by Peter Mertz
In the western U.S. city of Phoenix, thousands of people from across America flocked to the Valley of the Sun to usher in the Year of the Pig on Sunday.
"People are here from all over the country -- from Detroit to the East Coast," said Ansley Meng, Phoenix Chinese Week (PCW) publicity coordinator, adding that the event has more than 30,000 in attendance.
Seeing steady growth since it first appeared almost 30 years ago, Phoenix's Chinese New Year celebration has grown into a national showpiece for cultural exchange between the United States and China.
"It's just a big three-day party... so much fun," Meng told Xinhua, adding that the event increases in popularity each year.
On Sunday, hundreds of parents and their children sat sprawled on blankets on a grassy lawn, chowing down on Chinese food and watching a stage on which performances from martial arts to music showed Chinese culture and heritage and inspired awe and laughter. Children flocked to the stage to get a closer look at the exotic dragons.
"The event is really family focused," said Meng, pointing to the Children's Pavilion, where kids were making paper cutting and lanterns, an older man was demonstrating calligraphy and character drawing, and a chopstick pick-up challenge and Chinese Costume photo booth inspired many selfies from younger participants.
During the event on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, some 20 food trucks, a beer garden, and 80 vendors kept the crowd happy, and performances on stage kept them captive.
Popular booths included an exhibition of renowned Chinese photographer Chen Baosheng, a tea ceremony, and "Mahjong Booth," where the intense, historic Chinese game that uses 144 tiles was taught and played.
"We have a lot of very dedicated volunteers who work very hard to make this happen," said Elaine Wong, president of the PCW committee, who organized and managed 100 volunteers for the Chinese Culture and Cuisine Festival.
The PCW is also hosting an elaborate 10-course traditional Chinese banquet on Feb. 17 at a Chinese restaurant to end the two-week celebration of the Year of the Pig.
"The food will be authentic and delicious," Wong said.
Wong remembers Phoenix's first Chinese New Year festival, where five street vendors offered Chinese food and there was a dragon dance.
"Just a few people came from the offices downtown," she remembered.
Now the Phoenix party is a collaboration among sister city organizations in Phoenix, Chengdu, and Taipei -- a three-city event that has turned into a smashing success.