SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Brandon Li and Catherine Xi don't consider themselves superstitious. Both engineers, they have careers in Silicon Valley's tech industry. But the Santa Clara couple, like many other Asians in the Bay Area, are frantic to have a baby in the Year of the Dragon.
"It's an auspicious sign," Xi said of the Dragon, which like all animals on the Chinese horoscope is ascendant only once every 12 years. "It indicates good fortune for the start of the baby's life. It is a good blessing. So we want to go after it."
Added her husband: "Dragon means the best of the best -- the elite, the cream of the cream."
Some couples are taking ancient herbal remedies or even investing in expensive medical procedures to increase their chances for quick conception. Xi's mother, who lives in China, sent the couple Chinese medicine to improve their odds of getting pregnant and having a child before the end of this lunar year, which began Jan. 23 and runs until Feb. 10, 2013, when the Year of the Snake begins. That gives them less than three months to conceive if their baby is to be born before then.
"This year a lot of people want to have a baby Dragon," said Y.C. Sun, a Belmont-based feng shui master who advises many in the tech industry. Feng shui -- or phong thuy in Vietnamese -- is a system of geomancy aimed at helping people, through such means as architectural design, to tap into a positive energy.
"The dragon is a fearless leader," Sun said. "They take risks. They want to accomplish a mission. They encourage change and embrace innovation and technology."
What upwardly mobile couple wouldn't want those attributes for their offspring? Indeed, in communities with large Asian populations in the United States, observers are expecting a baby boom later this year. And there could be a baby tsunami across Asia.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou recently urged couples on his island to have Dragon babies to help boost the island's birthrate. In China, officials are bracing for the highest number of births in a decade. That could mean an additional 10,000 babies being born this year in Beijing, according to the Chinese press.
Dragon-baby fervor is less extreme in the Bay Area, but many Asians here nonetheless are engaged in Dragon family planning.
In the West, dragons have sometimes been associated with evil. But in Asia, the mythical lizardlike creature represents power, strength and good luck.
"This is a very deeply held cultural belief," said Shelly Wu, author of "Chinese Astrology: Exploring the Eastern Zodiac." "It is perceived in the East that this is the most powerful sign, the most powerful vibration in which a soul can enter this world."
In China, the dragon sits atop the animal hierarchy and was a symbol for emperors. According to mythology, Vietnamese are descendants of a dragon and a fairy.
"Dragon is a great symbol; it's mythical," said a Vietnamese-American accountant based in San Jose who is trying to conceive a Dragon baby with his wife. He asked only that is his first name, Sonny, be used to keep the couple's efforts private.
"If I could choose any of the Chinese zodiac signs, the Year of the Dragon is the preferred choice," he said. "Dragon plays a central role in Asian culture. If you visit a big hall or any high public official, you always see the dragon symbols. Dragon means king."
Dublin resident Jingwen Li said she and her husband are among those who hope to bring a Dragon baby into the world. "We want to have a Dragon baby because my mom was born in the Dragon Year and my father-in-law was born in the Dragon Year," she said. "Dragon -- it's very special."
Couples have until about mid-May to conceive in time for a birth before the Dragon year ends, and many are sure to ask doctors to induce labor as Feb. 10 nears.
"My Vietnamese and Chinese patients are the ones who bring this up," said Dr. Alex Kim with Fertility Physicians of Northern California, which has offices in San Jose and Palo Alto. "Couples come in and, usually toward the end (of the consultation), they bring up, 'This is the Year of the Dragon. We really want to make this happen during this year.' "
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A Los Angeles company that offers in-vitro fertilization services and surrogacy, in which a woman carries and delivers a baby for others, said business has skyrocketed by as much as 300 percent since November, with calls coming in from as far away as China.
"We keep hearing this again and again: How fast can we do this?" said Kathryn Kaycoff-Manos, co-founder of Global IVF and Agency for Surrogacy Solutions. "These are doctors, lawyers, engineers -- people who are less superstitious."
Her company even created a Dragon Baby Special for clients from China, which includes in-vitro fertilization or surrogacy, three weeks accommodations and Chinese translators. The cost: $32,000, excluding airfare.
Kaycoff-Manos said her office also is getting calls from Chinese clinics interested in forming a partnership to funnel Chinese nationals to California for fertility treatments.
"The hospitals in China are being bombarded," she said.
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Palo Alto resident Vivian Chen, expecting a boy in May, wonders if the explosion of Dragon babies, particularly in Asia, will dim their prospects as they grow up. "There will be so much more competition, more kids competing for the same amount of resources," she said.
Dragon babies also come with high expectations.
"People born in the Year of the Dragon are very attractive, intelligent and they tend to bring good fortune to the family," said San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, who just gave birth to a Dragon daughter, Olivia Vanessa Tran. "I intend my girl to make a lot of contributions to community and society when she is older."
All 12 of the archetypes in the Asian zodiac have their qualities. Tigers for example, are known as leaders. But they also have a strong stubborn streak, causing mothers in Vietnam who prefer docile daughters-in-law to steer their sons away from Tiger girls. Horses, known for multitasking, also throw tantrums.
What distinguishes Dragons, Wu said, is that they "literally rule by divine right. That's why everyone wants to have a Dragon male."
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