Year of the Rabbit hops into South Coast Plaza

COSTA MESA — To South Coast Plaza, the New Year doesn't only begin Jan. 1.

For their Chinese shoppers, Thursday marks the first day of the Year of the Rabbit and Lunar New Year. South Coast Plaza celebrated the beginning of the 15-day holiday Wednesday with an afternoon event. Many other New Year holidays in Asia coincide with China's.

It was hard to miss the 9-foot rabbit float in the Jewel Court, which was surrounded by flowers, red Chinese lanterns and gold coins.

The celebration kicked off with a traditional Chinese lion dance. About 50 people gathered around the float, munching on dim sum, to watch the ancient dance that promotes luck and fortune.

Some looked down from the second floor to catch a glimpse of the festivities, which included musicians drumming to the beat of the dance.

"We have celebrated Lunar New Year for three years, but this is the first time we did an exhibit," said Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing for South Coast Plaza.

Werner Escher, executive director of domestic and international markets at South Coast Plaza, has traveled to Asia extensively since the 1980s, promoting tourism to the international shopping destination.

Escher could not pinpoint an exact number when it comes to Asian consumerism at South Coast Plaza. However, Asians are loyal customers, many of them traveling to Costa Mesa on shopping excursions, and Escher felt their culture should be celebrated just like American holidays.

The center also is paying homage to Orange County's significant Asian American population.

"It's important. We have a large community of Asians that populate Southern California," Escher said. "If we're going to be global, we have to understand that culture and go to their countries."

Robert Sun, president of the American-Chinese CEO Society, took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony and spent time talking to members of the Asian press.

"South Coast Plaza is bringing the Chinese tradition into Orange County," Sun said.

South Coast Plaza is part of the American-Chinese CEO Society, which promotes business between American and Chinese companies.

"Werner is very interested in promoting this shopping mall, not only to Chinese in the community but also in China," he said.

Recently, Sun brought a Chinese government official to South Coast Plaza while on a trip, and he said he was impressed by what South Coast Plaza had to offer.

"He said he'd like to learn how to make a mall like this in China," Sun said. "It's a very good window for the Chinese government and people to see how South Coast Plaza brings all the best from all over the world into the mall."

To South Coast Plaza, this won't be the last time it celebrates the diverse cultures of their shoppers.

"This will be a continuing tradition for us," Gunn Downing said.

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