danny Au, the owner of Bo Wah Trading Co., won't open his store on Maunakea Street today. Instead, he plans to visit the Kuan Yin Temple and then drive around O'ahu in a family tradition of good luck for the upcoming year.

They close one day of the year and that's Chinese New Year's Day, Au said.

Yesterday, Au looked over a line of customers waiting to buy canned cookies, peanuts and red-and-gold colored banners carrying wishes for health and good fortune.

"Everybody waits until the last minute," Au said.

One of his customers, Lorraine Au, who is not related, had searched for the sold-out sweetened fruit. She finally picked up a packet of red-and-gold envelopes to carry money for her dinner hosts tonight.

"I've been buying roast duck and all of that stuff," Au said. "Even though I'm not making the dinner, you don't go empty-handed."

Jaynel Oshiro, an advertising agency project manager, stood in line at the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory across from Kekaulike Market, to ask owners Alice and Foo Ying Chee if they'll be open today.

Oshiro, who is half Chinese, wants to buy fresh look funn today for the family's traditional New Year's dinner tonight at the Moanalua home of her grandmother, Janice Young.

Like many other Chinatown merchants, Alice and Foo Ying Chee never take a day off. They're open every day of the year and work from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m.

They still plan to mark the new year today by cooking gao and jai for their employees after closing time. And they've reserved part of one wall to hang red-and-gold paper Chinese banners from celebrations past.

"That one means 'happy new year'," Alice said, pointing at one and then another. "This one says 'long life'."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8085.