Kung Hei Fat Choy!
The Year of the Dragon began February 5th.
According to traditional beliefs, the Dragon is a wise creature; the embodiment of strength, fertility, benevolence, life, rain, and imperial power.
The Dragon represents wisdom, success and high status. People born under this sign are considered fortunate, as they're said to possess the characteristics of the most auspicious symbol of the Chinese Horoscope. My wife was born in the Year of the Dragon.
This year is led by the Golden Dragon, which appears once in the 60-year cycle of the horoscope. Combined with the year 2000, expectations are high that this year will be filled with excitement and additional good fortune.
As in the previous year, I participated in the customs that accompany the week-long celebrations. Here are some of the preparations required for the holiday:
Custom #1: House Cleaning. The most important thing to do is to clean before New Year's Eve. Throw out all the garbage, wash the walls, sweep and wash the floor. It's a good time to get rid of your daughter's repugnant boyfriend and your husband's obnoxious poker buddies.
After that, you shouldn't clean until the fifth day of the New Year, lest you sweep the good luck from the house — as though some people need an excuse to not do housework.
Custom #2: Gift Giving. When visiting grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, adult cousins, or even friends, gift-giving is a time-honoured tradition. Gifts should be wrapped in red paper: the colour of good fortune.
I observed the time-honoured tradition of queuing to buy the gifts and queuing to have them wrapped. This year we gave Belgian chocolates stamped with the Chinese word fok, which means good fortune. Are you sensing a pattern?
Along with that, we gave each aunt and uncle a bag filled with eight oranges. Oranges signify good health, while the number eight sounds like the word for prosperity. Now that I think of it, we should have given healthier gifts than chocolates.
Custom #3: Lai See. It's customary to give red pocket money to children and unmarried adults.
To prepare, I went to the bank to get new banknotes (new bills for the new year) in $10, $20 and $100 denominations. I then bought red envelopes stamped in gold foil with characters of good wishes.
While visiting, give lucky money to each child while wishing them happy new year. Kids from large families may receive enough to bankroll their university educations.
Custom #4: Greeting & Eating. When visiting, greet elders with a hearty Kung Hei Fat Choy (prosperous wishes), and follow it with Luhng Mah Jing Sahn, (energetic as a dragon and a horse), or for the younger relatives, Bou Bou Gou Sing (promoted to a higher position).
Next, present gifts as you enter their home. Once inside, you'll be given tea and invited to sit at the table, where you'll be served a variety of new year foods.
Among these is loh baahk gou, a steamed dish consisting of white carrots, small dried shrimp, and Chinese sausage, which add up to a gag factor of 9.5 on my flavour scale.
Most of the offerings are tasty, however.
Custom #5: Flower Markets. During the holidays, many large markets sell seasonal flowers, potted plants, and trees. One of the most popular purchases is a tall tangerine tree planted in a pot, which signifies long-lasting relationships. For married people, it means the marriage will be fruitful.
At $250 or higher per tree, it makes flower vendors fruitful.
Custom #6: Fireworks. The city puts on an impressive 23-minute show: a large-scale version of the loud red firecrackers that are set off in the streets to send out the old year and bring in the new year. And induce deafness.
Custom #7: Mah Jong. In most flats, you'll find a game of Mah Jong in progress. If not, you can count on one being started. Since I've learned how to play, I practiced in anticipation of New Year. I was ready to play and looking forward to it, but many cousins were travelling, so I had no one to play with. Curses, foiled again!
Custom #8: Verbal Taboos. Speaking of which, never curse during the holidays, and avoid references to unlucky words and death. The number 4 (which sounds like the word for death), should never be said.
As we passed a Mah Jong game on our way home, I heard a bad word yelled out by one of the players. He must not be superstitious.
Custom #9: Fai Chun. Lucky Wall-Hangings are four-character phrases set against red backgrounds, meant to ward off evil spirits.
Wait a second, how can they be lucky if they have four characters?
We don't observe all the traditions; to do so would invite burn-out, and that wouldn't fit in with the character of the dragon.
February 12, 2000
Next Tale: I Should Learn Kung Fu