GUNG HAY FAT CHOY – Happy New Year in the Year of the Ox

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Lunar New Year, The Year of the Ox, begins its reign on Monday, January 26, 2009 routing the Rat. The omnipotent ox will assume lunar supremacy, and dominate the heavens and direct man’s fate until February 13, 2010.

Those born in 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, and 2009, are talented, strong-willed introverts. They are even-tempered, home-oriented, and in need of a stable environment at work and at home. Intense, their strong positive regard for home and family can be mistaken for possessiveness. They are friendly, peaceable and accommodating, and despite their quiet nature, they do like to entertain, have parties and get involved in social activities.

Conservative and cautious, they like stability so they frown upon moving from one location to another. They take particular pride in beautifying their home with equal attention to comfort and pride. Not particularly status, they can be eloquent when so inclined. These attributes combined with the gift of inspiring confidence make them natural leaders.

The collective noun for genus bovines – cow, steer, ox, bison, etc is pronounced “Ngow” in Cantonese and “Nieu,”in Mandarin. The Ngow is the second in the 12 animal sequence. The Chinese identify these years in accordance with a complicated system of chronology dating back to 2637 B.C.

According to legend, the ox once resided in heaven as a star deity. Disturbed by man’s pitiable struggle against starvation, the great Buddha dispatched the ox to tell his subjects that if they worked unstintingly, they would receive sustenance every third day.

However, the ox became confused and informed them that their diligence would be rewarded with three meals a day. The almighty, in exasperation stripped the ox of his divinity and sent him back to earth to help man produce the necessary food. Thus the ox, once found only in heaven, became earthbound.

The advent of the Chinese Lunar New Year will have its biggest impact on Chinese all over the world because this is by far their most important holiday. It’s like all the birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter celebrations rolled up into one. During the first two weeks the Chinese spare no expense on food and drink for their families such as chicken, duck, meat, fruits and vegetables.

Three days preceding the appointed date, new clothes are bought for everyone in their household, houses are cleaned, and debts are paid because everyone wants to start off with a clean slate. This holiday was celebrated for a full month in the past but today they last about two weeks and some Asian businesses close for three days.

On New Year’s Eve the family gather together for a large feast consisting of fish (yu) because it has the same sound as the word for abundance and implies that the family will not want in the coming year. Extremely important at this particular time is family unity and abundance for all.

On the first day of the New Year, everyone dresses up. Relatives and friends bring food gifts since food is inextricably tied to the concept of prosperity signifying that will always be plenty to consume in the coming year.

Red money envelopes (lai see) are given to younger children and unmarried people by older folks. Many visit the Buddhist temple in order to bring good luck to their families. Firecrackers and incense are burned to chase away evil spirits. To encourage good luck, red banners are hung on front doors.

In major large cities crowds will gather to see the parade that offers the traditional and colorful dragon dance. But what is Chinatown without eating delicious, traditional dishes prepared for just this occasion, which explains the old Chinese proverb that during the first part of this celebration, no one goes hungry. Since food plays an important role in all Chinese celebrations, meals are prepared in advance because cooking that special day is taboo.

The most popular New Year’s dish is Jai, or Monk’s food. This dish originated with the Buddhist monks who were vegetarians and is still being served today. Monks went begging door-to-door and were given meager portions of vegetables. From this, the Chinese, being inventive cooks, came up with the delicious meatless Jai dish.

Ingredients of Jai are a play on Chinese words, especially those symbolizing good luck. Fat Choy (hair-like seaweed) is wealth: Fun see (cellophane noodles) and Chin Ngee (fungus) are longevity; Foo jook (dried bean curd sheets) means blessing every household: Bak Ko (ginkgo nut) means 100 Grandchildren. Ho see (dried oysters) means good tidings and successful business: Gum Choy (dried flower (means gold and good luck and Hua Sing (peanut) means deceased ancestors.

Candied preserved fruits and vegetables together with melon seeds are symbolic of Chinese New Year and signify something — melon seeds mean many children: and the long vines of squash and melon mean a long line of descendants; lotus seeds means production of sons; carrots, tangerines and kumquats are also prized because, also being round and golden, they signify prosperity – “kum” or “gum” in Chinese means “gold,” thus golden wealth. Coconuts are hopes for a strong relationship between father and son.

While many will enjoy special foods, event and festivities, it is no secret that the Chinese are superstitious, especially about New Year’s Day. Knives and scissors are put away so that no one can cut the continuity of luck for the year to come. Loans are not negotiated that day for fear that they might be loaning money for the rest of the year.

