Sino the Times

For Wen Chyi Chiu and the nearly 100,000 Chinese immigrants spread out across the Valley, Phoenix's annual celebration of the Chinese New Year brings a small taste of the party halfway around the world. And if it weren't for the efforts of Chiu, a 28-year-old native of Taiwan who has lived in Phoenix for about 20 years, the weeklong event likely wouldn't be as authentic as it is.

"We try to help the local Chinese community celebrate -- and to bring an atmosphere -- like they were back home," says Chiu, the soft-spoken vice president of the 14th annual Phoenix Chinese Week committee, which worked with the Valley's sister city -- Chengdu, China, the Sichuan province's capital of nearly 10 million -- in organizing the event. "In Taiwan, obviously you do feel the Chinese New Year more than you do here. There's no school. The event lasts for more than a month. It's almost like an everyday event," says Chiu, adding that while most of her family still lives in Taiwan, the local celebration helps to make her feel closer.

So, what's the difference between celebrating the Chinese zodiac's Year of the Ram in 2003 and the Year of the Monkey (which -- if you're into marking your Chinese zodiac with fellow celebrities -- belongs to Will Smith, Elizabeth Taylor and Jennifer Aniston, to name a few) in '04? Well, nothing much, except a little more "fun" -- symbolically, of course. "Every Chinese New Year is about beginning the year with luck and prosperity," says Chiu. "And the Monkey represents fun. It represents independence, mischievousness and high-spiritedness." All of which begins Monday, February 2, with a showcase of local artists and members of the Chinese Institute of Fine Arts in the city's free exhibit at the Phoenix City Hall Atrium, on display through February 6.

Then, considered to be the highlight of the week, the Culture and Cuisine Festival kicks off Friday, February 6, at the Chinese Cultural Center, 668 North 44th Street, with opening festivities at noon. The Dragon Dance, martial arts demonstrations, musical performances, and a Chinese traditional puppet show highlight the annual event, where admission is also free, but parking costs $2. It continues through Sunday, February 8.

On Saturday, February 7, at the Orpheum Theatre, the Chengdu Gingko Children's Art Troupe performs its Chinese Acrobatic and Variety Show. The troupe currently has 400 members, ranging from 6 to 16 years old, and performs in traditional costumes. VIP seating for the show is $25; general admission is $15; children 12 and under get in for $10. Tickets can be purchased through the Phoenix Civic Center box office at 602-262-7272.

Finally, a Chinese New Year banquet finishes up the celebration, beginning with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. Sunday at Great Wall Restaurant, 5055 North 35th Avenue. The 10-course dinner starts at 7 p.m. Admission is $30. For reservations or information, call 623-931-7718 or 623-937-5196.

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Joe Watson