Monday, January 26, 2009

Year of the Ox

Happy Lunar New Year!

This year is the Year of the Ox. We celebrated the New Year with more fanfare than we typically have in previous years. Right now, my parents are in Taiwan celebrating with our relatives there, so without them, I felt a deeper obligation in making sure the boys felt connected to an important part of their cultural heritage. Without my parents here to guide me, I tried to follow many of the traditions I remembered from growing up in a Taiwanese American household.

Last week, Nico and I went to Asia Plaza to buy some Chinese New Year decorations. We hung the red and gold banners, paper lanterns and ornaments on our front door, our entryway and in our living room. We displayed a bowl of oranges with their stems still attached, along with a red and black Chinese candy box filled with Chinese sweets. Nico was really happy with the results.

Then, Vic and I followed the tradition of cleaning the house from top to bottom. The idea is to sweep all the dust and bad luck from the previous year out the door. We didn't quite get the whole house in order the way we would have liked, but we made good progress. Some parts of the house look great; others - not so much.

On Sunday night, we celebrated with a Lunar New Year's Eve family dinner at Li Wah restaurant in Cleveland's Asia Plaza. I was interested in the special banquet menus the restaurant offered that evening, featuring dishes including:

Assorted Seafood, Bamboo & Shark's Fins Soup
Sauteed Assorted Seafood & House X.O. Sauce
Lobster w/ Ginger & Scallions
Steamed Fish
Chinese Sausage & Diced Vegetable Fried Rice
Fresh Oranges Fruit

Since it was just the four of us, though, with three of us (i.e. not me) being unaccustomed to Chinese banquet dishes and two of us being picky kids, we ordered from the regular menu. The food was OK, but we mainly went to the restaurant so the boys could see the lion dance. Nico was excited about putting a red envelope inside the lion's mouth, and was thrilled when the lion rewarded him with a peppermint. Nolan didn't really understand what was going on, but he was alert and attentive.

This afternoon, Nico and I gave a Lunar New Year presentation at his school. We had done so last year too, for his kindergarten class. Like last year, it was fun! Nico has been really fortunate. Last year and this year, he has had fantastic teachers. We loved Nico's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Miracle. This year's teacher, Mrs. Polanco, is awesome too - she is really attuned to Nico's interests and needs.

When we gave our presentation, Nico and I sat next to each other in little chairs in front of the class. Nico read the book "Dragon Dance" to his class, as he had last year, and we talked about some of the traditions associated with Chinese New Year. We talked about the significance of the color red and the Chinese Zodiac animals. We answered questions and afterward, Nico handed out Chinese candy and lucky red envelopes containing gold foil-wrapped Chinese coins to his classmates.

During our presentation, Mrs. Polanco asked Nico to teach the class some Chinese words he learned in Chinese School. After writing the characters on the blackboard, Nico led the class in counting to 10 in Mandarin. I was amazed that Mrs. Polanco was able to convince him to do this so easily, as Nico has been rather reluctant to acknowledge his Chinese background. He was so happy, though, when the class was receptive to his lesson and when Mrs. Polanco called him "Professor Nico"!

I'm really proud of Nico for being brave enough to get up in front of his class to share his cultural heritage, something he been very shy about. The timing is perfect because this Saturday, he will have to step onto a larger stage. Nico will be in a lion dance parade when his Chinese School class performs in its annual Chinese New Year Celebration. Nico is proud to be only one of two students in the class with the honor of holding the lion head. Now he just needs to memorize the song!

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