Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 6 , Tuesday February 13, 2007

 

 

Special Feature

Chinese New Year: A time to rejoice

The estimated 2,500 Chinese in Bangladesh are revving up for their major festival: the 15-day Chinese New Year (beginning from February 18), also known as the Spring Festival. Though over the years celebrations have become more low keyed since many of them wing their way to China, the New Year spirit is catching on here with upcoming cultural programmes, calligraphies full of joy and messages of blessings, peace and happiness (albeit on a smaller scale than China), family get togethers and a delectable array of foods such as jiao zi (dumplings), colour and gaiety.

The Chinese calendar

In the US, the years are dated from the birth of Christ, for example 1977 means 1,977 years after the birth of Christ. This represents a linear perception of time, with time proceeding in a straight line from the past to the present and the future. In China, on the other hand, dating methods are cyclical in the sense of depicting something that is repeated time after time according to a pattern. A popular folk method which reflects this cyclical method of recording years is the twelve animal signs. Every year is assigned an animal name or 'sign' according to a repetitive cycle: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar.

The system is very practical. A child does not have to learn a new answer when asked how old he or she is every year. Moreover, the system is a boon to older people who often lose track of their age, because they are rarely asked about their present age. Every one just has to remember that he or she was born in the Year of The Dog and so on. Since this is the Year of the Pig, anyone born in the Year of the Pig is now either 0 or 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84 or 96 years old.

The Chinese Embassy in Dhaka is the hub of much of the activity. On the cards is a celebration of New Year's Eve (February 17) by the 30 officials at the embassy along with their families. The embassy is also to sponsor cultural programmes showcasing students of the Chinese language at Dhaka University (140 learners) and North South University (60).

Many Chinese had plans to go home to celebrate the occasion, but as Wang Danhong, cultural attaché to the Chinese Embassy pointed out, “We only get seven days off which is too short a time to go and return.” Others such as Fan Guifin, second secretary, are happy to catch up with their families who have come here to celebrate the festival.

Meanwhile for others, the occasion is celebrated with small family get-togethers or dinners at Chinese restaurants such as Golden Rice and Bamboo Shoot. Some Chinese regard New Year as any other day. Says one restaurant owner who prefers to remain anonymous, “ It is no big deal for me as my family is not around in Bangladesh. Moreover since the Chinese community is not very large here, the New Year spirit has been dampened a bit.” This is a time when the absence of family rankles and many confess to missing their homeland acutely.

Traditionally the festival is regarded as a family affair, a time to catch up with family and friends and offer thanksgiving. The celebration features a traditional ceremony given in honour of heaven and earth, the gods of the household and ancestors. The sacrifice to the ancestors, a vital ritual, unites the living members with those who passed away. On New Year's Eve, the presence of ancestors is acknowledged with a family dinner.

According to the Chinese calendar, 2007 is the Year of the Pig. As some community members point out, each year is designated by one of 12 animals. For instance, 2005 was the Year of the Rooster, 2006 the Year of the Dog and 2007 the Year of the Pig. By this system, year names are re-cycled every 12 years.

The Chinese New Year is ushered in with extensive cleaning of houses. On New Year's Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away. The belief is that sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away. Another practice is shooting fireworks on New Year's Eve to send out the old year and welcome the new one. Likewise the popular view is that all debts should be cleared by the time of the festival.

On New Year's Day, there is a host of culinary delights, customarily a vegetarian dish called jai. Though the ingredients in jai are root or fibrous vegetables, many a superstition is attached to them: for example lotus seeds signify having many male offspring, bamboo shoots is a term which sounds like “wishing that everything will be well”, while fresh bean curd or tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the colour signifies death and misfortune.

Other traditional foods include a whole fish, chicken, uncut noodles (to represent a long life), nian gao ( a sweet steamed glutinous rice pudding), man tou (steamed wheat bread) and small meat dumplings. The huge array of culinary delights is meant to symbolise abundance and wealth for the household.

