Going Hog Wild For Chinese New Year

A mother-daughter team creates another Chinese New Year display that turns Hawaii National Bank into a magnet for school groups

Susan Sunderland
Friday - February 09, 2007
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Melvina Chang Nakao is taking over the New Year display from her mother Evelyn Chang
Melvina Chang Nakao is taking over the New Year
display from her mother Evelyn Chang

It’s that time of year when Hawaii National Bank is mobbed by people in the main branch lobby. It has nothing to do with mortgage loans or free checking accounts. The major attraction is a huge table draped in red linen with Chinese food and artifacts.

Is bank CEO Warren Luke throwing a Chinese party for the masses?

Well, sort of.

Located at the corner of Smith and North King streets, the “home of warm-hearted bankers"is a magnet for visitors on Chinese New Year. It’s become a tradition for celebrants who want to learn about the Chinese culture and awaken their Asian consciousness.

Whether you’re Chinese or not, you are fascinated by the occasion because it’s part of living in Hawaii’s melting pot of races. When one group throws a party, we all celebrate.

If it’s February, it’s Chinese New Year, the Year of the Boar. That’s 4705 on the Chinese calendar. People born in the year of the boar (1911,1923,1935,1947,1959,1971, 1983,1995,2007) are said to be kind, generous and courageous.And 2007 is especially auspicious - the Year of the Golden Boar, which comes only once in 600 years. Astrologists tell us that the Golden Boar portends exceptionally good fortune and prosperity.

Melvina Chang Nakao is taking over the New Year display from her mother Evelyn Chang
Melvina Chang Nakao is taking over the
New Year display from her mother
Evelyn Chang

Longtime bank employee Evelyn Chang, 81 years young and born in the Year of the Ox, reigns over the bank’s festivities.She is the inspiration and ambassador for the bank’s award-winning table display that 20 years ago won first place in a downtown merchants’contest and has never been topped since.In fact, they discontinued the contest shortly thereafter.

Now the elaborate table display of Chinese items is a cultural and educational attraction for residents and visitors.Schools book field trips to the bank months in advance. “They start calling in August for reservations,” says Chang’s daughter Melvina Chang Nakao,bank assistant vice president who helps her mother with the display.“Other people know about it through word of mouth. We don’t advertise it.”

More than 3,000 students from Kahala to Kapolei are hosted at the bank in Chinatown with two Chinese lions at the entrance.

“Know how to tell male and female lions?” Chang asks her young visitors. Teachers get a bit uneasy waiting for the answer. “The male has a ball under his paw, and the female has a cub that’s playing.”

She once asked, “Where does rice come from?” while showing an actual plant. A lad answered, “from the pot.” His classmate insisted, it comes “from Safeway.”

Such delightful exchanges keep the communications lively and memorable,Chang claims. After accumulating hundreds of thank you notes and reports from students, she knows “we’re getting through to them.”

For Kamehameha Schools,this is an annual field trip for second-graders studying China in class. Bobbie Perry, an educational assistant, says there will be four groups of 20 students at the bank on Feb. 23.

“Our field trip to Chinatown always starts at Hawaii National Bank because of its beautiful display. It’s a way to enrich the study of China,” she says.

The table display that was once a tiny folding table has grown in dimension and scope over the years. On it is a collection of items that Chang and Nakao bring out every year, with some variations.

Paper lanterns and dragons, umbrellas, painted vases and more are dusted off and placed in an attractive arrangement on the

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