I almost didn’t go to see the Mak Fai lion dancers yesterday. I’d seen them twice before this month and a third time seemed as though it would push them into the ordinary. Then I realized I hadn’t yet seen them by myself and besides the day was gorgeous. It would be a double sin to forgo either.

Another troupe was on the streets and I asked one of the flag bearers what happened to Mak Fai. “They’ll be here,” he told me, “They’re in Renton right now.”

Relieved that the best lion dancers in town were going to show up, I began to wander through my old neighborhood as firecrackers popped in the distance and the gongs grew more exuberant. The corner shop with a sign from perhaps the 1940s, certainly the ‘50s, that said Gift Shop had become a sunny little coffee spot with objects for sale that were both random and pretty and clearly gifts. The spiffy little place whose baker is from Singapore had a hefty line waiting in front of it and so did Hood River with its ube cheesecake and other delights. Gan Bei was still alive but not didn’t open until 4; Sizzling Pot King with its claims to Hunan cookery, backing up the assertion with a dish that held Mao’s name, was take-out only. King Noodle, to my absolute joy, was back to inside eating and Jade Garden had its usual cluster of people on the sidewalk, waiting to come inside.

Then I saw the green shirts of Mak Fai, outside their building and hurried to accost them. “I’m so glad you’re here. Somebody said you were performing in Renton.” “Lynnwood. Even farther. We’ll be ready in a little while.”

Feeling like a kid on her birthday, I kept walking, past Pho Ba which has been in place for decades, past the boarded up and closed Sun Bakery, A Piece of Cake, and Yummy House Bakery, which also were still swaddled in plywood but alive. Tai Tung had been the first to take the boards away from their front window, back in the summer of 2020. Harry kept the murals but he wanted the view and the light to come back to his restaurant. Two years later, almost all the other businesses are still shrouded in painted sheets of plywood.

I was in the ID the morning after the second bout of protests had raged through the night before. I’d come to check on my friend Lei Ann’s boutique, Momo. All of her windows were intact, as were every pane on that side of Jackson Street. On the other side was a long string of shattered glass: Bank of America, Dim Sum King, the front window of the Bush Hotel where elderly residents sat to watch the world go by, the post office, an optometrist’s office, crazy destruction with no real pattern to it. Off Jackson Mike’s Noodles had its windows smashed and so did Jade Garden, completing the destruction at that restaurant that had begun on the first night of anger. It was the one spot that seemed to have been targeted because of a misinterpretation of an Instagram post put up by the owners’ son that was construed as racist. 

As I was talking to the editor of the International Examiner, several young men came to her and said, “We’re going to cover every window with plywood. They even hit Mike’s.” By the time I left, a group of young Asian kids were hammering plywood on damaged businesses, joined by a crew of city workers only much later in the day. In the following weeks, artists were covering the boards with murals, their cans of paint obscuring the sidewalk. It was a triumph of community that now, if seen without context, seems grim.

But not when the lions came. Mak Fai had been unable to thoroughly bless the neighborhood for two years and they were determined to make up for lost time. I followed them for almost three hours, feeling my spirit lighten. 

The founder of the troupe, once known as The Lion Dance King of Kowloon and who began Mak Fai in 1974, wasn’t in evidence. His successor, Royal Tan, was someone I’d watched for over ten years, from his early adolescence to the leadership he inherited. The primary drummer was one I saw when he was very small. Now Jackie To has facial hair and he’s a star. There are small members of the troupe now whom Royal will bring along to stardom and there are more girls performing than I remembered from the past. 

Another troupe began to follow them and when I got close enough to read their shirts, it turned out they’d come up from Portland. Some of the girls disappeared for a while and returned with shopping bags from Daiso. Later Jackie came to the oldest of the troupe and gestured toward the drum. Portland took over the drum and gongs for a while before they all left. Solidarity among lion dancers!

I had to leave too, but I didn’t go far. I followed the trail of lettuce leaves into Tai Tung where I had a Tsingtao and a plate of scallops with bok choy that I dosed liberally with chili oil. Just as I was ready to leave, the sound of firecrackers exploded, sounding as if they’d been set off in the restaurant. The drum and gongs were rampant and I came out from my booth to see lions in the house, only inches away from me.. Harry, whom I adore, had been invisible in the kitchen, but there he was, with his fabulous smile. He stood in the doorway of Tai Tung as the lions grappled with the lettuce. Finally they captured it and tossed it into the air. Harry turned back toward all of us in the restaurant, incandescent. “I caught it,” he said.

Valentine’s Day arrived immediately after the lion dancing and I decided to celebrate appropriately. I took a bag of meringues down to Tai Tung and gave them to Harry. I came home with noodles, a dozen fortune cookies, and a fully nourished spirit . I blame it on the lions–may they dance forever.