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Berger’s Burg: Boro Chinese ring in Year of Dog for 4704

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When the second casket was lowered, only a single cup of rice was placed on it. "Say," questioned the tourist again, "why so little food on that coffin?" "That was Sing Lee. He was on a diet."I love the Chinese. Without them, where would the rest of us eat?With these jokes, you know that the Chinese "Year of the Dog" is ready to wag its tail on Jan. 29. Many Asians in Queens, and throughout the world (and a few non-Asians such as my neighbor, Lou DiGiorgi of Whitestone), will be celebrating its arrival in grand fashion. I got the message when Lou, an expert in Chinese astrology, and a strong believer in its teachings, nearly knocked down my door to announce its arrival. He is Italian but during every Chinese New Year, he segues into a very unique Asian mode.Lou brought a huge volume of "What You Always Wanted to Know About the Chinese New Year But Were Too Embarrassed To Ask" and began explaining the whys and wherefores of the holiday, which honors and fetes one of 12 different animals every 12 years. In 2006, it is Fido's turn to bark. "The Chinese lunar calendar is celebrating Year No. 4704," Lou pointed out, "which is 2,637 years older than ours" (gulp). "That number boggles the mind," I said. "It is, by far, a greater aggregate of years than the equivalent of three Andy Rooney lifetimes; triple the longevity of Mike Wallace and Strom Thurmond combined, and thrice the age of my venerable Uncle Mayer." "The New Year celebration has always been the most important and popular of the Chinese festivals," Lou continued. "It is a time for the clearing away of bad luck left over from the old year and obtaining a clean, fresh slate for the next. Various god-like spirits report what occurred during the past year to the ruler of heaven, the Jade Emperor." (Not unlike an IRS Auditor). "Many of the Chinese revelers open the celebration by burning a paper image of the evil god, Tsao Wang. This ritual is supposedly performed to send him on his way one week before the new year." (I wish that burning a paper image of my financial adviser would send him on his way also.) "Each new year is designated with a name of a different animal in a rotating series of 12 years," Lou expounded. "Tradition has it that all the animals of the world were invited to a party for Buddha, the founder of the religion. However, only 12 thought it important enough for them to attend. So, these animals were honored with a year named after them. This cycling sequence has not been broken in almost 47 centuries." (I think the New York Jets may match that number in losing seasons.) "Does the name imply that the new year is being turned over to the dogs and everyone should eat more hot dogs?" I inquired. "No," Lou said emphatically. "What it signifies is that the noble dog, not considered a pet but a work animal in China, is admired for its diligence and hard work. A common belief has it that if a stray dog wanders into a person's house, that person will instantly become wealthy." (Last week, a friend and his dog wandered in my house and chased the cat out. I am still waiting for some instant wealth.) "It is believed that the characteristics of the various animals ruling in the year a person was born reflects upon his life and strongly influences it. Hence, people born under the sign of the Dog (1970, 1982, 1994 and 2006, for example) are reliable, friendly, honest, and can be pillars of society. But they can also be nosy, worrisome, and cantankerous. "Dogs" (no aspersion intended) are compatible with "Horse" (1978, etc.) and "Tiger" (1974, etc.) people Ð (add or subtract 12 from your year of birth to see if you fall under these signs.). They are not compatible with "Dragon" (1976, etc.), or "Sheep" (l979, etc.) people. A few famous "Dogs" are Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone and Norman Schwartzkopf.Traditionally, the Chinese prepare for the New Year well in advance. This preparation is a period of joy, warmth, richness, kindness and goodness. Before New Year's Eve, every house is thoroughly cleansed as a means of sweeping away all evil spirits and all debts are paid. Most shops and public places are closed. The occasion is a time for reunions with relatives and friends, and people travel long distances to return home. They don new clothes for the visits. Incense is burned, candles are lit, and a large amount of food is put on the family altar as an offering to the spirits. Children receive red envelopes containing ""lai see" or "lucky money." Married family members are required to give lucky money to the unmarrieds, and people say lucky words to each other (Quick, someone wish me instant wealth).Firecrackers, an integral part of the Chinese New Year celebration, are exploded to pave the way for the Kitchen God (I hope Beef Chow Fun is on the menu). "Overall," Lou concluded, "The Year of the Dog" promises to be one of harmony, humanitarianism, and good fortune for all Dogs (and their puppies, too?)." Before departing, Lou suggested that I eat plenty of fish (for luck), dumplings (for change), rice cakes (for progress), and soup balls (for unity); leaving room for chicken chow mein (for Gloria) and spare ribs (for me). Gloria, grab your coat. Lou also wishes everyone "Kung-his-Fa-ats' Ai (prosperity), Shin Nian Kwai Le" (a Happy New Year), and "Wallpang" (Peace!) to all.Thank you, Professor Lou, for your wonderful lesson. And, be sure to come back next year to explain "The Year of the Boar." I can hardly wait. Reach Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300. Ext. 157

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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