The Year of the Adorable Rodent

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I’ve been asked to write a column celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year.  As with other columns celebrating the New Year, I thought a festive poem might be in order.  Unfortunately, I’m having some problems with it.

My main concern (and I could see it coming), is that I’m having a hard time waxing poetic about the animal we are celebrating this year.

You see, this year is the year of the rat.

To give the rat it’s due, I did some research and the rat is highly regarded in its place in the Chinese Zodiac.  The rat is active, pleasant, and quick to see opportunities.  They are sociable, family minded…and able to withstand global thermonuclear explosions.

OK, I threw that last part in, and therein lies my problem.  Wait, instead of explaining it, why don’t I just show you the poem.  I call it, “Ode to Rat”.

Ode to Rat, by Wayne Chan

Oh, blessed rat, so misunderstood,
One thing to avoid, I know I would
You scuttle away, scampering here and there,
With your long bare tail, and scrubby gray hair

You’re honored this year, and while that might seem screwy,
You weren’t half bad in the film “Ratatouille”.
Perhaps there’s more to you, than pestilence and fleas,
After all, you do have a penchant for a nice fine cheese.

They say at a party, you’re the center of attention,
How you end up being invited, is beyond comprehension.
They say that beauty is only skin deep,
Yet from what I’ve seen, that’s a pretty big leap.

So here we are, in the year of the Rat.
And from what I’ve been told, you really are all that.
I’ll give you your props, but I don’t want to be vague,
This may be your year, just don’t give us the plague.

This is not exactly a poem I’d likely submit to the Readers Digest, if you know what I mean.

I’m not sure, but it might be the first time that anyone has ever incorporated the words “pestilence” and “plague” in a poem.

Seriously though, as with every New Year, it’s a time to appreciate what you have in your life and to look forward to the blessings of a new year.  Happy New Year to you and your family, and may a year of health and happiness be right around the corner.

The Kitchen God and His Missing Dumplings

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

The Kitchen God and His Missing Dumplings

Nian!  It’s all his fault.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Nian is a monster and legend has it that on the eve of Chinese New Year, Nian materializes and devours unsuspecting families.

I know now that the custom of setting off firecrackers, lighting lanterns and hanging red couplets was designed to scare off Nian , who hates loud noises, fire, and the color red.  As a youngster, all of this was just an excuse for me to play with firecrackers.

I’m sure my parents did share some of the customs.  But when you’re an impressionable boy, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.

Case in point: The mystery of the missing dumplings.

One custom practiced during Chinese New Year is to set aside an offering of food for the Kitchen God who visits every year to provide spiritual comfort.  I remember watching each year as my Aunt Lucy would set aside a plate of dumplings and other goodies at night on a table near the fireplace.

The strange thing was, several dumplings would always be missing in the morning.  Actual dumplings were gone, which even as a nine year old I realized was abnormal, for even the milk and cookies I put out on Christmas Eve for Santa Claus were always still there when I woke up in the morning.  The Kitchen God eats the dumpling in a spiritual sense, not a real one.

I decided to investigate and see who was swiping the dumplings from under the Kitchen God’s nose.  That night, with everyone asleep, I crept out of bed and crawled ever so quietly down the hallway so that I could catch the malcontent in the act.  At the end of the hall, I peered around the corner to the fireplace to wait.  And wait. And wait.

Then, in a flash, I identified the culprit, and I was devastated.  Who would have thought?

Nian had overcome and inhabited the body of Bubbles, our Cocker Spaniel.  I should have suspected it earlier that evening when I saw the dog run off every time I lit off a firecracker.

An Addendum

Those of you who are familiar with Chinese New Year know that the year is based on lunar cycles, as opposed to the traditional calendar.  Therefore, not only does the actual day of Chinese New Year fall on a different day each year (between late January and early February), but anyone who marks their birthday using the calendar (like my father) also have a different birthday each year, making it hard to track.  For example, I don’t know whether my father just turned 73 or whether he’s just now old enough to vote.

In honor of the New Year, and because the whole concept of changing birthdays completely escapes me, I would like to plan early and hopefully start a new Chinese New Year tradition.  So, without further ado:

The First Annual List of Wishes for my Hundredth Birthday

I wish for peace, good health, and for someone to invent calorie and cholesterol-free dim sum.
I wish for the wisdom to know my weaknesses, the judgment to know when I am wrong, and the understanding of those around me that when I am wrong, they should not blame a weak, old man.
I wish for a simple life filled with love and friendship.
I wish that if #3 doesn’t pan out, a beach house in La Jolla would be fine.
I wish that between now and my 101st birthday, the year will bring you and your family a life’s worth of happiness.  Gung Hay Fat Choy!