Brooms are stored away and should also be avoided as they sweep away good luck.

Since we have just finished the 2008 Presidential election and much attention was given to nominee Republican Vice President Sarah Palin, let’s take a trip back into time to see how women fared in the past during the Ox years.

In 1901 Hatchet woman Carry Nation took her anti-saloon campaign to Topeka, Kansas where selling liquors was already illegal but beer parlors continued to flourish. She began with peaceful protests at first, and then realized she wasn’t getting anywhere so she changed her strategy. She recruited several hundred females known as the “Home Defender Army,” and smashed saloons across Kansas to convince lawmakers to tighten prohibition. With her famous hatchet in hand she told women, “You don’t know how much joy you will have until you begin to smash, smash, smash.” She continued to travel throughout the U.S. wrecking tavern after tavern and finally got arrested for lecturing at carnivals.

In June 1913 English suffragist Emily Davison sacrificed herself to the cause of suffrage when she grabbed the reins of King George’s horse and was trampled to death. Also, Emmeline Pankhurst was sentenced to three years in jail for trying to firebomb the house of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George.

In 1925, Parisians were fascinated and dazzled by the beautiful Black American Dancer, Josephine Baker from St. Louis, Illinois in her performance at the Folies-Bergere. She loved Paris because for the first time in her life, she could do what was impossible in her native country; sit wherever she wanted in restaurants, trains or theater. She was the most-loved woman in Paris so French wives and mistresses emulated her by slicking down their hair, and soaking themselves in walnut oil to darken their skin. She also worked for the French Resistance in the Second World War.

In 1937, in the United States, 39-year old Aviator Amelia Earhart together with her veteran navigator, Fred Noonan, climbed into their twin-engine Lockheed Electra in Los Angeles on June 1st to fly around the world. However, they never reached their destination and simply disappeared. To this day, this case remained unsolved.

In 1949 Tokyo Rose – Iva Toguri d’Aquino, known as Tokyo Rose was tried on eight counts of treason in San Francisco. She was born in Los Angeles and charged with giving comfort to the enemy. She claimed she was caught in Tokyo at the start of the war and forced into service by Japan. After a three-month trial rife with prosecutorial corruption, she was found guilty of a lesser charge and served six years in prison. In 1977, President Gerald Ford acknowledged her wrongful prosecution with a pardon.

In 1961, Jean Nidetch knew that the cultural equation of feminine beauty was thinness so she gave birth to what is known today as Weight Watchers. Her plan was simple, a perpetual dieter’s formula with low-fat protein sources, abundant fruits and vegetables. But to be successful, she had to keep her dieters motivated so she came up with modest membership dues and weekly morale-boosting meetings led by graduates.

It became a multi-million dollar empire and today Weight Watchers can be found in more than 20 countries with scores and scores of imitators around the world.

In 1973, abortion became a big issue. The U.S. joined a growing majority of countries that allowed women to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not.

It started with Jane Roe in Texas and Mary Doe in Georgia who both gave birth to unwanted children after being denied abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court decided 7-2 that all restrictions on abortion in the first trimester was unconstitutional — The Roe vs. Wade movement unleashed the world’s most militant anti-abortion movement. Based in the Catholic and Evangelical Christian communities and endorsed by the Republican Party, the American “pro-life” movement has become a potent political force escalating from civil disobedience to violence.

That same year, Billy Jean King became the first female athlete to top $100,000 in earning in a year.

In 1985, it was because of 52-year-old Joan Collins appearance in the soap opera Dynasty that it climbed into the top ten rating in American television viewing.

In 1997, the world was shocked and mourned the loss of the beautiful Princess Diana when she died in a car accident.

The outgoing year represented the beginning of a new era or, in Chinese terminology, “The opening of the sky.” The bovine eminence is associated with “the settling of earth.”

In 2009, we will face trials and tribulations and the Ox year will be a good time to settle domestic and World affairs and put our own house in order. There will be many things needing our attention and the list of what needs to be done will seem endless but we will prevail as the Year of the Ox favors discipline.

There will be more conflicts this year due to a lack of communication and refusal to give in but everything will be sorted out but we need to hang on and be patient.

This is the Ox year so it may be worthwhile to point out that even though the stoical Ox is soft-spoken, this year will no doubt bear fruit because the motto is “no work, no pay!” Time waits for no one if we are too lazy to sow then we can blame no one if we have nothing to reap.

Chinese oracle evaluate the Year of the Ox as a period of productivity, a time to cultivate practical pursuits and carry past projects to fruition.

Valerie Lee Whong writes to us from Cupertino, CA.

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