The Polynesian Cultural Center extended Hawaii's aloha spirit April 15 to officers and crew of the first ship from the People's Republic of China to visit an American port.
About 250 officers and crew members from the Zheng He, a training ship of the People's Liberation Army-Navy that docked at Pearl Harbor, spent the afternoon and evening at the popular Hawaii visitors attraction. The People's Republic of China consul from Los Angeles described the visit as "the highlight of their experiences in Hawaii.""What a wonderful feeling it is to share our aloha spirit with the Chinese," James P. Christensen, president and general manager of the center, told Rear Admiral Yang Xi, the ranking officer of the group.
The Chinese responded to the infectious Polynesian hospitality by wholeheartedly joining in the cultural center's island activities. "We greatly appreciate the warm welcome, and we are impressed with your hospitality," responded Admiral Yang, who, at one point in the tour was covered with leis and had doffed his uniform cap in favor of a coconut-leaf hat.
"Some of the officers took a canoe tour with my wife and me and experienced Polynesian traditions first-hand," said Christensen. "In the Maori village, for example, the admiral and Barney Christy pressed noses three times in the traditional greeting, and our Tahitian villagers presented the admiral leis and the traditional French Polynesian kiss."
While many groups vied to host the Chinese officers during their stay in Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center also invited the Zheng He's enlisted men. The Chinese sailors, nattily uniformed in blue pants and white shirts, acted like typical tourists while at the center, taking each other's pictures with the young Polynesian performers, most of whom are students at the adjoining BYU-Hawaii campus. After the presentation of the center's world-famous evening show, the sailors gave the cast a standing ovation.
"I particularly like the Samoan tree climbers and the hula dancers," said one midshipman through an interpreter.
The ship had docked earlier in the week at Pearl Harbor and participated in various cultural activities to help observe the bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of Chinese in Hawaii.
"They had some of the finest performers in China with them," said Christensen, who was invited to all the centennial activities of the ship's officers and crew. "They were just breathtaking. Later, at a special dinner, they paid great tribute to the cultural center for taking the Chinese people into their hearts."
The Polynesian Cultural Center has maintained close ties with the People's Republic of China for the past five years, and has hosted numerous dignitaries and official visitors, including then-Premier Zhao Ziyang in 1984 and now-Premier Li Peng in 1985.
The cultural center - Hawaii's No. 1 paid visitor attraction - also conducts a management training program in cooperation with the People's Republic of China. Five Chinese from the People's Republic of China are now working and studying tourism management at the Polynesian Cultural Center.