Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gong Xi Fa Cai

January 26th was the first day of the Year of the Ox. Happy Chinese New Year! (or lunar new year or whatever the hell you want to call it.)

I'm not sure where to start with this post. I must have thought to myself 20 times over the past week, "I've got to blog about that!" There's no way I can write it all down or even remember it all, but I'll say this: Chinese people believe some crazy stuff.

I know, I come the comments. "You're so closed minded," and "Thinking like this is why everyone hates Americans."

Y'all can bite me. You didn't have someone in your office telling you your should wear an "apple green" shirt because you're a tiger and it would be a very fortunate color for a tiger in the year of the ox. Half of your staff didn't take Wednesday off after the 4 day weekend holiday because the Feng Shui master said Wednesday is an unlucky day to start a workweek.

Just to give you an idea, here's the "mythology" section of the Chinese New Year page on Wikipedia:

According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian or "Year" in Chinese. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One time, people saw that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red. The villagers then understood that the Nian was afraid of the color red. Hence, every time when the New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian. From then on, the Nian never came to the village again. The Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk. The Nian became Hongjun Laozu's mount.

There are so many things like this that are just never explained to me. Everyone is driving around the city with two oranges up against the windshield inside their car. I know giving two oranges as a gift at the new year is supposed to have something to do with prosperity, I just don't know why. It's like visiting Mexico, but they traded everyone's statue of the Virgin Mary, with some fruit. It would be the funniest episode of Candid Camera ever.

One more. At the ABS Singapore year end client banquet, the first course of dinner was "Yusheng", otherwise known as raw fish salad. There's actually not much raw fish in it. It's mostly noodles and vegetables with a bunch of condiments and some thinly sliced salmon. It actually tasted quite good. Here's the catch. It comes to the table on a huge plate, with all of the individual ingredients separated. Tradition is that everyone at the table mixes the salad together with these 3 foot long chop sticks throwing the ingredients as high as possible to "mark the start of a prosperous new year and it's customary that the higher you toss, the greater your fortunes!" You should have seen the table I was at. By chance, there were only two Singaporeans at the table; everyone else was white. When we were done it looked like a family of monkeys had attacked. Noodles, fish and plum sauce everywhere, water glasses knocked was a mess.

Here's the thing about all of this. Can you imagine what a Chinese person thinks when he moves to the US? I can just imagine them calling home to talk to their family.

"Dad, trust me, these white people are crazy. For some reason, everyone went out last weekend, cut down a tree and put it in their living room! Then, the next day, that annoying loud lady from down the street stood in front of my door and sang unintelligible songs about a reindeer for half an hour, whatever the hell a reindeer is. By the way, do you know what's up with this 'Jesus' guy? Is he dead or alive or God or his son or what? Why can't they just keep things simple like us."

Here's what I do know about Chinese New Year. It's a time when you wish "Gong Xi Fa Cai" ("congratulations and prosperity" as far as I can tell) to all of your friends and family. No matter how far, you travel to spend time with your family, eat a meal and catch up on the past year. You give gifts to those in your family who are younger than you and accept them from your elders. Everyone takes a few days off to wish farewell to the year behind them and wish everyone prosperity in the year to come. Sounds like a good holiday in my book.

Happy new year everyone. Gong Xi Fa Cai.


Mike said...

Great post bro, I loved it! LOL!

Melissa said...

Jack loved the giving of red envelopes. He got three this year from his teachers. One contained chocolate, one had stickers and the last held 10 cents.
It was also very funny when he came home and told us how shocked he was the everyone in his class was a horse in the Chinese zodiac. It never crossed his mind that everyone is the same age in his class.

Deacon Frank Tremblay said...

I am actually an OX - I think that's a good thing in the year of the OX, right?

Melissa said...

OX -
1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009.

Hard-working, trusting, fearless, strives for excellence, born leader, dares to take risks, will achieve great things in life, often in positions of authority, highly dependable, find joy in helping others,

This year for all ox:
year will bring opportunities for success through dedication and fortitude. Strong bonds will be made with family and friends, year of peace tranquility and prosperity.

Branka said...

And when you say you are surprised by the oranges in their cars do you ever think of how the outsiders in America feel about "reindeer antlers" on trucks and cars around the US cities...?:)