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Taiwanese-Americans welcome lunar new year in Baltimore

Tim Chng and Valerie Chng-Lim of Baltimore pose with their children (left to right) Skye, 9, Sage, 11, and Seth, 13, at the lunar new year celebration hosted by the Taiwanese Association of America-Greater Baltimore & Columbia Chapter.
Tim Chng and Valerie Chng-Lim of Baltimore pose with their children (left to right) Skye, 9, Sage, 11, and Seth, 13, at the lunar new year celebration hosted by the Taiwanese Association of America-Greater Baltimore & Columbia Chapter. (Alison Knezevich / Baltimore Sun)

As people sat down to eat Saturday to celebrate the lunar new year at the Johns Hopkins University, their tables were set not only with flowers but also with oranges — one of several traditions meant to bring good luck.

The fruit reminds people that "things can only get better and better," said Min Eu, a board member of the Taiwanese Association of America's Greater Baltimore and Columbia chapter.

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The group, along with the Johns Hopkins Taiwanese Student Association, gathered Saturday afternoon at Charles Commons to welcome the Year of the Rooster.

Maryland first lady Yumi Hogan was among the guests attending the celebration. She grew up in the South Korean countryside and is the first Korean-American first lady in the United States.

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Many people wore red, which symbolizes luck. The children at the celebration were set to get money in red envelopes, another new year's custom.

"The tradition is you try get as many new bills as possible," Eu said.

The holiday is also known as Spring Festival, she said. Other traditions include setting off firecrackers and visiting loved ones.

Eu grew up in Taipei. She's now an Elkridge resident who works as an interpreter and teaches at the Washington Taiwanese School.

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She said she enjoys the fresh start and new hope that comes with a new year.

Tim Chng, a Baltimore software developer, ate a plate of rice and string beans as he sat with his family.

"For people in Taiwan and all across Asia, it's bigger than Christmas and New Year's," Chng said of the lunar new year celebration.

Chng's parents came from Taiwan, and he was born and raised in Cincinnati, where he recalled celebrating the new year with potluck dinners.

"We would just come together as a community," he said.

Chng said he and his wife, Valerie Chng-Lim, who is from Singapore, try to keep cultural traditions alive for their three children — Seth, 13; Sage, 11; and Skye, 9.

"But it's really hard when the mainstream of society doesn't," he said. "Coming to these events where they can see other people who celebrate this is one way."

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