Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jane Austen was a Goat. Or a Sheep.

18 February 2015

Just in case you weren't confused enough about the date, we present three different years.  Some places or organizations are calling this the Year of the Goat.  Others are calling it the Year of the Ram.  And a third option is the Year of the Sheep.  (No one is calling it the Year of the Ewe, or the Year of the Lamb.  Yet.)

From today's newspaper, the South China Morning Post:

"According to Chinese legend, when the Jade Emperor was developing a calendar, he summoned all the creatures on Earth to participate in a race.  The first twelve species to cross the finish line were awarded signs in the zodiac.  The Rat won first place through cunning and strategy, having hitched a ride on the back of the Ox, while the Pig came in last because he was continually distracted."

Regarding the confusion over the name of the year:  
"For one Chinese linguist, the confusion stems from ancient times, when the Chinese zodiac, based on a 12-year cycle, was first introduced during the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE).  The Chinese word yang in oracle-bone script - the ancient characters found on bones used for divination in the Bronze Age - looked like an animals with two horns and a pointy face, said Professor Ho Che-wah, head of the department of Chinese Literature at Chinese University.  But the character could be translated to goat, sheep, or ram in English.  Ho said that while sheep had a long history in Chinese society, the country's culinary past suggested the goat as the most likely animal to have been included in the zodiac.........Goats had a higher status among the animals in Chinese society, as in the past only rich people and the aristocracy could afford to eat them.  The Chinese word for "envy" originally referred to a person salivating over a goat, Ho added."

It's an unlucky year for you during the year of your sign - for example, I was born during the Year of the Horse, so the past year would have been problematic for me.  Since there are twelve zodiac signs, everyone will have unlucky years at ages 12, 24, 48, 60, 72, 84, etc.  (And maybe during the year they were born?)  According to ancient Chinese superstition, your birth sign year actually offends the God of Age, and so the sign brings you bad luck for the year.  You can counter the bad luck by wearing something red, especially if it was given to you by an elder.  (The newspaper recommends socks, undies, a neck cord, or a bracelet or anklet.  Is this why grandparents always give socks and undies as gifts???)

Goats are compassionate and artistic, they think before acting, and they try not to hurt other people's feelings.  they also require a lot of attention and are demanding of those they are close to.

Famous Goats (or Sheep) include my favorite, Jane Austen!  John Denver, George Harrison, Buster Keaton, Mick Jagger, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Bruce Willis are also Goats.   

There are signs all over with some emperor, or someone looking important and ancient, saying, well, who knows what.  I just like the signs.  I suspect they're saying "Closed for the New Year" or something mundane.  But cool signs.

And lion dancer figures everywhere!  Tomorrow night is the big parade, over in Kowloon, so we expect to see lion dancing at that event.  There's also a huge horse race on Saturday, and the entertainment (sort of like the half-time show) is lion dancing.  I may brave the horse dander, wear a mask, and go to the races just for the lion dancing!  (We do love our lion dancers, ever since seeing the International Lion Dancing on Stilts Competition in Penang, Malaysia!)

There are pop up markets everywhere - our neighborhood, Wan Chai, seems to be known for the shopping and little markets on side streets.  One street might have mostly flowers, or specializing in orchids (which are always gorgeous).  Another little street might be full of stalls with charms and decorations and little jade figures, all on red silk cords, presumably to ward of bad luck and bring good fortune.  Then there are streets full of clothing, or produce, or shoes - the list goes on and on.  We could spend hours wandering and looking at the items for sale as well as the shoppers.  It's all fascinating, and of course we don't know what half the items are so that makes it even more interesting.

We stopped in a mall today for a quick lunch.  In the lobby there was a man doing calligraphy in Chinese, on red paper.  People would go to the concierge desk, tell them what they wanted written (maybe to X from Y?  Love and kisses from Granny?), the concierge would write it down and put it in a stack, the man would do his calligraphic best, and the people would stand around fanning their paper until it was dry.  Some people then picked out lucky cats, and added the paper.  We aren't sure what the others did with their papers.  It was confusing, interesting, and there was no one who could fully explain what was going on.  Not to mention that since we were only looking, we were sort of jostled out of the way.  Because we were seen as being IN the way.  (Countries that are as densely populated as Hong Kong definitely don't have the sense of personal space that more spacious countries have.  Here, everyone tends to bump into each other - I'm constantly being smacked accidentally by bags and packages.  And don't try to carry a bag with pastry, it gets mashed up on the way home!)

In general, the mood is like shopping on Christmas Eve.  The Lunar New Year begins tomorrow, or maybe tonight at midnight.  (I'm hoping for small fireworks!)  So people are frantically finalizing their preparations, buying last minutes gifts and decorations, looking for one last present for someone they'll visit over the fifteen days of the New Year.  And of course shopping for food, because everyone visits family and friends - they bring flowers and gifts, you feed them - this is one of those universals, food is part of any celebration.

I found these panda statues in a little park.  There are pocket parks around the city, and this was just outside the Office of Social Services, or something.  There were a few people on the phone, or reading, or smoking - not sure if they were workers taking a break, or clients, or people waiting - but I thought it was nice that there was this friendly waiting area full of pandas being their cute and silly selves.

That's the New Year update, until the parade tomorrow night!

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