Greeting the Year of the Sheep with whole fish, longevity vase…and amulets

lunar 4 By Cecile Caguingin Ochoa

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, based on Filipinos’ Chinese heritage and tradition, we pay homage to the culture that brought us chowmein, siopao (chao shu bao), tofu, hopia, lomi, bihon, miswa, etc. Hungry yet?

Our Filipino forefathers, mostly traders borrowed words from China merchants like “a chi or ateko” (older sis); “a kuyatau” or “kuya” (older brother), “bakya” (wooden slippers). There’s the sari-sari store or convenience store where day loans (“utang”) are written in the posts of the store –where presumably the term Chinese laundry list originated?

Our mothers would feel incomplete without 12 or 7 round-shape fruits on the dining table after the stroke of midnight on December 31. Thus, we ushered in the traditional new year with a “tray of togetherness” — oranges, apples, watermelons, guavas, pomelos, peaches, grapes, among others.

In the same way, Chinese Americans who were born and raised in the U.S., like Diane Woo, a Los Angeles County employee in the field of human resources caters to the beliefs and norms of her family from Canton.

“The day before New Year in the Chinese calendar which falls on February 19 in 2015, our family meets for dinner to close the old year always having these staples: chicken and fish to represent prosperity; long noodles for long life; lucky candy with red wrappers and gold letterings and red envelopes that contain good luck money for the year.” She said only married people can give to children and singles and not vice-versa.

On the eve of new year, she will go home after dinner and boil pomelo (suha) leaves from her mother’s tree and bathe with its water to wash away any bad luck from the old year.

While it’s customary for many Chinese not to work on the lunar new year or its eve, Diane has not taken time off on these days because she says she’s not totally immersed in some old traditions, and “I like my job.”

Talking about luck for the Year of the Sheep, many stores in downtown L.A. sell colorful charms that are believed to bring cure to those whose “animal sign” does not augur well with the Sheep sign.

Joanna’s knick-knacks’ store on Broadway and Ord streets, a couple of miles away from the Mayor’s Office at the Civic Center, was quite busy selling a variety of these gold-plated charms or “agimat,” as we say in the Philippines.

For those born in the year of the Dragon, believed to be the most powerful of animal signs (1952 – early 1953; 1964 – 1965; 1976 -1977; 1988 – 1989; 2000 -2001 and so on in 12 years cycle), year 2015 does not promise to be a good year with many hurdles, although the animal zodiac readings say this could be a year of promotions if they work hard.

Joanna has the Garuda Wu Lou chain, the Longevity vase or the Peace and Anti-Conflict key chain to offer the Dragon-born patrons.

One charm cost a customer at least $18 a piece, and easily they could leave the store with $130 charges on their debit or credit cards even if they buy only five of the “cures” for each member of the family.

“We offer no discounts regardless of the number of items you buy; these sell at least $45 each if you buy in the Internet,” Joanna responded to a bargain hunter. To show proof of her claim, she quickly logged on to her laptop to show proof.
For those born in the Year of the Rat (1948 – 1949; 1960-1961; 1972-1973, and so on) “Good fortune in career and wealth may be limited” or so says Joanna’s catalogue.

“But they can purchase the blue crystal wind chime, which features eight rods which magnify the luck of the Prosperity 8 star. This should be hung in the North sector of the living room.”

On the other hand, Pig people and Tiger people will have stability in their career and their love life, but they should still protect themselves from jealousy and envy of “people around them,” with the charms.

The bottom line in all these forecasts is that if one stays reasonable and even-tempered, their luck in 2015 would be smooth sailing – cures or no cures.

One thing to note, the Chinese New Year’s eve falls this year during Ash Wednesday which poses a cultural crossing with Filipinos’ predominant Catholic upbringing of abstaining from meat. We can get lucky by eating a lot of fish, served whole with head and tail intact to represent a good beginning and a good end for the coming year.

Whatever your belief is, we join the billions of Chinese around the globe in wishing Gung Hai Fat Choi!

Son Ning Fai Lock! (Hope your year is prosperous!).

Joanna’s knick-knacks’ store on Broadway and Ord streets. Photo by Cecile Ochoa

Joanna’s knick-knacks’ store on Broadway and Ord streets. Photo by Cecile Ochoa

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