Thursday, January 29, 2009

Happy Lunar New Year!

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Or is is Gong Hey Fatt Choi? Or Gong Xi Fa Cai?
I'm not sure which is the correct spelling (oh, those inscrutable Orientals), but the meaning is the same - "Congratulations and be prosperous" - as we welcome in the Year of the Ox.

A number of people have asked me if my family celebrates Chinese New Year. And since we're not Chinese, and since Asians are not all the same, the answer is no. (Although since half the Indonesians in Australia are ethnic Chinese, its a fair question I guess.) However, given that I seem to be surrounded by Chinese people at all times, its hard not to get swept up in the occasion.

Here in Melbourne, the festivities start a month before the date itself, with the city's major Chinese/Vietnamese areas (Springvale, Box Hill, Footscray, Richmond and the CBD) taking turns at having their celebrations (read: karaoke, firecrackers, lion dancing, roast pork and sugar cane juice).

I celebrated Chinese New Year at Golden Monkey, my mate's Chinese-themed bar in the city. The lion dancers rocked up and did their thing, with drum-banging entourage, which is meant to bless the business with prosperity for the coming year. Two lions, each operated by two people. I wonder if they draw straws and the loser has to be the lion's ass? They did the ceremonial thing where the business owner feeds the lions with a head of lettuce which they dangle from a pole. I like that, a vegetarian lion.

A few things I've learned about Chinese New Year (or, tips for non-Chinese on surviving Chinese New Year):

1. One of the traditions each year is for married people to give ang pao (red packets of money) to unmarried people. If you are not Chinese yet still want to get in on some of this action, make sure you get in the good books with your Chinese friend's parents. Your tightass single friends are probably not gonna give you jack, so work on their parents.

2. If you are at a loud CNY function and you are conversing with someone who then eats a fishcake, do not ask them any questions until they have swallowed said fishcake and washed it down with something. Even if it creates a briefly uncomfortable silence, it is preferrable to getting a blast of fishcake breath in your face as this person leans in to talk to you.

3. If you are giving red packets to the lion dancers, custom dictates that you place it in the lion's mouth, not tuck it in the front of their pants.

4. Knives and scissors are bad luck if used on new year's day, since they apparently cut of good fortune. So when preparing meat for your CNY feast, your teeth will do just fine.

5. Red is the colour of good fortune, so wear something red. However, some items do not count. For example: bowling shirts with red flames on them. Red ugg-boots. Red shirts with rude words on them as an attempt to shock people because you are so "edgy". If you wear any of these items, you are unlikely to have good fortune, like ever.

6. Washing one's hair on CNY is considered to be bad luck, as it represents washing away one's good fortune. Yet if you are out to pick up at a CNY party and you haven't washed your hair, your chances of getting lucky are not great either.

7. The noisiness of firecrackers is intended to scare away evil spirits that bring bad luck. If you notice you get startled or frightened by firecrackers on CNY, might be time to get yourself checked out by a doctor in case you have unwittingly turned into an evil spirit. But I think they have a pill you can take for that nowadays.

Incidentally, this year is especially fortuitous if you are Chinese-Australian, since CNY fell on January 26th, the same day as the Australia Day holiday. Maybe one day the powers-that-be will deign to make CNY an official public holiday, as it is in many Asian countries. That would really show that we are a multicultural country. Maybe if we flood the country with more and more Chinese people, we'll get that extra public holiday. (I mean, we get the Melbourne Cup Day holiday, a holiday for a bloody horse race?) Then hopefully we can get public holidays for Passover, Dipawali, and Eid-ul-Fitr, and eventually I won't have to go to work at all. Avoiding work - it's the Australian way. Let's make it happen, people.

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