Honolulu’s Lady of Leis

Cindy Lau, Lady of Leis, Honolulu, image

Leis last a week, Lau says, if refrigerated after wearings.

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In 1951, Cindy Lau left China for Oahu with her new husband—a native Hawaiian she had met through a matchmaker in her village. Eventually, she went to work making corsages in the back of a barbershop in Honolulu's Chinatown. Fifty years later, at age 76, she presides over Cindy's Lei & Flower Shoppe on Maunakea Street (808-536-6538), www.cindysleishoppe.com.

Q What do leis signify?
A Lei-making started long before Europeans arrived in the Hawaiian Islands. It has always been a way to say hello or good-bye to a visitor. I love the joyousness of leis. Making them and selling them requires a love of flowers and a love of people.

Q Know of any superstitions or taboos?
A The hala lei is a symbol of kicking out the old and welcoming in the new, so you'd give it to a politician leaving office, but you wouldn't give it to someone for his birthday. They say a pregnant woman should wear her lei untied so it won't get tangled up in the umbilical cord.

Q Which are your favorite blossoms?
A The large-petaled, butter-colored plumeria, the tiny chartreuse pakalana, the small white pikake that look like delicate seashells, and the maile, a leafy vine often strung with white flowers. Tourists go for the plumeria and orchids.

Q And when you're not making leis?
A I love to shop, especially for groceries in Chinatown, where things are cheaper. And in Waikiki, I like to act like a tourist. I swim in the ocean, and I walk around the big hotels to look at the beautiful floral displays.

Q Is your Chinese heritage in your leis?
A I'm very partial to red, which is good luck. One of our signatures is the money lei. It has ribbons, ti leaves, and dollar bills woven into it.

Photography by Carl Shaneff

This article was first published in November 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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