“It is easy to hate and difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and the bad things are very easy to get.”

~Confucius

One of my dreams as a young girl was to work in a fashion magazine. I would get confusing and mixed signals from mum and dad as to whether fashion was something to aspire to or abhor. One day it was frivolous, the next, the highest form of art. One day appearances made all the difference and the next, they were only for the shallow. With all of this muddying of the waters around my passion for setting moods with colours, textures and cuts of clothing for people to express themselves, and find something to feel good about, I ended up doing nothing with my passion for creating powerful images, except to enjoy watching films that serve up strong and iconic scenes, like “The Last Emperor”.

As for my publishing ambitions, I did get a brief opportunity to work in that industry. I sold ads for ethnic magazines and newspapers in Sydney. Chinese New Year was something I saw as a huge advertising opportunity for mainstream Australian brands, particularly luxury brands, to place themselves at the forefront of the minds of the vastly growing Chinese population. This was my introduction to a celebration that was otherwise so alien yet so familiar at the same time.

You see, the Chinese use a lunar calendar, very much like the Muslims to determine when their new year will begin. Every year it begins on a new moon, when the sky is completely dark.  The fifteen-day celebration ends on a full moon with people taking to the streets, red lanterns in hand. The concept of the lantern is reminiscent of “kandil” of which we have four nights of, and the word sounds like “candle” and means “light”‘. Like Christmas and Muslim holidays, the Chinese New Year is a time of connecting with family members past and present, visiting with loved ones and receiving presents, in the form of red envelopes which contain money for the children to spend as they’d like.

At least, this is my understanding of it.

When I close my eyes and picture Chinese families visiting with their elders, I get the same warm feeling I get when we visit Turkey and my children get to see my grandparents and their grandparents.

Romancing China

Growing up in the 80s, I had this fascination with faraway lands, mainly China because it seemed so far that it could’ve been on another planet. The majesty of films such as “The Last Emperor” which depicted corruption and opium addiction in the last few years of an ailing empire getting robbed of its wealth and values by British imperialism is a tale that’s all too familiar that keeps playing in our minds in the Middle East.

There’s always a huge amount of suspicion and conspiracy theories abound on the long-term strategies of western imperialist nations to cause the fall of those in the eastern parts. Though conspiracy theories are a fun pastime, like the saying “no smoke without fire” they do have their basis in the western view of the world. In the industrialised western view, land is commoditised. It is something to own, buy and sell for profit as opposed to the views of those living in tribal communities, that we are custodians who must look after it and pass it down from generation to generation.

These days of course, China is industrialised and though nominally communist, can easily compete with the U.S. in terms of its adaptation of capitalist concepts. Why is this? Well, I think because China got exposed to western ideals and adapted. That’s what we do as people, we view others’ ways and we adapt.

Then the Chinese come to countries like Australia, where they start buying land and property, settle, bring their families, educate their children, compete ferociously and study and work hard and all the “westerners” can do is scratch their heads at how there got to be so many Chinese doing so well, getting so wealthy on their land.

Well, we are all connected in this world, aren’t we? It was all well and good when the Chinese were in an opium daze controlled by the foreign forces, wasn’t it? There is such a concept as Karma after all.

This isn’t a political or a well-informed article, but one that points to art because it’s truer in all cases than the news, politics, talking heads on the TV. What did David Bowie say in “China Girl”?

“I’ll give you a man who wants to rule the world.”

And I think China girl has taken that man, learnt what she can from him and is using all his tricks against him. Good times.

Celebrating the Year of the Rat

I honour the Chinese culture by having tea every day at 4 or sometimes 5PM, depending on when my mum wakes up in Istanbul. Our tea ceremonies are led by my three-year-old who’s got a wooden tea set where she pours grandma a cup of tea from her pink and teal wooden teapot, some sugar and stirs with her wooden spoons before presenting the cup to my mum’s face on my phone.

Turks are very similar to the Chinese in that we revere tea. It is what brings stillness to our day, that tea in the afternoon to help us digest all that’s happened throughout the day, integrate it before we can take on the rest of the day. Without tea to wash through us, we may not be so welcoming and open to what the remainder of the day may bring. A tea ceremony, after all, is what builds patience and resilience. Mim Beim, whose book “Tea, Health and Happiness” which inspired our daily tea ceremonies would agree, I’m sure.

The poem below is from her book.

“The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat. The second shatters the walls of my loney sadness. The third searches the dry rivultes of my soul to find the stories of five thousand scrolls. With the fourth the pain of past injustice vanishes; through my pores. The fifth purifies my; flesh and bone. With the sixth I am in touch with the immortals. The seventh gives such pleasure I can hardly bear. The fresh air blows through my wings. As I make my way to Penglai (Mount Penglai is said to the base for the Eight immoprtals).”

~Lu Tong (790 – 835)

As for celebrations in Lane Cove, this year, Gallery Lane Cove, which houses art pieces has brought together three generations of Chinese-Australian artists to guide us through their culture form their eyes. Mimi Tong, Rainbow Chan and Tianli Zu have created a blue space, in contrast to the colour red, which I was expecting.  On entrance, you’re whisked away by waves of blue on the ground, framed by what appears to be the outline, the silhouette of a water dragon.

The drawings of Australian native flowers, also an obsession of mine, symbolise an integration with this land that sustains our physical bodies and has allowed growth for our spirits as evidenced by creative self-expression.

The juxtaposition of images showing hands making Chinese dumplings and those kneading and shaping clay to produce colourful Chinese characters, like those children may use to learn how to read, is one that drives home how ancient traditions are baked into everything one does in China and indeed everywhere in the world, even in a relatively young country like Australia, where people have brought their traditions and ancestral knowledge with them.

For today, my intention was to celebrate Chinese New Year with some dragon dancing at Lane Cove Plaza and have my girls participate in making red envelopes, but it appears that Mother Nature, who has blessed us with rain, has other plans. Oh well, we can always enjoy the release of Rainbow Chan’s new single, “Triune”, her modern adaptation of a Lunar New Year song sung in the Weitou dialect. I’ll throw that into the mix of traditional Chinese music we listen to for our tea ceremonies before we call grandma to speak Turkish.

How delightful living in such a harmony of cultures.

Happy Chinese New Year to all.

Over to you…

What does the Chinese new year mean to you? What do you think the year of the rat will bring to your life?