Week 8: The Year of the Dog

We had an inauspicious start to the week with a surprise visit from a local government agent. He arrived with his assistant Monday morning and informed me that he needed to “survey” the property. Despite my uneasiness, he was very friendly as he inspected the front and back yards and under the kitchen sink for standing water. Apparently, some folks ignore kitchen leaks until the giant puddle under the pipes turns into a mosquito nursery. Thankfully, we had no such leaks, and I had dumped out the overflowing flower pots before I walked the boys to school. Had he stopped by on Wednesday, however, things would not have gone so well, as the fountain in the front yard – that is supposed to run 24 hours a day, that we were assured would not yield itself to fornicating bloodsuckers – stopped working that morning, and now contains several gallons of illegally stagnating water. We have been told that someone will fix it as soon as possible; I have my eyes open for the little beasties, and the long arm of the law, in the meantime.

Thursday morning the boys went on their first ever field trip, and I happily accompanied them as a chaperone. We and their classmates and respective parents rode a giant yellow bus to Chinatown to see what they had going on for the Chinese New Year. Apparently every other school in Singapore had the same idea, because the place was packed to the gills with kids. I am not sure what this part of Singapore looks like during a typical day, but during our visit it was a giant maze of vendor stalls, hawking everything from jade necklaces to live crabs. The first stall we encountered was decorated with an enormous array of hanging cured meat items, most of which I could not identify, that are typical Chinese fare during the winter months when fresh meat is less readily available. Very interesting. Many vendors sold decorative items specific to the celebration of the Lunar New Year, all in vibrant reds and golds, as these are considered colors of good fortune. Despite the many temptations, we left Chinatown with only one new item: a giant painted paper mache lions head that the boys call a lion mask. After we got home, the boys paraded up and down the street, alternating who got to wear the new prize on his head, while one of the neighbors pounded out musical accompaniment on his trash can lid. Shockingly, no one complained about our cacophony, and several folks actually joined in; one woman even stopped by to explain to the boys the cultural significance of their new mask and its accompanying dance. 

The Lunar New Year is by far the most significant holiday in the Chinese culture. In many respects, it is like a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas in the U.S. It is at this time that people take a break from their work to celebrate life with family and friends, and to ensure a healthy and wealthy new year by adhering to long-held traditions and superstitions regarding colors, clothing, household decorations, and all manner of activities. In accordance with one of these traditions – the requirement of new clothing, symbolizing prosperity – the boys wore brand new Chinese shirts to school Friday morning. Unfortunately we purchased white clothing, ignorant foreigners that we are, which is a big no-no since white symbolizes mourning.  Not surprisingly, the boys were the only ones wearing white at school, because by the time we realized our error (Thursday), the local mall was all sold out of red and gold shirts. Later in the morning the pre-K campus enjoyed a festive parade, complete with a traditional lion dance that the boys thoroughly enjoyed. They came home with little bags of chocolate coins – again – to help bestow more prosperity on the house, which will be a great help when it comes time to pay for the dental work they’ll need after all of the candy consumption.

Saturday night was New Year’s Eve, the time for family reunions. It is the Chinese custom for all family members who have moved out on their own to return home on this night for a huge feast: “reunion dinner.” After the meal, the adults give small red envelopes full of money (hong bao) to the children, then the family stays up all night to welcome in the new year, being sure to open every door and window in the house at the stroke of midnight to allow the old year to leave the premises. We celebrated by having spaghetti and going to bed a few hours after sunset.

Sunday was the official start of the new lunar year, the Year of the Dog, and is designated as the day to wear new clothes, visit friends, cast aside grudges, and, according to the late night ruckus on our street, set off fireworks into the wee small morning hours. It is considered very bad luck to sweep the floor on the first day of the new year, because one might accidentally sweep all of the good luck and wealth out of the house; and bad language is severely frowned upon during this time, as it does not promote peace and happiness. I, however, did not learn of either of these superstitions until today (Monday), and thereby screwed the pooch on both accounts, as I vacuumed the whole house Sunday afternoon and cursed mightily while I did it. Our only potential saving grace is that we had plenty of live plants in the house (symbols of wealth and good vocational position), including an arrangement of pussy willow stalks that are supposed to be particularly lucky, despite their contribution to the dirt on the floor, and hence the need to clean. Perhaps if I just dump the contents of the vacuum bag back onto the floor all will be right again.

Just to be sure, though, and under the heading of when in Rome...,” Greg hired some traveling lion dancers this afternoon to bless our house - something we needed greatly since last years evil spirits have been trapped inside by the closed windows, but still having a great time, I am sure, partying with the vacuum cleaner, wearing all of our white shirts, and swearing profusely. To chase out these ethereal hooligans, one man beat the crap out of a giant drum on the porch, one slammed some cymbals together, and two more danced through each room of the house wearing the traditional lion head and tail. I am confident the noise level created was sufficient to cause all things evil to promptly evacuate; unfortunately, it also caused Alec to cower behind a chair in the guest room until the strangers packed up their things and left. Cameron, little thrill-seeker that he is, followed them around with a mixture of horror and awe spread across his little face.

It has been a very interesting week here in the land of the black spitting cobra, to say the least. It promises to get even more interesting over the next few days, as we did not sufficiently stock the refrigerator and pantry before the new year festivities began, and all of the local stores and restaurants are closed until Wednesday. Instant oatmeal and potato chips make a pretty nutritious meal though, right?

Gong Xi Fa Chai! (Happy New Year in Mandarin, I think)

Take care,
Shannon et al.

p.s. See below for more information on the Chinese Zodiac and the Year of the Dog...


Alec checking out a festive puppet


Cameron & Alec, at the end of the day


2006: The Year of the Dog

“People born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature. They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people’s confidence because they know how to keep secrets. But Dog People are somewhat selfish, terribly stubborn, and eccentric. They care little for wealth, yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues. Dog people make good leaders. They are compatible with those born in the Years of the Horse, Tiger, and Rabbit.”

I was born in 1970, also the Year of the Dog, and I take a bit of offense to some of the above description, quite frankly, regardless of how eccentric and stubborn I might be. Greg was born in 1969, the Year of the Rooster; and the boys were born in 2000, the Year of the Dragon. Look at the table below to see under which Chinese Zodiac sign you were born.

Sign Year of Birth
Rat 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008
Ox 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009
Tiger 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010
Rabbit 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011
Dragon 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012
Snake 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013
Horse 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014
Ram 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015
Monkey 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004
Rooster 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005
Dog 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006
Pig 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007


hanging meats...


Victoria & Cameron... :)

Alec, in new Chinese shirt (white, alas)


Ms. Karen's Class

Alec & friends


Cameron & Alec, doing the lion dance


Cameron roaring in the mask


Victoria & Cameron


Alec in the mask


Cameron & the ladies


Ms. Karen's class

musicians scaring evil spirits with very loud music


Dancers (and a guide to keep them from tripping over anything), scaring evil spirits out of the dining room


Greg, Cameron, & Shannon, after the house was blessed
(Alec was still hiding)


heading upstairs to scare more evil spirits