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Friday, April 23, 2004

There are times in my life when I feel as I have lost
my ability to taste the newness with which I used to
view everyone and everything. During these moments, I
no longer see the bright colors with which the world
is painted. Shades of gray confuse my vision so that
life seems to be only a faded portrait of its former
glory. Although it is in times like these I feel as if
the world will drown me in its dreary waters,
something always occurs to remind me of the wonder and
astonishment with which I used to journey through
life. It is in these moments that I can once again see
the spectrum of colors through which our lives are
reflected across the ribbons of time and into the
fathoms of space. Like finding a long lost toy, today
has been one of those days in which I have been
allowed to recover my awe which I had so long ago
tucked away. Laid upon the surface but always
overlooked, it is that emotional component with which
we frequently forget but should always remember. It is
that feeling which drives us through life and
captivates us to ponder the next. Every evening my
students remind me of this lesson, and I am forever
grateful to them for this. In many ways my students
are the teachers, and I am there student. Today has
been no different, and with their help, I have learned
a little more about traditional Chinese culture.
Although there activities were not as vivacious as my
students last night, they were very insightful, and
their thoughts help shed light on the preoccupations
and aspirations of the common man. Most of my students
today talked about the Spring Festival or traditional
Chinese culture. Spring festival is held during the
first lunar month of the new year. It is believed that
during this time that man had defeated a Monster which
had plagued his life for many years. The monster used
to kill and eat people, and everyone was scared of
him. One day, the people learned that the monster was
scared of colors, and with this knowledge, the lit
many fires and set off many fireworks to scare off the
monster. This tradition has continued to this day.
Spring Festival is the largest festival of the year.
They start preparations for it a month in advance and
all of the families return to their homes. Many types
of breads and dumplings are made during this time. On
the fifth day there is a large feast at which they eat
the dumplings. In some families, they make the
dumplings the night before. Some of the dumplings are
filled with coins, and the children or people who find
the coin will be blessed with good luck. One girls
mother used to make the dumplings but not seal them
until the next morning. On the new year, she would
seal them shut. She said that it was in hope that she
could keep people from speaking evil about her for the
next year. If a daughter can not be with her family
then they will save some dumplings for her until she
can return within the first three days then they will
warm them for her. Although dumplings are the main
dish, Chinese people eat many other foods including
chicken stomach, pork, mule, mutton and other
delicacies. On the fifth night, the children will bow
before the parents in order to honor them. When they
do this, the parents will normally give the children
red envelopes full of money. In some families, they
put the red envelopes next to their children’s pillows
to scare away monsters. The house during this time are
normally decorated with red and gold paper. Many
families will put the paper on the outside of the
house around the door in order to keep the spirits
away and to bring luck. Red can be seem everywhere. In
some villages, they spend a long time gathering
together large bundles of wheat and on the fifteenth
night they will burn the wheat to flush out the evil
spirits. Others collects wood and wrap it in newspaper
then dip in gasoline. They then place them along the
streets of the entire village until they lead out of
the village. Then on one night, they will light them,
and the streets will be lit for miles around the
village. This is in order to push the spirits out of
town. Other people make and light lanterns which they
make out of paper and wood. On that evening, they then
set off fireworks and have many celebrations. Some
dance on stilts. In one of my students villages, they
have a maze made out of branches that are poked into
the ground. The branches are on fire and you wonder
your way in. The entrance and exit are next to each
other to symbolize the beginning and end of the year.
In the middle of the maze is a large bell which they
ring, and then someone prays for their luck. In one
family, the father will take the ashes from the
families bon fire and put a fire cracker on it. The
firecracker will explode then he sweeps it all away to
help forget the bad things of the past, but the
firecracker symbolizes the good beginning of the
future. In another family, the mother will draw a
circle on the floor and two ladders on either side of
it. In the circle, she put lots of corn. The girl told
me that her mother believed that the circle
represented the silo which stored the corn, and the
ladders were supposed to be high to symbolize a good
harvest for the next year. The festival would always
end with fireworks that were many colors to scare away
the monster. In general, Spring festival is supposed
to be a time in which one gets together with their
families and celebrate their kinships. The other big
topic of the night was wedding. Chinese weddings
generally take place at the groom’s parent’s home.
Although today, most occur in restaurants. Red was the
traditional color of the Chinese wedding dress as it
is good luck and women wore white to funerals. The
women would wear red dresses, veils, and red shoes
with chickens on them. The chicken was supposed to be
a guardian to protect the girl from any harm. At dawn,
the wedding day would be signified with firecrackers
to announce the start of the event. The woman would be
alone for most of the day except for her brides maids.
In some places the best man is supposed to stay with
the bride to protect her as some children will try to
paint her face. A bride should not be shamed with a
soiled face. The bestman should keep them away. The
grooms family would be preparing the home and the
feast most of the day. The day before, the groom and
the children would normally find the quickest route in
which to get the bride to the house. When it would be
time for her to be picked up, the groom would take a
car and go to pick her up. When he arrived, the brides
younger sibling would give them a flower which they
had placed in their lapel or on their dress to
symbolize that she was leaving their home. Then, she
would be accompanied by her Aunt to the husband’s
home. The Aunt would be the one to give her away. In
some places a flower girl will throw grains on the
ground to mark her path such as corn, millet, sorgumn,
etc. This was to symbolize that they would have lots
of food in the future. They would normally be married
at a table with large red candles. They would say
their vows then the bride would go change into a
different dress. Then there would be a huge feast
afterwards. The wife would be allowed to eat nothing
but the dumplings which she had made for the wedding.
Everyone else would eat the dumplings but also all of
the other food as well. It is a great event and most
people tend to give the bride and groom money in red
envelopes as a wedding present. After the feast, they
may be joined by other friends for a celebration then
they will have some alone time. Maybe the only alone
time as most children in China sleep with their
parents until the age of 16. This is just custom
because of the lack of rooms. I also learned a few
things about Chinese birthday celebrations. They eat
noodles on their birthdays to symbolize long life.
They boil seven eggs in the noodles and poke seven
holes in the eggs but no one could tell me why. I
thought that it was interesting though. These stories
helped brighten my day, and I love my students for
them. I hope that you have enjoyed them,
Christopher

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