SCRANTON — ‘Guo nian hao!’
That’s how you say ‘Happy New Year!’ in Chinese. And that’s what was celebrated at 509 Brennan Hall of The University of Scranton on March 4. Scranton Chinese School held its eighth annual Chinese New Year Festival to commemorate the beginning of the year of the dog. The room of Brennan Hall was decorated with dark red tablecloths and balloons. Students, of either half or full-blooded Chinese heritage, sat with parents and teachers as they watched an educational Power Point presentations, which taught the culture’s zodiac signs, as well as a few phrases in Chinese.
“There are more kids this year,” said Lily Liu, who teaches an advanced class at Scranton Chinese School.
Shu Qiu, a teacher of the Scranton Chinese School and librarian of the Dalton Public Library, and Dr. David White both hosted this event. White spoke about the program in English while Qiu translated what he said in Chinese.
“I think it’s good for the community,” said White. “We have the community exposed to Chinese culture. Many of the parents work or teach here at the university.”
White invited Dr. Joe Dreisbach, interim provost of The University of Scranton, to say a few words.
“This is a big, big event for you, and it happens because of your commitments to your children’s education,” Dreisbach said. “At Scranton (University of Scranton), we understand your philosophy of educating your child. We have wonderful weather for a wonderful celebration.”
Dreisbach also spoke on behalf of the university’s president.
The program continued with a gift distribution in which students, teachers and children received gift bags prepared by Scranton Chinese School. It is a community service project conducted by several members from The University of Scranton and local communities. Each gift bag included a fancy red pocket, which contained real Chinese money, a “Year of the Dog” necklace, a bracelet with Chinese character, candies, among other items.
Students had a chance to recite or perform what they leaned at Scranton Chinese School. Students in teacher Yu Wang’s class sang the Chinese New Year Song (in the same tune as American folk song “Clemetine”). Zoey Shuyi Liang, who teaches pinyin — the foundation of Chinese pronunciation — had her students perform a sing-along to learn Chinese with a Power Point presentation with colorful cartoon characters revealing lyrics in Chinese and English.
“It’s lots of fun to watch the parents see what the children learn,” said Wang.
Students who learned musical instruments also performed at the festival. Jefferson Twp. resident Rachel Bonebrake and her brother Jonathan played a Chinese piece called “Greet the Rising Sun (Le Ping)” on the recorder. Rachel currently plays piano but misses playing the recorder so she decided to perform on that instead. Jonathan has been playing recorder for three years. They were accompanied by their father Jeremy Bonebrake on guitar and musician Carsten Bjornstad, who also played guitar. Music students also included Saige Kleyman and Hansen Zhang, who played violin, and Sylvan Wu and Victoria Tomaino who played piano.
Over 120 people attended the event, including participants from various ethnic groups, such as Taiwanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Egyptian, and other middle Eastern countries.
Zhongcheng Xiong, a professor of The University of Scranton who was also at the festival, is a volunteer teacher at Abington Heights Middle School. She teaches the MathCounts program, in which middle school students qualified for the upcoming state competition in Harrisburg on March 23-24.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to know the Chinese tradition and for the kids to know Chinese because it’s important,” she said.
A visiting scholar from Beijing was amazed by her experience at the Chinese New Year festival, saying that a small town like Scranton can be very internationalized.
“This is the eighth Chinese New Year festival organized by Scranton Chinese School for the school families as well as for families from the local Asian communities and beyond,” said Dr. Shuhua Fan, principal of Scranton Chinese School and associate history professor of The University of Scranton. “It has become kind of a Scranton tradition for Asian and Chinese communities and others who are interested in learning about Chinese culture. It is an annual festival for us to celebrate the most important Chinese holiday.”