Sunday, February 06, 2005

It was Pandilerium!

We coulda been killed...or worse!

For the last 8 years the LA chapter of Families with Children from China have held a banquet at the Empress Pavilion restaurant to celebrate the coming of the Chinese New Year. What started with 35 people in the first year has grown to over 700 for this year. We actually found out about the banquet back before Christmas. Being our usual prompt selves, we didn't send in the reservation and check until the week it was due. Big Mistake! The day I mailed the form and payment, Michelle got an email saying the banquet was sold out! There was a waiting list of over 50 people at that time. Too bad, our loss! There's always next year.

The next Monday, we attended a talk about Adoption and Racism that was held in LA. While we were there, we struck up a conversation with Susan who happened to be running the Chinese New Year banquet. She asked if we were attending and Michelle replied, "Sadly, no...we are one of the 50 people on the waiting list." Susan told us that was not possible, that if it was just the two of us they could place us. It was larger parties of 4 or 5 that they could not seat. She got out her list and found our names and said we were in. There was a lot going on at that event and I wasn't sure I heard her correctly. When we got home, Michelle sent email just to confirm one more time that we were on the list. Susan emailed back and not only confirmed that we were on the list but asked if we wanted to come down early and help set up. Good thing I didn't cancel that check I mailed!

When we got to the restaurant, after really bad directions from Yahoo Maps, we were put to work right away folding programs, numbering tables, placing items on the tables, etc. We were at table 39 with two other families. One, Don & Stephanie had their little girl who they adopted one year earlier. Her name was Moya and she was really cute and a very good eater. She was very well behaved and like all the other kids there in sensory overload. Moya's grandparents from Germany were also at our table. The other couple at our table was Bruce & Linda who just moved to Southern California from Berkeley. Their daughter Mei Ling is 3 years old and they are expecting a referral for their second daughter any day now. Mei Ling didn't like all the loud noise at the banquet and seemed uncertain of the whole thing. She was very cute though!

Entertainment, there was entertainment! First, a nice lady who balanced things on her head and spun dishes. Second, was a man who did acrobatics, balanced things on his head, and spun dishes. Are you starting to sense a theme?? The big entertainment was the Lion dancers and drummers. The lions are used to help scare away evil spirits before the new year. They ran around the room wiggling their ears and batting their eyes at all the kids...most of whom didn't want to have anything to do with the lions. After their run about the room, they ended up on the dance floor where they jumped around and threw orange slices and cabbage; the significance of which we still have not grasped. Sort of a Chinese pinata...or something.

Another traditional event at Chinese New Year is to set off lots of firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. As we were inside a building and LA County has a strict fire code, the FCC staff rolled out huge sheets of bubble wrap that the kids could then jump up and down on to simulate the firecrackers. The kids loved it! And it really did sound like firecrackers. This went on for probably 15 minutes. The bubble wrap was popping and the drummers were drumming and my head was pounding. This seemed like a good time to leave.

Now for the good part...the food. 10 courses of Chinese food, and we weren't even hungry two hours later! Started with potstickers with shrimp, mushrooms and pork. Next up was the fried dumplings with pork, shrimp and assorted seafood. Mine had eel! Yuck!!! Next was the Vegetarian Lo Mein, very yummy. Next was BBQ pork- fabulous. Next was beef and veggies in spicy black bean sauce - heaven! Then came a questionable dish: Pan seared shrimp in a sweet sauce served with honey glazed walnuts. This turned out to be divine. This was unlike anything we've ever had and would certainly have again. Much weight could be gained here. Next up was tofu with mushrooms - very tasty. Next was lemon chicken - not bad, not good. More like chicken fingers with lemon syrup. Odd! Next was garlic veggies and loads of them. Michelle partook of them liberally. (For those of you who doubt that Partook is an actual word, like I did, please see the dictionary and you too will be forced to admit that Michelle is right...again!) Dessert was the last course...lemon tarts and fortune cookies. Yummy! The whole thing was accompanied by sticky rice, crunchy noodles and tea. We were stuffed!

The best part of the whole evening was looking at all the cute little girls running around in their traditional Chinese outfits. They were all ages...from brand new, just home to 12 years old. All too adorable for words. As suspected we were among the youngest people in the room. All in all a very enjoyable evening that we hope to be able to repeat again next year with our daughter in tow.

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