New Year gallops in at Han Palace


It’s that time again: China is celebrating its Lunar New Year, the country’s most important holiday. According to Chinese folklore, 2013 marked the year of the snake on the Chinese calendar, while 2014 welcomes the horse.

Jaime Lau, who’s father, Keith, is a co-owner of Han Palace, a Chinese restaurant located at 2470 West Shore Road, said good fortune may be on the horizon for Americans.

“I’m not so sure if it’s true, but I read in the South China Journal that the year of the horse is going to bring chaos and financial crisis in Hong Kong, while America and Europe will begin to have financial stability,” said Jaime, 16, a junior at Toll Gate High School. Speaking of money, one of the biggest traditions of the New Year is for elders to lavish youth with “lucky money,” or cash stuffed inside red envelopes.

Barbara Fraser, a Warwick resident who has been working at Han Palace for nearly 22 years, noted the generosity of her employers, as they annually present staffers with crimson envelopes.

“We get lucky money every year,” she said.

Also known as the “Spring Festival,” the Chinese New Year revolves around luck, and lasts 15 days. It kicked off Friday, with Hong Kong shutting down businesses for the day and re-opening by the fourth day.

The Chinese honor the holiday by wearing new clothes, doing spring-cleaning, and eating vegetables to cleanse “bad spirits” in preparation of good ones. On the second day, they feast on meat and visit family, as well as give one another fresh fruit and flowers as a symbol of peace and good fortune.

This weekend, Han Palace hosted a group that performed a lion dance. The group wore a long, flexible lion costume to bring the community prosperity.

“It’s amazing to see,” said server Carol Phaneus, noting that customers always enjoy the event. “You see the smiles across their faces.”

But, said Fraser, there’s more than just the New Year to celebrate at Han Palace. Her co-workers feel the same.

“We always have fun,” said server Hailey Yuan. “I don’t feel like I’m working.”

Yuan, who moved to America from South China more than a decade ago, has worked at the restaurant for nine years. She lives in Cranston, and often visits Han Palace on her days off.

“I stop by to say hi,” she said. “I miss it if I’m gone for a couple days.”

Not only does she miss fellow staff members, she also misses the food. So, what’s her favorite meal?

“I love everything on the menu,” she said. “I’ve tried everything, and I eat everything.”

Customers agree that the food is worth bragging about. For Carol Shaw, who worked there for eight years and still visits at least once a week, she enjoys the house lo mein and the general’s chicken.

“The house wings are really good, too,” Shaw said. “The kitchen’s clean and I know the food is fresh.”

And what about cocktails? Fraser, a bartender, said, “The Volcano” is a popular choice. It’s made with seven liquors, including rum and brandy.

“It’s quite potent,” she said.

Aside from food and drink, friendliness and hospitality are always on the menu.

“Keith is so good to his customers,” Shaw said. “He knows everybody that walks in the door and calls everybody by name. You don’t get that everywhere.”

Yuan and Fraser also praised Keith. They are grateful he took a chance on them, as they didn’t have restaurant experience when he hired them.

“I had never waitressed in my life,” said Fraser. “I started when my daughter was 6 months old. I lived down the street and I needed a job. I raised both my kids working nights, and then when they got older I worked days. I never had to miss anything at school during the day. He’s a great boss.”

Yuan shared Fraser’s sentiments.

“I feel like sometimes he’s like a father or a friend,” she said. “It’s like family here.”


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