Thursday, 26 February 2015

sheep thrills

If you’re not Chinese, you may have had difficulty in deciding which animal this year is meant to represent. Is it the year of the sheep? Or is it the year of the goat? It depends who you ask, but the confusion arises because in Chinese, a goat is a shan yang, or hill sheep. However, the first character is often omitted, so they are both yang, in which case the sheep takes precedence. Note that it is definitely not the year of the ram—the sex of the animal is not relevant (cf. the year of the chicken (next year), often mistakenly referred to as the year of the rooster).

Surprisingly, there are other possibilities. In a segment about Chinese New Year during the festivities that accompany the arrival of the new year, CNN was wishing its viewers a ‘happy new year of the horned animal’. The producer of this piece clearly shows great promise as a hedge fund manager, although they will probably have overlooked the other horned animal in the Chinese zodiac, which takes over in 2021.

The other observation that I would make about this year’s festivities regards the chief executive’s new year address. CY Leung exhorted the Hong Kong populace to emulate the sheep, yet it seems inconceivable that he was not aware of the negative associations that this animal suggests to Western ears—sheep are natural conformists, and as George Orwell suggested in Animal Farm, they can be relied upon to parrot the latest political slogans.

Our own celebrations followed the usual pattern: firecrackers and a lion dance on the first day (for more on the symbolism of the lion dance, see A New Year); a trip into town on the second day to watch the fireworks over the harbour; and yet more firecrackers to accompany the blessing of the roast pigs on the third day. Here are two photos taken on the first day:

The stance adopted by the rear end of the lion in the second photo suggests to me that the dancer is inexperienced.

There have been only two occasions this century when we’ve missed the fireworks over the harbour: once in 2012, when having an ankle-to-groin plaster on my leg would have made waiting for the show to commence intolerable; and a few years earlier, when the cloud ceiling was so low that the explosion of the high shells would have been obscured. It was slightly dodgy this year, with the top of the International Finance Centre hidden by swirling mist and the summit of the Bank of China Building only just visible. This may be the reason for our being able to secure a good viewing position despite arriving late—people stayed away because of the weather.

The ceremony to bless a couple of roast pigs occurs whenever in the calendar it is convenient to hold it, and it fell on the third day this year. It may be my imagination, but the ceremony seems to be evolving into a less solemn, more casual occasion. However, the roast pork is as delicious as ever.

Much of the roast pork is eaten on the spot, and the rest is distributed to the various households in the village.

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