Wonton soup. Lobster tails. Hot, sticky rice cake. Juicy tangerines.
Those were some of the delicacies Keith Lau, of Han Palace at 2470 West Shore Road, as well as his daughter, Jamie, 14, a freshman at Toll Gate High School, feasted on Sunday night. They ate in honor of the Chinese New Year, a 15-day holiday that began yesterday, as the day before the New Year is celebrated with a hearty meal.
In China, said Jamie, the New Year is also known as the “Spring Festival.” They mark the start of the New Year, which date annually varies during the end of January or the beginning of February, by wearing new clothes, orchestrating a massive spring-cleaning and solely eat vegetables.
“It’s to cleanse out all of the bad spirits so good spirits can come in,” she said. “Little kids used to set off fireworks in China, but they don’t allow it anymore because of air pollution.”
On the second day, they eat meat and visit their loved ones, sharing gifts of fresh fruit and flowers as a symbol of peace and good fortune. They also treat one another to “lucky money,” meaning they stuff cash in red envelopes, a sign of offering good luck. It is considered rude to give “lucky money” in envelopes that are not crimson in color.
In fact, the holiday centers on luck. In China, the New Year is the most important holiday. Hong Kong shuts down its businesses for the day and reopens by the fourth day.
Similar to the Western zodiac, the Chinese zodiac is represented by a dozen signs, each signifying an individual animal. As opposed to Western culture, it operates on a cycle of 12 years instead of 12 months. The sign under which people are born is believed to reveal personality traits, as well as the course of someone’s life.
This year represents the year of the dragon, which Jamie said is known to be a lucky year. However, she read in the Wall Street Journal that a lot of people think it’s unlucky, since so many “bad things” happened in 1976, also the year of the dragon.
“They say it’s cursed since there was an earthquake in China and it hit one of the mausoleums,” she said. “It was scary for a lot of people.”
Also, she said a lot of important Chinese people passed away that year, including Premier Zhou Enlai and President Mao Zedong.
Jamie visited China twice, the first time when she was seven and again last summer, and stopped by their memorials.
“They have a statue of Premier Zhou Enlai and his wife, and it’s amazing because so many people pay their respects to him,” said Jamie.
However, Mao Zedong’s memorial “freaked” her out, as his body is on display. Guests are required to be silent and photographs or video recordings are not allowed.
“It was weird because when I first saw the soldiers guarding the body I didn’t think they were real,” she said. “But then I saw them move and it scared me. It took us at least an hour and a half to wait in line, and it was only a minute and a half to go through the memorial.”
While she has never been in China for the last day, which sends off the New Year with a lantern festival and a lion dance, she hopes to witness it someday. People post lanterns in different shapes like flowers, dragons and fish.
“I hear from my relatives in China that it’s really amazing,” Jamie said.
Speaking of her family, they always call during the holiday because it’s a tradition for them to give their loved ones blessings. She said that’s her favorite part about the entire celebration.
But, what else does she enjoy? That’s an easy answer for Jamie.
“I love sweetened melon,” she said. “We only have it during the Chinese New Year. I told my mom to buy extra. I’m always excited for that.”
Jamie, who was born in America, can speak three languages, including English, Taishanese and a bit of Mandarin. She is also studying Spanish at Toll Gate. There, here favorite subject is math and she enjoys playing the violin in the orchestra, an instrument she has been playing for more than seven years.
Additionally, she has noticed the Chinese culture isn’t represented much in Warwick.
“In Toll Gate, there are not many Asian people, and it’s kind of hard to communicate sometimes,” said Jamie. “Most are in Cranston. I go to Saturday school at a Chinese church in Cranston and learn geometry there.”
She also likes to draw and write fiction stories in her free time. Her favorite genre is fantasy.
“I’m currently having writer’s block, but I can always trust my friends to give me inspiration,” she said.
Her father tells her “Jamie” means beautiful and graceful in Chinese, yet her Chinese teachers say something else. They’ve informed her it stands for “trickster.”
“I can’t fool anybody, so I’ll go along with what my dad says,” she laughs.
Jamie left off with a question she wants readers to think about.
“Some Americans think 2012 is the end of the world and some Chinese people think the dragon is a cursed year,” she said. “Will the dragon be the world’s savior or undertaker?”