Summer festival heats up the International District

Beginning with a bang on Ray Tsway's gong, the 30th annual Chinatown-International District Summer Festival took over the International District on July 9-10, filling the streets with live entertainment, food vendors and community booths.

Tsway, the owner of Bao-Yin Unity Gong, operated one of 120 booths stationed near Hing Hay Park for this year's Summer Festival. His opening gong ceremony, performed on the Verb Dragon Stage in the center of the park, led a lineup of 27 acts at the two-day event.

The festival also featured a karaoke stage, a car show, inflatable Sumo wrestling, putt-putt golf and a children's entertainment corner.

Party roots

The tradition of the Summer Festival began in June of 1975, when the International District Economic Association organized a group of merchants in Kobe Park. Since then, the event has grown to fill six city blocks and attract more than 20,000 people annually. Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) presently organizes and runs the festival.

Tim Wang, executive director of CIDBIA, said this year's festival attracted more people than ever before. Between 20,000 and 25,000 people visited the festival on Saturday alone, Wang said, and noted that this year's event featured more booths than any previous year.

"It's really the most festive time of the year in our neighborhood," Wang said.

Back at his booth, Tsway offered 'gong baths' to festival attendees. People stood in line to strike his hanging gongs and absorb their vibrations.

"Gong bath has been a very powerful therapy," Tsway explained. "People can find a common ground, a common energy, through the echoes of the gong. "

Tsway, who moved to the United States 15 years ago from China, said his father was a gong master in a Chinese village. He started his business to continue the family tradition.

"I see America is such a diversified country," Tsway said. "The gong is a universal language that everybody can understand."

The festival is a means for community members like Tsway to share their culture, Wang asserted.

"If you look at our entertainment lineup, and the breadth of cultures represented, it's a great place to represent all the traditional cultures," said Wang.

Tenzin Wangyal, the director of Nyenchen Thanglha, a Tibetan dance troupe that performed, said he and his students like dancing at community festivals to raise awareness about their country.

"Little by little, people are beginning to understand more about Tibet," Wangyal said. "Whenever we get chances to perform, we get people asking questions about the clothes or the culture. People see that it is unique."

The festival also helps attract new patrons to neighborhood businesses, Wang said.

"Its whole mission and focus is to support the businesses and property owners in this community," Wang said.

Around the corner from Tsway's gong booth, Nancy Tang stood outside her restaurant, Wholesome Vegetasia, greeting festival visitors and selling samples of the restaurant's vegan cuisine. Tang said she opened Wholesome Vegetasia on South King Street only seven months ago, and has never participated in the festival before. Her restaurant doesn't buy advertising, Tang said, so she was grateful for the new customers attracted by the event.

"I'm very excited," she said. "I want to share my healthy food with everybody."

She pointed inside her restaurant.

"See," said Tang. "That's a new customer today. They're very happy."

Wang said about 85 to 90 percent of businesses on the closed-off streets report improved business during the festival weekend.

"They're always very appreciative," Wang said.

A community unifier

The festival is always very good at attracting families, said Wang. Parents and kids make up a good portion of the people attending the festival from outside the International District.

Yvonne Zick came to the festival from Ballard with her husband and two children. They learned about the festival through an ad in the newspaper, she said.

"We live in a pretty homogenized pocket, and it's nice to be among diversity," Zick said. "It's not just the booths that are different - it's the smells and the colors, and the whole feel. It's important for the kids to know that's normal. "

Before leaving, Zick's husband and son stepped onto the karaoke stage to sing a rendition of "Love Potion No. 9." Zick and her family also tried a gong bath at Ray Tsway's booth, she said.

"The baby loved it," she said. "The baby just kept hitting it over and over and absorbing the reverberations."

The festival not only attracts newcomers to the area, but also helps young people who live in the International District take an interest in their heritage, said Ted Pang, a former president of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association.

Pang spent his time at the festival volunteering at the American Legion Cathay Post 186 booth, serving up snow cones and cotton candy alongside other veterans of the U.S. military. He participates in the festival every year, he said.

"We try and encourage young people to recognize they have a community and take interest in it," Pang said. "And you can't do that without fun. And what better way to have fun than to have a bazaar?"

Tenzin said he sometimes has difficulty finding Tibetan youth interested in joining his dance group, but feels festivals like this one give young people an incentive to be involved in their community.

"The struggle is to have today's youth grab on to the culture and participate, because it's not a hip thing," Tenzin said. "Opportunities to perform help students be more interested in their culture."

Wang said the CIDBIA may consider expanding the festival's geographic area to allow it to grow in future years. The most important part of the festival is showing the rest of Seattle everything the International District has to offer, Wang said, so it is important that the festival be able to accommodate plenty of visitors.

"We have received several comments in the past like, 'I never knew we had a Chinatown, I never knew we had an ID, and I love it, and I want to keep coming back,'" Wang said. "That's our goal - to attract people to visit this unique neighborhood. That's our hope."

Pang said he feels the festival helps the International District gain a favorable reputation among Seattle communities.

"It exposes the outer community to what we have here," Pang said. "There are a lot of people that are total strangers that come in, and their eyes are rolling left and right. They're really having fun - and we're having fun, too."

Melissa Santos may be reached at[[In-content Ad]]