Thursday, 3 February 2011

Happy Rabbit!

Today is the Chinese New year. In my youth we would celebrate it with pomp and circumstance. It was exciting because it was secret and private, for family and close friends. In the authorities' eyes, it was as bad as Christmas, or worse. You didn't advertise it to everyone.

My mother was an Orientalist, and it was she who introduced the Chinese calendar to us all. I don't even remember how it happened, but suddenly there was a wooden animal whom we decorated with jewelry and gave a little bowl of rice to eat and worshipped all year until it was time to switch to the next animal. Somehow we managed to find out the right date. You couldn't just look it up in an encyclopedia (and internet hadn't been conceived yet). My mother found the description and characterstics of the animals in her Japanese art books, and we translated them, typed out and shared. Getting the right animal in time was a problem as such, because you couldn't just walk into a shop and say: "Can I have a dragon please". Well ahead of time, a hunt would start, and if you happened to see suitable bulls or monkeys you bought a lot and gave to friends. As a last solution, you could draw your own. Planning twelve years in advance is weird when you are young, so I never kept the animals, except my own. In fact, I have a set of my animals, in clay, wood, silk, glass and jade, and they have followed me in all my displacements.

It isn't as exciting now, like evething that once was forbidden but isn't any more. When I was in China I considered buying a whole Zodiac, but the pretty ones were too expensive. I don't have a rabbit to decorate and feed with rice. Perhaps I can draw one.

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