Many Chinese in Dhaka are nostalgic about the occasion and the gusto with which they celebrated the festival in their younger days. However, albeit on a smaller scale, they will hopefully keep the tradition alive and pass on the legacy to future generations.

By Kavita Charanji


Shoptalk

As the season changes, and the barometer bumps up a notch, it's time to chuck out the old and tired, and face the new month on a fresh note. In order to celebrate the month of the language movement, we have brought together a few fresh deshi items that we hope, will help you enjoy this season a little better.

Light up your life
Lamps can make very original gifts. Stores such as Aarong, Pidimm and Banglar Mela, which bring forward the art and heritage of Bangladesh, have a wide collection of exquisite lamps in all shapes and sizes. Also, the price, starting from Tk- 375, can be considered quite reasonable. What better way than this, to express the sentiment “You light up my life!”

Flavours of the season
For those who enjoy good food, here's something come your way this season! Although coriander or cilantro is not uncommon to many of us, the local version of this popular herb is definitely something worth trying out. Also known as 'Indian parsley' and available solely during the winter season, you can buy this special herb for only Tk-15 to 20 per kg, at any grocery in the city. (Tip-Coriander goes particularly well with tomato salsa). Simply sprinkle abundantly over various dishes, or use to garnish, especially in Bengali cuisine, for creating tasty treats for your taste buds!

Clothes for your phone!
With the current fad in cellular phones, there is also drastic rise in the use of in cell-phone accessories. And one of the latest additions to these, are mobile phone covers. One can get these in many and any different shapes and sizes- in the form of purses, pouches and even shaped as tiny, adorable, shirts! You can get them at various shops and stores including Aarong where you get ones made out of jute, at about Tk- 50 each.

By Farina Noireet

On the cover

Lifestyle this week coincides with Pohela Boshonto and thus ushers in the first day of the season that calls for a new lease on life and makes us embrace it afresh. Today's issue takes you places- places through the mind's eye where you have Spring all year round so flip through the pages and unleash your imagination.

Photo: Munem Wasif


Essentials

Designing the right diet
If your New Year's resolution was to go on a diet, then don't dawdle any longer. The New Year has come and even gone by. It's time you gave some serious thought to those love handles and that paunch. But don't just wake up one fine morning and decide that and start substituting water for meals. Diets tend to weigh you down mentally and a good diet is one which you can persistently continue till you reach your desired weight. And how does one actually design a good diet you might ask?

Knowledge is power
If your aunt is asking you to go on Atkins or if those South Beach commercials are beckoning you, simply turn a deaf ear. There are no real drastic weight loss diets. There is no way to beat around the bush. And these are words straight from the horse's mouth- in this case dieticians and nutritionists. Nutritionists never fail to emphasise that a healthy diet (that is, the weight-losing kind) always incorporates the six food groups. That way your body won't lack anything. The key, they say is portion and calorie control. So before you start a diet, consult a dietician/nutritionist and she/he will design a diet that suits your requirement.

Finding the right substitutes
If you have a sweet tooth or are a fillet mignon connoisseur, don't worry about your will power or lack of it. Instead try to find substitutes. Throw away those candy bars and stock your shelves with fresh fruit. Substitute those hunky cuts of meat for lean pieces. Boil and bake instead of grill and fry so that you consume less grease.

Read the fine print
A lot of times, package labels are misleading. So don't be fooled into buying things with labels such as “zero carbs” or “no trans fat” unless specified buy a dietician/nutritionist. Read the fine print about portion size and calories. It's a simple equation- if your calorie input is more than your calorie output (burnt energy) then those calories will be stored in the body as fat. So do the math before you buy a can of this or a jar of that.

At the end of the day, people go on a diet to lose weight and feel better- both physically and mentally. So don't stress yourself by going on a fad diet. Do your research and diet the right way.

By Tahiat-e-Mahboob


Corrigendum

In our last issue, the name of one of the youth groups was misspelled. The correct spelling is EKMATTRA. We apologise for the mistake.

 

 

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