The Granite Bears rang in the Year of the Rooster in style Saturday night at a farewell event for a group of Chinese exchange students.
The 10 students’ last night in town, Jan. 28, happened to coincide with Chinese New Year, which is the culture’s most significant holiday, said Polly Long, who helps administrate the exchange program for the city school system.
In her welcoming remarks at the evening event held at First Baptist Church in Mount Airy, Long described Chinese New Year as a combination of our Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day with a touch of Thanksgiving.
So in addition to providing a proper send-off for the students who spent the past week with local hosts, Long and others wanted to make sure the youngsters had a taste of home on such an important holiday.
“I thought about how my son might feel being away on Christmas,” Long said. “We want you to have a Chinese New Year you won’t forget.”
About 90 people attended the program including the exchange students, host students and their families, as well as school administrators and local officials.
Long explained six important features of the holiday.
• The color red, which is considered lucky, is significant.
• Traditional foods eaten at Chinese New Year celebrations include dumplings and noodles. Long noodles are a symbol of longevity.
• Small red envelopes containing money are handed out to children as gifts.
• Lucky trees
• A traditional lion dance
The event Saturday was designed to reflect as many of those aspects as possible.
The tables were decorated with red tablecloths with “lucky tree” centerpieces.
Oranges, a symbol of good life and happiness, formed the basis of the trees, which were decked with red hanging decorations and small envelopes.
Those in attendance were treated to a buffet provided by China One restaurant in Mount Airy.
The evening culminated with a traditional Chinese Lion Dance performed by a group from Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy in Mooresville and fireworks in the form of long sparklers handed out to everyone present.
“Those are two things that are difficult to have in Mount Airy,” Long said, referring to fireworks and a lion dance. “We’ll try to do the best we can.”
Judging by the happy faces lit up by swirling sparklers and the cellphone video attention to the lion dance, organizers pulled it off pretty well.
A slideshow projected onstage shared scenes of the exchange students’ busy week in Mount Airy.
Linda Chan, a Mount Airy High School senior who is bilingual, talked about her own family’s traditions for celebrating the new year.
“We usually sit together at one big table,” she said. “We all eat and talk and later on in the night the kids say ‘Happy New Year’ to everyone.”
Chan called the little red envelopes “pockets.”
“You would always receive one until you get married,” she explained.
The evening included guest speakers such as Dr. Kim Morrison, superintendent, Wendy Carriker, school board member, and Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe, who issued a proclamation.
Morrison praised the exchange program in her remarks.
“We know how important are international good will, understanding and cultural awareness,” she said.
Carriker thanked the guest students, telling them that once a bear, always a bear.
“It’s a very small world that we live in and we have to get along with each other,” she said. “The more we can get our students to understand global unity the better off our world will be.”
Gifts were given to Rachel Chen, the teacher who traveled with the students, as well as the host family mothers. Both the host and guest students were given photo album books documenting their shared experience.
Jeffrey Jingyu, a Chinese exchange student, performed three songs on the piano and Suzanne Stewart sang the song “For Good” from the musical “Wicked.”
Host and guest students also spoke about their experiences during the program.
Chan commented on her new friendship with exchange student Maxine Yixin.
“We had many adventures together,” she said, such as eating Mexican food, which was a first for Maxine, going to a bonfire and lots of girl talks.
The two “immediately clicked,” said Chan, who has two brothers.
“With Maxine here it kind of felt like I had a sister,” she said.
Another student, Simon Cawley, reflected on what he found most memorable about the experience.
“We think they don’t have anything in common,” because of certain cultural stereotypes, he said. “But when they get here and you talk to them you realize you’re a lot more alike than you are different.”
Yixin also spoke.
“People here are very friendly and enthusiastic,” she said, providing several examples of that from her week in town.
“Even when I met strangers they said ‘ni hao’,” which is “hello” in Mandarin Chinese, she said.
“It was the best trip I ever had and I really look forward to coming back here some day.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.