Credit: Lauren Yoon | Mustang News

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 31 to add that the SLO Asian Market donates to the Lion Dance Team, which relies on donations for transportation and equipment.

The San Luis Obispo community rang in the Lunar New Year last Saturday at the SLO Asian Market, with live performances from Cal Poly’s Lion Dance Team.

At least 100 people gathered in the market’s parking lot on Monterey Street to watch the team perform traditional Chinese Lion dance. Children and adults alike were able to donate red envelopes filled with money, said to bring good luck and fortune, to the “lions” during the performance. Attendees also enjoyed chow mein, fried rice, egg rolls and other sides free-of-charge, courtesy of the market’s owners.

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Video by Ari Lopez

The year of the rabbit began on Sunday, Jan. 22 and symbolizes longevity, peace, and prosperity, according to a post from the SLO Asian Market Instagram.

Peter Gau, co-owner of the store alongside his wife, Fani, said he did not expect the crowd to be as large as it was. Peter said the environment was very different from 30 years ago.

“It was night and day — for the good,” Peter said. “We were just so amazed at how many people showed up.”

Fani said the celebration was “a way of thanking the community for all the support throughout the year.” They especially appreciated the continued support of Cal Poly students, as it has been a tradition for 30 years to host the Cal Poly Lion Dance Team at the celebration. 

The Lion Dance team is a division of Cal Poly’s Chinese Student Association (CSA). The market has been donating to the team ever since Fani and Peter Gau bought the store from Peter’s parents in 2018.

Co-captain of the team, Jordan Chew, a computer science master’s senior, has been with the team for all four years of his attendance at Cal Poly, and says that the team’s resilience is due to the help of local businesses like the market. 

“Even though Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo are predominantly white areas, there’s always been a small, but significant Chinese population,” Chew said. 

He cites the arrival of Ah Louis, an influential businessman of San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown to the San Luis Obispo community, and his son, Young Louis, the original founder of CSA.

The Lion Dance team spawned from the club in 1957 and has always been student-led since its conception–unlike others, which are coached by seasoned veterans of the artform.

“Many of the traditional lion dance teams have masters coming in from Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, to teach, and they have their history of knowledge,” Chew said. “But Cal Poly Lion Dance has always been students who care about the culture and want to perform it and want to share it with everyone.”

Peter emphasized the importance of the business that Cal Poly students give them.

“We really appreciate Cal Poly [and] the Lion Dance team,” Peter said. “We love the Cal Poly community and how it’s just grown with our store.”

Alan Chagolla, manager of the Seeds restaurant and regular of the Asian Market, says he’s been coming to the store ever since he moved to SLO county. The products he mainly visits for are noodles, he says, but the addition of candies, drinks and snacks brought with the new ownership has attracted many others to discover Asian cuisines.

“Every time I’ve come in here, there’s always been families, which I think is wonderful,” Chagolla said. “Not only does it expose this culture to younger generations, but it also becomes a place that they can look forward to and enjoy.”

Peter and Fani Gau are currently in the process of changing the name of the store from SLO Oriental Market to the SLO Asian Market. But their supply of hand-picked products and the community that’s surrounded the market will remain the same.

“It’s all about the community,” Peter said. “We always tell our customers: They thank us, but we thank them — we wouldn’t be here without them.”