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新年快樂 Chinese New Year 2016

Another new year to celebrate and a playful account of my connections with China, served up with gratitude and nostalgia

One new year is challenging enough. A time to take stock, to review past performance, to assess the likelihood of progress to come, to make plans to do more and to be better next year. And a time of celebration too. We now have another opportunity all over again! The Chinese New Year, ever dependent on the lunisolar calendar, starts today.

2016 is The Year of the Monkey. This concept is quite hard for me to grasp. I find the whole animal thing a bit puzzling. Monkey puzzling. Last year was a challenge, too, with two animals claiming the title, Sheep and Goat. I was born in the Year of the Sheep. Monkeys are said to be witty, intelligent, and to have a magnetic personality. Me, me, and me again. I’m starting to wonder if I was born out of my time.

A new arrival in 2016

Xie Xie

Every year I receive a parcel from Beijing, from a wonderful friend who came to Southampton, studied with me and then went back to China. These parcels have contained some brilliant cultural artefacts, including a kite, red satin cushion covers with a dragon design, a hand-painted vase, a silk scarf, and many other fine things. This year I received an ornate set of chopsticks and a toy monkey. A soft, felt, toy monkey, 12” high, dressed in red and yellow. Cute. It deserves a special place in my collection of oriental treasures. Thank you, Yue.

Gifts from China

Words and characters

Yue tried to teach me how to write a few words in Chinese script. I can write her name, my name, and the words “sheep” and “thank you”.

岳武 愛德華 羊 谢谢

I even started listening to a ‘Learn Mandarin’ CD, but didn’t get very far. It was frustrating not being able to look up in the dictionary words I had heard but could not spell. Best to stick to a more concise dictionary (more on that below). Many overseas visitors say that English is hard, but really, Chinese takes the fortune cookie!

Back to the monkeys. I now have two primates in my house. The new addition from Beijing (above), and a second, dressed in a Manchester City hoodie, named Zaba after the MCFC and Argentina player Pablo Zabaleta. It was a present from my big sister. She also gave me a monkey mug many years ago and I bring it out when I fancy a chuckle with my coffee. And then she sent me a gorilla postcard. Hmmm, I guess it's a sibling thing.

Zaba

Beijing

“There are nine million bicycles in Beijing, that’s a guess”, according to Katie Melua. A trawl of the internet comes up with many different figures for the total now, so I’m sticking with Katie. A subsequent line in the song says “There are six billion people in the world. That’s a fact”. Well, it was a fact, sort of, until the global population became seven billion in 2011. Approaching 1.4bn people currently live in China.

Nine Million Bicycles In Beijing by Katie Melua

Hyns Chinese Food

I have been enjoying the culinary delights from Hyns restaurant and take-away for two decades. My ideal menu would look something like this:

Vegetable spring rolls, crabmeat and sweetcorn soup, honey barbecued ribs, sweet n sour chicken, Singapore vermicelli noodles, sea spicy aubergine, steamed rice, toffee bananas. Accompanied by a complimentary side order of prawn crackers, a handful of fortune cookies and smiles from Lily and Mandy (we’re on English name terms only even after all these years).

Tsingtao – Happy New Beer

Tsingtao is my favourite beer. I love its clean, crisp and malty taste. It’s made with spring water, malted barley, hops, rice and yeast. Brewed and bottled in China, imported via Liverpool. Another fine example of connecting cultures, including yeast culture. Tsingtao is “the fusion of traditional Chinese heritage and modern Western culture” (Crown Imports).

Tsingto, brewed and bottled in China

Mah Jong

I inherited a beautiful Mah Jong set from my grandmother. We had so many happy games together, mostly when I called in to see her at the end of my afternoon paper round as a teenager. When we mixed up the tiles on the card table, she would always say that we were invoking the ‘twittering of the sparrows’. Little did I know then that ‘twittering’ would be important to me, on and off, in later life.

The full set of characters, Mah Jong

The novels of Xiaolu Guo, especially A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.

Her literature falls into the ‘women’s fiction’ category in some shops, which is true in one sense but I like to read her books too. This was a captivating tale of love, language, lost innocence, self-development and identity. I can’t wait to read her latest, “I am China”. Xiaolu Guo will soon be appearing at the Bare Lit Festival in London.

The novels of Xiaolu Guo

Ai Weiwei

So much has been written about this amazing conceptual artist, but he deserves a mention here, especially for his Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads collection.

See my review of his exhibition at Blenheim Palace in 2014

This set of sculptures recently sold for a staggering £2.8 million.The monkey is in the bottom left hand corner.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads photo via the Telegraph

The Great Wall of China

There is one thing left to mention. I have a burning ambition to walk along this wall. As far as it goes. One day.

For now, I will relax, call to mind everything that is wonderful about China and the Chinese, and will join in the celebrations. I send my greetings to everyone but especially to all my Chinese friends.

Again, 新年快樂

© Eddie Hewitt 2016

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