Year of the Snake arrives

SALEM – Four-year-old Jolena Hylton bravely fanned a furry red lion with a colorful Chinese fan before shrinking in mock fear when her dad donned the costume and pretended to swallow her.

The Year of the Snake had arrived, nine days earlier than the Jan. 10 calendar date.

Four-year-old Jolena Hylton of Salem fearlessly fans the costumed lion before the Lion Dance at Roanoke College's Lunar New Year celebration on Jan. 31. Johnny Hsu, as the head, and Christopher Spoon are the members of the Shao-lin Dragons Demo Team who made the lion dance that day. Photo by Meg Hibbert

The occasion was the fifth annual Lunar New Year Celebration at Roanoke College on Jan. 31, and the Wortman Ballroom was packed with about 200 students who are studying Chinese and Japanese language, plus faculty, staff, families and friends from the community.

Assistant History Professor Dr. Stella Xu coordinated the celebration with help from Rebecca Chang and her language students and other departments and introduced Roanoke Valley’s International Ambassador Pearl Fu. Fu taught the audience how to clasp hands together, bow slightly from the waist and greet each other with “Kung Hei Fat Choi,” the equivalent of happy new year.

“If you say that in a Chinese restaurant, you will get free egg rolls,” Fu told them.

Rebecca Chang’s Chinese language class sang a happy spring song.

Japanese language students performed a pop Japanese song, Ponponpon. Student Adrian Gillum from the Virgin Islands – who speaks both Mandarin and Japanese – explained his Japanese research study project that will compare Japanese leadership structures in post-World War II. He plans to present his findings in the fall in North Carolina.

Student Bert Miller told what it was like studying in Hangzhou with other Lutheran college students and being a minority on the Beijing subway.

Four of Xu’s students who took part in a Freeman Foundation Grant study of the Silk Road in China showed photographs of their journey, including visits to the Terra Cotta Warriors and traveling across the Gobi desert by train and camel.

After songs in Mandarin and Japanese, summaries of students’ international study trips and a many-coursed Chinese feast catered from the Red Palace restaurant, then came the feathered and sequined lion.

The traditional Lion Dance was performed by the Shao-Lin Dragon Demo Team that also demonstrated Asian martial arts. The men making the lion rear up and slink down were Johnny Hsu wearing the head and Christopher Spoon bringing up the rear.