COLUMBIA — The hustling and bustling of Columbia Friends of China members and volunteers to add the finishing touches to Saturday’s luncheon formed a marked contrast to the president’s collected yet excited demeanor.
President Hsiao-Mei Wiedmeyer’s amiability proved infectious, as guest after guest filed into the Columbia Chinese Christian Church for the annual membership luncheon and awards ceremony.
The gathering was held not only to reflect on the past year, but also to discuss the coming one. The awards ceremony that recognized five teachers who spent more than 250 hours teaching Chinese culture was also part of the afternoon.
The sense of commitment exhibited by those teachers is commonplace in the group, members said.
Columbia Friends of China is "a catalyst for many things and a way to expand interest in it (Chinese culture)," member and newsletter editor Brian Gauler said. "Everybody who’s here is here because of a special interest."
After serving traditional Chinese foods, including noodles and stir-fry with beef and chicken, a review of the year's events showed how many interests the organization serves.
Programming in 2008 included traditional celebrations, such as Chinese New Year and the annual dumpling festival, and business and cultural seminars. These seminars covered topics such as international trade and instructions for arranging one’s chi.
For the coming months, the organization plans to attend and sponsor different events that expose both members and the Columbia community to Chinese culture.
The group hopes to bring a kite master to Columbia for a potential kite festival in 2010, though that event is still being planned. Friends of China member and honoree Lillian Sung will serve as Columbia’s ambassador to China, where she hopes to learn about kite-making. She plans to then bring back information for the possible festival.
"She will learn everything she’ll ever know about kite making," Wiedmeyer said.
Wiedmeyer also spoke of what he said is the organization’s strong commitment to cultural education, citing the success of language immersion classes at Gentry, Lange and Smithton middle schools.
"With everything being so global and China booming … it’s a benefit for anyone to speak Chinese," member Maureen Lowary said.
This focus on Chinese education became the day’s theme, as this year’s events, awards ceremony and cultural presentations provided guests with information about aspects of Chinese culture.
After presenting the honorees, three singers from Columbia Chinese Christian Church sang "Blessing," a praise song in Chinese.
The performances continued with member Susan Yinghui Zeng playing a traditional nature fishing boat song on the Chinese harp, or guzheng, after explaining what she called the calming benefits of the ancient instrument.
Chinese yo-yo demonstrator Chris Chen followed, though he said the room’s low ceiling inhibited his performance. Chen still managed to entertain the crowd with his performance that included three yo-yos.
Dancer Li Yang concluded the event by performing a spirited fan dance that incorporated movements from Tai Chi. Earlier, she performed a traditional Tibetan dance.
Wiedmeyer said the celebration was fascinating. "We have lots of talent right here in Columbia."
Member Wen Ou Yang agreed.
I'm "surprised that people have so much talent. I’m deeply impressed," she said.