Chinatown Highlights Its Culture For 74th Annual Moon Festival
But it feels even more hectic with artists, food vendors, performers and master craftsmen settling in to prepare for in celebration of the 74th Chinatown Moon Festival.
Entering the central plaza from the memorial arch on Hill Street, passing through the crowd, martial arts performers waved a huge green triangle flag, which says “East Wind in Luo Sheng” in Chinese. “Luo Sheng” stands for L.A. in Cantonese.
They stopped at the center where the main stage is located.
Despite its great location, the center stage where martial arts, acrobatics and music took place war not the most popular choice for people coming to the event. Things that really made this event lively lied in the back alley to the south of the stage.
Shan S. Ichiyanagi, a candy sculpting master, attracted dozens of people in front of his small demonstration desk.
“Wow, it’s hot,” an elderly lady said when she touched Ichiyanagi’s candy container swiftly.
The candy container is a black six-grid box with heating inside this rougly the size of a six-pack of canned drinks.
The soft sticky semi-transparent hot candy glittering under the light looked more like jello. Though there were only six colors: red, green, dark blue and three types of yellow, it was good enough for Ichiyanagi to make anything he wanted.
He quickly rotated a thin stick in the candy and soon got a green candy ball on it. He moved forward a small step and leaned toward the desk lamp. He pinched the top of the ball a bit, gently twisted the middle, and nipped it somewhere. Within seconds, the candy came to have a shape of something.
“Oh, dragon!” A girl marveled, clinging to the edge of the table, her eyes following Ichiyanagi’s every movement.
The other two girls beside her were also staring at Ichiyanagi, mouths open, holding their breath. Each of them held a half-eaten moon cake in their hands, but forgot to eat it for a while.
“It’s not dragon. It’s candy,” Ichiyanagi said, his arms moving in rhythm, like an orchestra conductor.
“Then it’s dragon candy,” she said.
“Yes, dragon candy,” Ichiyanagi smiled to her, and picked up a small paper fan to fan the dragon candy to cool it down and keep it from melting.
“I’m Japanese,” he said to the crowd, still fanning while moving the stick in all directions. “But this is from China. Some Chinese masters invented it more than 1,200 years ago. Then about 500 years ago, many Chinese specialists were invited to Japan and they brought it to Japan.”
Ichiyanagi, who donned a black shirt and gold vest didn’t conceal his pride at all as he performed in an elegant manner.
“I’ve been doing this for 38 years,” he said as he glanced at the crowd and quickly got back to his work. “You can ask for anything, anything you like.”
Ichiyanagi said he usually does candy sculpting for celebrity events, and even for royalty.
“It looks like real,” Xu Xiangtian, an elderly lady from Sichuan Province, China said. “It’s not only great art. He performs well. He interacts with the audience.”
“Xie Xie!” He replied.
“I’ve come here for more than 20 years,” she said. “It’s the first time I saw this art.”
Next to Ichiyanagi’s desk was the Chinese calligraphy demonstration. Though his performance was not as fancy as Ichiyanagi’s, the calligraphy master attracted a sizable crowd.
He didn’t talk, and almost had no contact in any form with the audience. Wearing a piece of grey mandarin, he seemed to have a calm air of serenity about him.
He slowly rolled out the paper, and cut it to the size he wanted. He picked up the writing brush, and gracefully adjusted himself.
“You need an elegant home but not a big one. You don’t need a lot of flowers if you have one that is fragrant.” He wrote on the paper.
He held the piece of paper high, and examined it carefully, paying no attention to the surroundings at all. Then he put it down, put a paperweight on it, and turned to the next piece.
Across the alley, food stalls were even more popular. Steamed shaomai, spring rolls, fried glutinous rice balls with sesame, steamed rice rolls and beef noodles and every kind of dim sum you would see in a Cantonese morning tea. And of course, moon cakes for the Moon Festival.
“Try this curry fish ball,” the food host introduced the popular Asian cuisine with passion. “Our chef is from Hong Kong where it’s extremely popular. She is sharing her homeland with you.”
As night got darker, the music stage began to rock under the serene moonlight. Kids danced and jumped in front of the stage, many of them wearing cheongsam, a traditional Chinese clothing, bright-colored and fitting well.
One of them, 7-year-old Sascha Friend, was adopted from China when she was only 15 months old. Before her arrival, her family had never been to a moon festival.
“We had Moon Festival every year,” Sascha clinging to her mother. “Because it’s my culture.”
“Our culture,” her mother, Christin Friend, smiled. “We are a Chinese-American family now.”
Reach staff reporter Kay Chinn here.