Monday, January 24, 2011

Random Asianess: Oh Sure, Now We Decorate

In my last blog post (Taiwanese Traditions: They Don’t Include Christmas, January 4, 2011) I spoke about the lack of Christmas Decorations throughout the city. But things have changed, Chinese New Year approaches rapidly and guess what…it looks a lot like Christmas out here.

The stores are decorated; the city has embarked on an ambitious and colorful display welcoming the year of the rabbit. Hey, I’m getting into the Christmas Spirit and there’s only 11 months to go.

Rainie Yang
Chinese New Year to Taiwanese people is a time of hope and good cheer. People exchange gifts, mostly “Hong Bao’ which means red packet. A Red Packet is a gift of money that’s a wish for prosperity in the coming year. This is an important custom, many families use this red packet to provide support for elderly parents. You Tube has an interesting interview with Rainie Yang (a popular Taiwanese singer and actress: Chinese name Yang Cheng Lin) discussing the red packets. In the interview the interviewer asks if she will prepare red packets for her family. She replies that she won’t. The interviewer is clearly shocked, because Rainie Yang is very successful. Ms. Yang goes on to explain that she gives all of her earnings to her mother who provides for her.

Another custom is that on the first day of the new year, people greet each other with the phrase, “Gong shi” or in English, “congratulations,” congratulating them on surviving the previous year. My wife and I had a wonderful time greeting our neighbors with congratulations last year, because they seemed so surprised that we would know that bit of cultural information.

The legend of Chinese New Year is that a monster called “Nian” (which, by the way, is the mandarin word for year) travels throughout the world and consumes people on New Year’s Eve, unless the house is protected with red banners above and on the sides of the door. The monster will not go into a home protected like that. There is an interesting similarity to the Jewish Account of Passover (See this blog; Xin Nian Kuai Le – February 14, 2010 for a detailed post on this legend and Passover.)

This year Chinese New Year is on February 3. This is January 1, 4708 on the Lunar Calendar. Most of Taiwan’s Holidays and important days are celebrated on the lunar calendar. I asked a friend what day his birthday was and he answered, “On the Lunar Calendar or this year.” That has never been a complicated question for me, but I work with only one calendar. This year, in the Republic of China, is year 100. It is the centennial year of the Republic of China. 100 years since the Wuchang Uprising (See this blog, Taiwanese History: Double Tenth Day; October 21, 2010). This is interesting because all official government dates use this as the date. So really, in Taiwan there are three different calendars that are used. It can be a bit intimidating to ask a question like, “What’s the date?”

Artistic picture from the back of the scooter

Anyway, from the Taiwan Adventure Blog, happy Chinese New Year, If I see you after February 3rd I hope to be able to say , “gongshi,” if the monster get you, well then, it’s been good to know you.

All Photos, except Rainie Yang, by Elizabeth Banducci
Ranie Yang, Sony/BMG (No copyright infringement intended)

Other posts you may be interested in:

An American Presence:  What I Don't Miss in Taiwan
Taiwanese Traditions:  They Don't Include Christmas

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taiwanese Traditions: They Don't Include Christmas

The Hello Kitty Store all dressed for Christmas, sort of
Christmas in Taoyuan City

My kids are big fans of Christmas, but since we’ve been here Christmas hasn’t been that exciting to them. They’re used to Christmas in America. In Taiwan, there's little Christmas cheer. Only a few stores decorate for Christmas, people look surprised when you wish them a Merry Christmas. And nobody decorates their home, and I mean nobody.

So for us there is something missing at Christmastime, and if I’m totally honest I almost missed hearing Christmas music, every minute of every day. Okay, maybe not, but it does kind of remind you that Christmas is coming. In Taiwan, one day it’s October and the next is Christmas. Hey, what happened to all the pre-Christmas hoopla?

Looking West on my street,  December 24, 2010
 There were no Christmas parties. There were no Christmas lights. There were no Christmas sales ads. There wasn’t a “Black Friday” if you can imagine. Why no “Black Friday?” because there’s no Thanksgiving. So, all of the traditional markers of the Christmas season were missing.

I’m here as a Christian missionary, so we had a Christmas tree in our home and we sang Christmas Carols and preached on the meaning of Christmas. The church even had a Christmas fellowship and made Huǒ Guō (Hot Pot). This is a soup and everyone brings ingredients to put in the soup: To borrow a phrase from humorist Pat McMahon, it’s a kind of “Whatcha-got stew.”

We also bought or made gifts for people. My wife made a variety of Christmas cookies and gave them to a number of people. We also bought gifts for children and special friends. People were surprised that we would give them a gift. One friend, who had lived in the US for a short time said, “Oh, I didn’t prepare anything, I forgot about this part of American culture.”

It isn't much, but I guess we win the Christmas decoration contest this year

That’s the whole thing, right there. Taiwanese people think of Christmas and Christianity in general, as part of American culture. Ninety-four percent of Taiwanese people practice Buddhism or some form of Daoism so they don’t celebrate Christmas. They have a time with the same kind of feeling, Chinese New Year. This year it is on February 3rd and they have begun to decorate the streets for that. There is a beautiful light display that just went up at the park near our house. In this time people will give gifts of food and merchandise to loved ones, including the traditional hóng bāo; the red packet containing a financial gift.

Ahhh, Christmas in America; it's a little different than Taiwan

Thanks to Chris Seaman for this photo of his house.

Other posts you may be interested in:

American Presence:  What I Don't Miss in Taiwan
Random Asianess:  Oh Sure, Now We Decorate