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"After that, one should not clean until the fifth day of the New Year, lest you sweep the good luck out from the house. As if some people actually needed an excuse to not do housework."
- Randall van der Woning

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China

Kung Hei Fat Choy!
by Randall van der Woning, Hong Kong
Feb 24, 2000

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! The Year of the Dragon officially started February 5. According to traditional beliefs, the Dragon is a wise creature; the embodiment of strength, fertility, benevolence, life, rain, and imperial power. The Dragon also represents wisdom, success and high status. People born under this sign are considered particularly fortunate, as they are said to possess the characteristics of the most auspicious symbol of the Chinese Horoscope. My wife was born in the year of the dragon. Yes, that makes her a Dragon Lady.

This year is even more special as it is led by the Golden Dragon, that appears only once in the entire 60-year cycle of the horoscope. Combined with the year 2000, expectations are high that this year will be filled with excitement and additional good fortune.

As in the previous year, I participated in the customs that accompanied the week-long celebrations. Here are some of the preparations required for the holiday as we observed it:

Custom #1: House Cleaning. The most important thing to do is to clean before New Year's Eve. Throw out all the garbage, wash the walls, sweep and wash the floor. It's also a good time to get rid of your daughter's repugnant boyfriend and your husband's obnoxious poker buddies.

After that, one should not clean until the fifth day of the New Year, lest you sweep the good luck out from the house. As if some people actually needed an excuse to not do housework.

Custom #2: Gift Giving. When visiting grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, adult cousins, or even friends, it is a time-honoured tradition to give gifts. They should be wrapped in red paper, as red is the colour of good fortune.

So I did the time-honoured thing and stood in line to buy the gifts, then stood in line to get them wrapped. This year we gave Belgian chocolates stamped with the Chinese word fok, which also means good fortune. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Along with that, we gave each aunt and uncle a bag filled with eight oranges. The significance? Oranges signify good health, and the number eight sounds like the word for prosperity. Now that I think about it, perhaps we should have given healthier gifts than chocolates.

Custom #3: Lai See. It is customary to give red pocket money to children and unmarried adults. To prepare for this, I first had to run to the bank, stand in line, and get brand new bills (new bills for the new year - get it?), in $20 and $100 denominations.

Next I had to run to the market, then stand in line to buy enough red envelopes in which to put the cash. The envelopes are stamped in gold foil with characters of good wishes. While visiting, we give the lucky money to each child while wishing them happy new year. Kids from large families may receive enough to bankroll their university education.

Custom #4: Greeting & Eating. When visiting, you stand in line to greet your elders with a hearty Kung Hei Fat Choy (prosperous wishes), and follow it up with Long Mah Jing San, (energetic as a dragon and a horse), or for the younger relatives, Bo Bo Go Sing (promoted to a higher position).

There are many other wishes, but these are the ones we use most often. Then, you present your gifts as you enter their home. Once inside, immediately you will be given tea. Then you will be asked to sit at the table, where you will be served a variety of foods. Among these is loh ba go, a steamed dish consisting of white carrots, small dried shrimp, and Chinese sausage, which all add up to a gag factor of 9.5 on the bwg's flavour scale. However, most of the offerings are quite good, and tasty.

Flower markets, fireworks, and Mah Jong

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