Berger’s Burg: Asians and Alex prepare for Year of the Rat
On Feb. 6, the Asian Lunar Year of the Boar ends, and the Year of the Rat slithers in on Feb. 7. (Note that I didn't say "Chinese New Year," since other Asian nations also celebrate this event.) It will be year 4706 in their ancient calendar, which is 2,649 years older than ours. (Many Asian nations have since switched to our Western one.)When man brings wife flowers for no reason, there is usually a reason.Four-thousand seven-hundred six years! Why, that is a greater aggregate of years than the equivalent of four Mike Wallace lifetimes, three Methuselah life-spans, a couple of Jack Nicholson's and 1 Barbara Walters lives tossed in. That is seniority carried to the max.Without the Chinese, what would the rest of us eat?The Lunar New Year has always been the most popular of Asian festivals. It is a time for the clearing away of any bad luck in the old year and obtaining a clean, fresh slate for the next. It is believed that various god-like spirits report what occurred during the past year to the ruler of heaven, the Jade Emperor. Doesn't this remind you a little of Santa Claus' helpers, who compile the list that Santa checks twice, to find out who was naughty and nice?Chinese is a tough language. A quarter of a million words and the only one in English is "chop suey."Many of the revelers begin the celebration by burning a paper image of the evil god, Tsao Wang. This ritual is done supposedly to send him on his way one week before the New Year. Don't I wish that burning paper images of Osama Bin Laden would send that evil man on his way also.God made the universe and then rested. He made man and then rested. He then made woman and nobody has rested since.Traditionally, each succeeding New Year is named for a different animal in a rotating series of 12 animals. One explanation for this custom is that all the animals of the world were invited to a party for Buddha (the deified religious teacher). Only 12 thought it important enough to attend. So these animals were honored by having years named after them.Husbands are living proof that women can take a joke.Then there is another explanation. All the animals were debating their order of rank in relation to one another. Each animal claimed that its specie was the most supreme. To settle matters, they decided to have a race and swim across a large body of water to a distant land. The first 12 to reach the destination, in strict order of finish, would once and for all decide superiority.A pig bought on credit is forever grunting.The rat could not swim, so the clever rodent jumped into the ear of the ox when no one was looking and hid. Sure enough, when the powerful ox neared the land, the sly rat jumped onto terra firma. He was declared the winner of the "rat race," and honored by starting the 12-year cycle. I wonder who would have won if a whale and a shark were allowed to race? This rotating sequence has not been broken in nearly 47 centuries. Love comes unseen; we only see it go.Rat people (no offense intended), born during 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 and 2008, are very sociable folks. They like to invent, are charismatic, ambitious, honest, artistic, curious, generous, charming, extroverted, passionate and fertile. But they also are greedy, devious, calculating, restless, and anger easily. Ed Koch is a Rat person.Words once spoken can never be recalled.The loud noises of exploding firecrackers, crashing cymbals and rolling drums pave the way for the kitchen god, to the delight of the celebrants.The fear of death is the greatest compliment to life.The plentiful foods served include fish for luck, dumplings for change, rice for progress, and soup (matzo?) balls for unity. This is in addition to the staple, pork, whose body parts (excluding the oink) are served in a million ways. The Japanese, Vietnamese and Koreans also observe the holiday while displaying their own distinctive traditions.A smart man's views are always the same as yours.On this festive occasion, Gloria and I wish all my Asian readers a "Gong Xi Fa Tsai" ("a happy greeting"). Now, please excuse us as we join the festivities. Gloria, please pass the chop suey.
Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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