Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy New Year - Chinese Style

Chinese New Year is so full of traditions, dragon and lion dances, firecrackers, drums, cabbage, coins in red envelopes, everything to bring good luck, prosperity and longevity.

Luck and prosperity I understand, but why would anyone want to live for a long time on this planet. It is over-crowded, polluted, corrupt and by all accounts warming up a bit. This does in some way help explain the red envelopes.

This custom is more than sharing wealth it is a tradition in which the older generations pass on their good luck and longevity to younger generations. Pass it on? More like give it away. My grandmother is about to celebrate her 97th birthday. She has been waiting for her time to come to an end since her 70th birthday.

In the weeks after her 70th birthday she needed to replace her bin. This was well before the invention of wheelie bins. Remember the now old fashioned round bins made of either plastic or metal that were the perfect height for the stumps in a game of backyard cricket? Grandma in replacing her bin chose the plastic model because she “did not want a bin that would live longer than her”.

Well she sure showed the garbage receptacle. Not only did she out last that particular bin but she outlived the entire model.

The human race is caught in a contradictory conundrum. The body, like a refrigerator, is not designed to last forever, the mind however desires to be immortal. As the wonders of modern medicine solve puzzle of one disease the body succumbs to another. The longer we live we discover illnesses and disorders that rare if ever were present. The diseases of age are the price we pay as a race for longevity.

As spectacular and athletic as the lion dancing is and as deafening as the firecrackers are my favourite of the Chinese New Year traditions it the lions’ “spitting” of cabbage. Such a quirky activity, it appeals to my childish love of a food fight.

Store keepers hand a cabbage in their doorways. The lion dancers climb (in costume) to take the cabbage, break it up (chew) and then throw (spit) it at the store owner and staff. Those who catch any of the cabbage will have prosperity in the year ahead, as will the business.

OHS and food hygiene people!

I finally understand what a cabbage is good for.

I celebrated a voyeuristic Chinese New Year this year, obtaining pleasure from merely watching the festivities in Melbourne’s Chinatown. I expected and understood most of what I saw. I was somewhat surprised by the entertainment on the main stage that included flamenco dancing, a display of South Sudanese dancing (I use this word advisedly) and a Indian display straight out of Bollywood.

Are boardshorts and footy socks traditional costumes for South Sudanese warriors? Are shields made out of cardboard? If so I cannot fathom how this race of people has survived both the wild animals and the civil wars of their region.

I did not realise that Chinese culture was so influenced by the Spanish. Is this the part of the Inquisition that no-one talks about like going to Germany and not mentioning the war? This is something modern day conspiracy theorists should look into more closely and set up websites (that ironically will be banned in China) to spruik their circumstantial findings.

Western New Year really commits to the fireworks with governments spending the prosperity of the previous year to ring in the new. The baying audiences judge the pyrotechnic display not only on its colour and volume but also on its longevity. Luck is measured on ones ability to get home at the end of many hours of drinking. We share the luck by repeatedly yelling and spluttering at both friends and strangers the we “loves youse all.”

Happy new year

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