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Asian Delight
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Take a trip to the exotic Orient without ever leaving Savannah.

The Tenth Annual Asian Festival is this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Savannah Civic Center. Admission is free.

The City of Savannah’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the city’s Asian community present the festival each year, which features Asian food, dance, music, workshops, martial arts and more.

The countries that will be represented include China, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Korea, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan and the Polynesian Islands of Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand and Tahiti.

The chairwoman for the Asian Festival is Pang y Royals, also known as Kim. She is with the Korean Association and organizes the stage performance, Korean food and cultural booth, Korean Games and the Tea Ceremony workshop.

The Asian Festival committee has worked about six months to put the festival together, Kim says. “It takes a lot of volunteers,” she says.

“We will have all different food and culture booths, where we will have demonstrations from the individual countries,” Kim says. “There will be an educational hands-on workshop in Chinese calligraphy and painting, a tea ceremony, bamboo pole dancers and all kinds of things.”

The Korean Association puts its portion of the festival together with the help of about 50 volunteers. “We sell food, hand out literature and do cultural activities,” Kim says.

“We take a lot of things to show to people,” she says. “Soaps, candles -- we show them the things that we make.”

Kim came to Savannah in October, 1974. “I came to this country in 1973 and lived in Columbus, Ohio for a year,” she says.

Kim and her late husband then moved to Savannah, where one of their children was born. “My husband worked for the city police,” she says.

The success of the Asian Festival is due to the fascination Americans have for other cultures, Kim says. “They come and see different cultures and the things we have,” she says. “They bring their children so they can experience the different cultures. The world is getting smaller and smaller.”

Kim says she is thankful for “all the people who allow us to be who we are.”

“I personally think this is good for us,” she says. “It helps us understand more about this country, too. God made us all one. We all have the same heart.”

Headlining the stage performances this year is Matsuriza, a Japanese Taiko drum group. “My husband started drumming when he was little in Japan,” says Yuko Ishikura, who is a member of the group. “All his family did it.”

There are 12 members of Matsuriza, and the Ishikuras have many students. “Drumming is not easy,” she says. “We are still learning. We practice every week.”

“Matsuriza” means “festival drumming,” making the group a perfect fit for the Asian Festival, It made an earlier appearance in Savannah in 2002.

But the group’s daytime job is performing at Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla. “We meet many people,” Ishikura says. “We tell them things about our culture. It is a very good experience.”

The Thai Association has been participating in the Asian Festival for the past nine years. “We sell Thai food and do Thai dance,” says spokeswoman Val Prompalin.

The association will offer delights such as spring rolls, Pad Thai, beef and chicken teriyaki, chicken curry, cucumber salad and more. “It takes two days to prepare,” Prompalin says.

Visitors to the Asian Festival are always impressed with the Thai food. “They always ask questions,” Prompalin says. “They ask if I have a restaurant.” (No, she doesn’t, but she guides visitors to the city’s Thai restaurants.)

Prompalin is best known for her Pad Thai. “It has been in the newspaper,” she says. “I am always asked to give the recipe for it.”

A native of Thailand, Prompalin came to the United States 20 years ago when she was 12. She lives in Hinesville.

After hearing about the Asian Festival, Prompalin got in touch with the Department of Cultural Affairs. “I’ve been involved with it ever since its second year,” she says.

“I just like to represent my country,” Prompalin says. “I like people to see how beautiful our outfits are and learn how good our food is. I hope everyone comes and sees us.”

This is the fifth year the Children of Polynesia have participated in the festival. “We do a number of dance routines from Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand and Tahiti,” says Reba Maloata.

“Last year, we also set up a food booth,” she says. “This year, we will sell Kahlua pig.”

Yes, the pig will be cooked underground, just as it would be in Polynesia. “That is our project for the coming week,” Maloata says.

Last year, the Children of Polynesia served Pu Pu Platters, which have a variety of items on one plate. “We found out it was too much food,” Maloata says.

“People are looking for samples,” she says. “We did well, but we actually had a lot left over. It was too much diversity.

“A lot of folks asked for pig last year,” Maloata says.

The Children of Polynesia are a hit each year. “We personally just love the whole festival,” Maloata says. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for the children. We get so many good reviews when we perform around town.”

The Children of Polynesia continues to grow in number. “With parents and all, there are about 40 of us,” Maloata says. “We are trying to keep our children familiar with their culture because we are so far away from home.”

Most members are associated with the military or are retired from it, Maloata says. “We’ve been doing this about 13 years, not just the festival, but going to private parties,” she says.

Maloata originally is from Hawaii, but was raised in Ohio. “I graduated high school in Ohio, but went back to the islands to live for a while,” she says. “Then I met my husband, who is Samoan. He was reassigned to Fort Stewart, so I came here.”

The group is active almost year-round. “We take a break in December and January, then start up again at the end of January,” Maloata says.

The Children of Polynesia also appear at the Small World Festival held in Hinesville every year. Performances must be planned around school schedules.

“Most of our dancers are school-age,” Maloata says. “We really appreciate the community coming together and allowing us to be a part of this great festival.”

Khurasheed Queshi represents Pakistan at the festival. “I do Pakistani culture, clothing and a food booth,” she says.

Queshi’s daughter does henna art, painting intricate designs on people’s hands. “It’s very popular,” Queshi says. “We started eight or nine years ago when no one knew about it. Now it has spread everywhere.”

Queshi begins preparing for the festival early. “It takes a long time,” she says.

“I have to import stuff from Pakistan,” Queshi says. “I make my own clothes. It takes five to six months to get ready.”

It’s a lot of work for Queshi, but she loves doing it. “I think it is in my nature to do these things,” she says. “I love to do something for my country.

The Chinese Benevolent Association is an important part of the festival. “It was originally formed many years ago by a small group of Chinese merchants who worked every day, 14 to 16 hours a day, and had little time to socialize,” Dean Lee says.

“The association would help them on medical questions, legal questions, immigration and such things as filling out Social Security forms.”

Now the group is purely social and has its own clubhouse. “We have a Tai Chi group and a Chinese school,” Lee says.

“Some of our students are children from China who have been adopted by Caucasian couples,” he says. “We have annual parties, and the clubhouse gives us a place to gather.”

In addition to a food booth, the association will have a calligraphy booth. “We will offer ribbons and name tags featuring names and sayings written in Chinese,” Lee says.

In the past, association members cooked the food themselves. “Lately, we’ve been soliciting donations from various Chinese restaurants,” Lee says.

“i’m told that years ago we used to have huge egg roll sales, but it would take the entire club weeks to do,” he says. “The problem we have now is that all the young people have moved out to the big cities. The only ones left are senior citizens, and we can only do so much.”

The money raised from the sale of food and other items helps fund the association, but that’s not why the group participates. “We do it primarily to further our culture a little bit,” Lee says. “It gives people from other nations a chance to learn about us.”

Volunteers representing the Philippines will have a food booth and workshop. “There will be dancing,” says Enrique Lacanilao. “It takes about 20 people, including the officers of the association to do it all.”

“We are grateful to the city leaders,” Kim says. “Come on out and join us and see what it’s like on the other side of the world.”

The Tenth Annual Asian Festival will be held Saturday, June 18 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Savannah Civic Center. Admission is free.

For more information call Cultural Affairs at 651-6417 or visit