I gasped when I saw the envelope housing my ticket to the Chinese New Year dinner. It was a golden symbol overlaying a striking red background. The red envelope represents good luck and the colour symbolizes good fortune and joy in Chinese culture. The entrance to the Grand Hall in the Campus Activity Centre, where the dinner was hosted, was swathed in the colour.
On a side, but important note: since red symbolizes happiness it should never be worn at a Chinese funeral. Unlike western culture, white is the symbolic colour of mourning in China, but black is acceptable because it’s been adopted. I blame the Internet, particularly the Wikipedia article about Chinese colours, for beginning my blog post about the New Year with funeral talk!
But, let’s get back to the main topic. Welcome to the Year of the Snake: the Year of the Water or Black Snake to be exact. The snake symbolizes tenacity and cleverness and is associated with fire. The larger Chinese astrological calendar associates 2013 with water, so the resulting Year of the Water Snake is predicted to hold turmoil.
And yet, people welcomed it all across the globe. I found a great photo essay by The Atlantic depicting the different national traditions for welcoming the Chinese New Year.
The Chinese calendar is rather complex since it’s a lunisolar calendar, meaning it uses both the moon’s phases and solar year to keep track of time. Due to using moon phases, the actual Chinese New Year shifts around, following the second new moon after the winter solstice. But the official date is February 10th.
Now the Chinese New Year cycle is a fascinating beast… well actually a number of beasts. Within the Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese calendar reside the 12 zodiacs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. These animals each correspond to a year in a 12-year cycle. We just left the year of the dragon and entered the year of the snake. You can look up your zodiac through the year of your birth. For example, I’m a monkey since I was born in 1992.
So now that you’re hopelessly tangled in the strings of fate, let’s continue to the Thompson Rivers University Chinese New Year dinner.
There were three interpreters leading the audience through the evening. An English speaker, and I think, a Mandarin speaker and a Cantonese speaker. The last two are two forms of the Chinese language.
Dinner was served in seven waves. It was the first time I’d ever been served food piece by piece. Seated at a table of fellow students I clutched my chopsticks nervously as the food dishes circled around. First appeared cucumber salad and lion head meatballs. The lion head meatballs were given their name because of their size and because the vegetables they cook in look like lion manes.
Let me just say that trying to cut a piece of soft meatball with chopsticks is ridiculously difficult. I saw some people break the pieces between their chopsticks, but I ended up having to saw meatballs before picking up the smaller pieces with the chopsticks. Seems I don’t have the finger power. Plus, I mean chopsticks are blunt. As a friend pointed out to me, it makes you wonder why chopsticks are called “chop” sticks since they can’t chop food. On that note, because I couldn’t resist, according to Wikipedia the name chopsticks may have been derived from “chop-chop” which means “quickly” in Chinese pidgin English, or the simplified language used to communicated between the two groups. I will never think of the phrase “chop-chop” the same again.
As the other waves of food reached our table the entertainment began at the Chinese New Year dinner.There were a few repeats from the International Days Showcase just one week earlier, as regular readers will note.
First, dancers performed a Night in Shanghai and the dance to the popular modern song Chocolate Love by Girls’ Generation.
Then, somewhat surprisingly yet entirely suitable in a world becoming so interconnected, an Indian dance followed.
There were some draws of course! At some point a lucky young lady won a golf club.
The Moving Boys took to the stage to show the audience the popping style.
Then a show of Tai Chi, which was neat because this was the first time I’d ever seen it in person. Tai Chi is a martial art, which seems surprising when one pictures the swift, violent movements of movie martial arts. The modern Tai Chi has evolved from a self defence technique to one used for health benefits. I personally felt at peace watching this individual practice the art. He seemed grounded and yet light. Maybe that oxymoron was created by the way he smoothly transitioned through the moves.
Two dancers performed a modern dance called First Love.
And a Chinese Talk show ensued. Unfortunately, they only did this act in Chinese so I have no idea what they were actually talking about. Those that spoke Chinese at the table found it too difficult to translate the discussion. Apparently it was funny.
Then the fan dancers stepped up and took the audience through a love song. Though I had seen this dance at the International Days Showcase it certainly continued to be a thrill to watch. I also learned that the song is called Blue and White Porcelain by Jay Chou.
We took a short break for fireworks.
When we got back a singer introduced the audience to The Red Inn.
Halfway through the song, for some reason, a mass of students dashed up to the stage and presented the singer with flowers and other tokens, including oddly enough, the number from my table.
Yes, a student leapt up from my table, yanked the number-stand from the centre and dashed to the stage. Bowing, he presented the stand with both hands to the perplexed singer who placed it among the handful of flowers, tickets and napkins he had already been given. Maybe, since the song was about a red inn, the objects were jokingly tokens of love. The whole audience certainly enjoyed the singer’s shocked reaction to the spontaneous shower of gifts.
Then two swordsmen stepped forward and demonstrated Chinese sword moves.
Gangnam Style couldn’t stay away from this celebration and students were invited to show their stuff.