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BEHIND THE SCENES / ORANGE COUNTY

Asia Major

January 29, 1998

Ready. Set. Roar. The Year of the Tiger looks like it's off to a good start.

The lunar new year, the Asian holiday that began Wednesday with the first new moon after the sun entered the astrological sign of Aquarius, is being celebrated at Westminster Mall through Feb. 15.

Here are some of the highlights of the Asian Festival of Southern California:

* A magic act with the payoff of a 300-pound Siberian tiger appearing on stage.

* A menagerie of wild animals from the Asian rain forest, including a Japanese snow macaque, a 13-foot-long Burmese python, an Indonesian monitor and an Asian striped possum.

* A martial arts display including hwa rang do, which combines kung fu, karate, judo, hap ki do and jujitsu.

* Free money--new $1 bills tucked inside 500 lucky red envelopes.

Saturday's opening ceremony will feature the Tien Hoang Dragon Team of Westminster High School as it tries to frighten away evil spirits with the dragon dance. The Jin Jin Chinese Youth Orchestra of Southern California will perform on the zither, bamboo flute, pi-pa, er-hu and yangchin. And the Cathay Future Children Art Troupe of Tianjin, China, will have its U.S. debut. The 6- to 13-year-olds will perform folk dances and the ballet.

For the first time, the Asian Festival will extend to the Huntington Beach Art Center, which will show Eleanor Coppola's "A Visit to China's Miao Country" on Feb. 8. Complementing the documentary will be an exhibition of embroidered and batik costumes and textiles from the rural areas of southwest China. For more information, call the museum at (714) 374-1650.

Steve Schwartz, who co-produced the festival with Catherine Yee Schwartz of Creative Performance and Resources in Huntington Beach, says: "We wanted to create a multicultural event that celebrates the contributions of Asian artists. All of our events are free and cultural-based. There are no booths selling food or carnival games."

Art is an important part of the event. Last Sunday, pre-new year festival-goers watched six artists at work. Calligrapher Jing Chen displayed tai chi movements as he drew characters on a 30-square-foot yellow linen canvas using 8-foot-tall brushes. The finished characters read: "An eagle in flight."

"This saying conjures strength and good luck," Schwartz says. "Both are symbolic of the new year."

The art fair continues this weekend, with some of the same artists as well as Christopher Ho on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A program of festival events is available at the mall information booth or by calling (714) 898-2559.

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