Have you ever found a piece of jigsaw puzzle lying beside the road? All you have is that single piece and you can’t help wondering what the rest of the puzzle looked like but feel completely overwhelmed by the enormity and impossibility of the task? How can you ever hope to assemble the big picture from only one little piece?
You know you can’t and yet you’re almost being eaten alive by curiosity!
What is it?
That’s what it was like for me yesterday when my daughter and I stumbled into the Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in Sydney yesterday. We were simply walking from Darling Harbour to Town Hall Station, via the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), to catch the train home.
After walking through some smokey food stores, we came across this stunning but also intriguing lantern sculpture towering through the QVB.
As we walked on, we spotted what looked like an enormous inflatable bee but turned out to be a Tiger.
A Tiger? To mark the beginning of the Year of the Monkey?
Clearly, the tiger is also juggling four different coloured balls. What are they? What do they mean?
When you write a blog, it’s no longer enough to walk past these mysteries and simply write them off as someone else’s culture. You just can’t let ignorance go through to the keeper. You have to find out. Explore. Come up with the answers.
Or, at least ask Google. Find out.
The question is: how much time do you allocate to the quest?
Cultural icons don’t suddenly appear. They have been built up, layer up on layer, over hundreds and even thousands of years. Of course, the complexity and nuance of all this history can’t instantly be gleaned from Google and understood. It really is something you need to live and breathe and to give due respect, almost needs to be your own.
Yet, if we only stay home and never cross that bridge, we’ll never build bridges between nations, cultures and peoples.
Moreover, have you ever considered that people, not just countries, are multicultural? This means that we even have these mergers and fractures inside our very selves.
While Irish, German and Scottish blood battle it out in my genes, I don’t have any personal connection to Chinese culture, beyond buying take away meals and a fleeting day trip to China from Hong Kong back in 1988.
This makes developing any level of cultural understanding difficult.
So, far Google hasn’t been altogether helpful but what I did find out is that Sydney is hosting what’s claimed to be the biggest Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations outside mainland China. 12 giant lantern sculptures have been erected at iconic Sydney landmarks. That explained why the Tiger was outside the QVB. Unfortunately, we didn’t see our Tiger lit up but it was still an interesting spectacle.
These 12 sculptures represent the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac or Sheng Xiao: Each year is represented by one animal (and one mythical creature, the dragon). There are 12 animals in a specific order, and the 12-animal-cycle rotates every 12 years. In Sheng Xiao these animals are (in order): Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Ram), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
Apparently, I was born in the Year of the Rooster and in this the Year of the Monkey:
During the year, the Rooster-born need to clear all misunderstandings quickly. It is important to seek expert advice when faced with failure. They can make wrong judgments if they rely on external information without personally delving deeper into what is actually happening. Good luck can be destroyed with careless action when trying to find solutions when faced with financial, family or personal problems.
This sounds like good advice for anyone, don’t you think?!!
You can find your zodiac and read more here
Anyway, in my usual fashion, I made quite a mistake consulting Google and should’ve gone straight to Wikipaedia where pretty much all is explained. Moreover, it confirmed just how much tradition is involved in this ancient festival and that a few photos taken passing by, could never do it justice.
Yet, at least, I paused and looked a little further.
Asked a few questions.
We might not be able to walk in someone else’s shoes but at least we can try them on. Stumble around. We don’t even need to pretend they fit. Indeed, it’s probably better we don’t.
Happy Chinese New Year!
If you are celebrating Chinese New Year or can enlighten me at all, please leave a link in the comments!