The annual Ethnic Expo international festival long has celebrated international harmony and respect.

But that element became even more pronounced at Saturday morning’s parade as the host countries’ joint float came rolling down Washington Street on a sun-splashed day with early temperatures in the 50s.

The whimsical and colorful entry, “Dragons In Harmony,” representing China and Taiwan via the Columbus Chinese Association, purposely depicted two nations in unison.

Taiwan natives Ming-Seng Hsieh, a Cummins Inc. engineer, and wife Mei Hui Lin, a Dorel Juvenile Group designer, led much of the three-week effort built with fabric and plastic — and semi-disguised pipes that helped the critters blow smoke as they passed onlookers.

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“This is showing that China and Taiwan, instead of fighting one another as in the past, can work together and be good friends now and in the future for the sake of our children,” Lin said.

The two-day festival of food, entertainment and shopping, launched in 1984, is meant to celebrate the city’s diversity while building bridges of understanding in a small community with a growing international population. Organizers generally estimate that it attracts about 30,000 people each year.

Chinese native Sijie Xu, the wife of Columbus Chinese Association president Hui Liu, beamed just before the parade began. She shared grand marshal honors with Yu Han, the wife of Johnny Tsai, a former president of the local Chinese association.

“I am so excited for my country and for the chance to show some of our culture,” Xu said. “And I think just think America is so amazing that we can have a festival like this here.”

Han called the event “a great experience” for her.

For some, Expo was a new experience.

Janelle Matheny, who moved to Columbus 10 months ago, was enjoying listening to the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums with her two children.

“We love bagpipes,” Matheny said, adding that included her 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, who fell in love with the sound at the recent Columbus Scottish Festival.

“The instruments are very calming,” she said.

Other newcomers enjoyed leisurely shopping at an 11-booth international bazaar.

Catalina White, who moved to Columbus a month ago from her native Ecuador, browsed among the hand-made children’s sweaters at the Ecuador booth that also featured children’s musical instruments.

“I have really enjoyed the food and the crafts,” White said.

Booth owner and Ecuadoran native Delores Mitchell of New Albany has been selling items at Expo for 28 years — and loves the variety of the gathering.

“This is probably my favorite festival,” she said, adding that she travels a circuit to sell her items.

Just a few feet away at the Thailand booth, Thai native Cookie Hoffman of Scipio sold multi-colored, handmade, one-of-a-kind sandals — and acknowledged a heavy Friday night crowd was good for business and kept her extremely busy.

But she took time early Friday to get her first literal taste of Expo during this, her first visit.

“I tried food from Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan,” she said.

And she planned to follow that up Saturday with alligator.

Expo by the numbers

11: Number of booths in the international bazaar

31: Number of food booths

33: Number of Expos since the beginning

45: Number of parade entries

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.