Happy (Lunar) New Year!
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The first day ceremony for the Year of the Ox stamp, held in the Fashion Institute of Technology's Katie Murphy Amphitheatre in New York, started off on a high note.
Recording artist June E. Townes took the final note of "The Star-Spangled Banner" up a full octave, and held it. It may be the highest note ever sung at a first day ceremony; it's certainly the highest I've heard at a philatelic event.
Master of ceremonies David E. Failor, executive director of Stamp Services, asked for a show of hands of those who had never been at a stamp ceremony before. Nearly all the two or three dozen people sitting in the reserved seating section likely mostly FIT staff raised their hands.
The stamp design shows a lion dance costume, and a lion dance was performed by the New York Hung Ga Lion Dance Team, with live musical accompaniment. At times there were two men operating the "lion;" they were sometimes joined by a third dancer. When finished, the dancers left the lion's head on the platform.
On stage during the dance was the Postal Service's "dedicating official," Dave B. Shoenfeld, Senior Vice President, Mailing Services. The USPS press advisory for the event said the "lion" would deliver an envelope with the new stamp on it to Shoenfeld. If it happened, I missed it.
FIT president Dr. Joyce E. Brown said she was "proud that one of our own ... is part of this occasion."
Kam Mak, the stamp artist, teaches Illustration at the Institute, which now offers 40 different majors, not all directly related to the fashion industry.
Shoenfeld was the next speaker. He has worked for the USPS for about six months, following stints at competitors Federal Express and United Parcel Service.
His new job has paid a dividend, he told The VSC later.
"I have renewed my childhood collection, and I am working very aggressively to fill in the gaps," Shoenfeld said.
Following Shoenfeld at the podium was Ginny Gong, who had stepped down two days earlier as president of the Organization of Chinese Americans. (The program lists her as the OCA's president.)
In her remarks, Gong commended the USPS for recognizing Asian-American history.
"I think it symbolizes the acknowledgment of our culture and the contributions that are made by the community," she told The Virtual Stamp Club later, "because as diverse as it is, as a community we remain united in terms of celebrating our role as Americans in this country."
The USPS included in its press kits (folders with information and a ceremony program given to the news media covering an event) a version of its press release in Chinese. USPS national stamp publicist Mark Saunders came up with the idea.
The Ox symbolizes prosperity, Gong told the ceremony audience, "and that is certainly welcome in these trying times."
She pointed out that President-elect Barack Obama was born in the Year of the Ox, and said that the aspirations of Asian-Americans are the same as for all Americans.
Gong was one of the guests at the first day ceremony for the very first U.S. Lunar New Year stamp, Sc. 2720 Year of the Rooster in December 1992, and has been involved in several of the launch ceremonies since.
"The vibrancy and the energy that is coming from this particular design is very inspiring," she told The VSC. "[These stamps] really have been very instrumental in moving our community to some sense of unity."
In introducing Mak, Failor said that USPS art director Edith Kessler brought the artist to a Mega-Event stamp show a few years ago. His eyes grew wide, said Failor, and Mak had a big smile on his face as he saw all the stamp collectors and stamps.
Mak himself said he hears from members of the Chinese-American community how proud they are of these stamps, which "represent all their previous sacrifices."
"I think I am so fortunate to be given this opportunity by the U.S. Postal Service to showcase my cultural heritage. I'm very proud of this series of stamps," Mak told The VSC after the ceremony.
The Year of the Ox is special to him. "I was born in the Year of the Ox, so this is my year."
During his speech, Kam said he knows he will be asked, "Where's the Ox? Why the Lion Dance?"
And sure enough, after the ceremony, we asked him just those questions.
"I felt the Lunar New Year is so much more than just the zodiac animals," Mak replied. "There's so many beautiful objects and things that are so much part of the LNY, and that's why I chose that concept of using those elements."
During the ceremony, he said the the Lion Dance is the most festive part of lunar new year celebrations.
He told The VSC he's already submitted more designs, but isn't sure which one will run next year.
Well, we had to ask!