06/01/2020 No. 156
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Goodbye Rat and Hello Ox
By Peter Chung Chieh
January 1, 2009

We have had good times and bad times. I faced the question of survival during my childhood. Yet, folks came to my rescue. These benefactors played their parts in shaping what I am today, and to them I am forever grateful. Wishing them a happy Chinese New Year brings happiness to all.


On the Chinese New Year's Eve in one of my school years, Principal Wong saw my long and messy hair and said: "Rich or poor, cut your hair! Soon it's the New Year!" He handed me some coins for a hair cut. Indeed, my new appearance made my greetings more effective. Their happiness brought out the spirit of the Chinese New Year.


At the time when I left China, my folks implicitly expressed their thoughts. Implicitness was part of the Chinese culture. For example, young lovers never openly say I love you. Instead, they observe each other's intricate gestures and facial expressions. Principal Wong implicitly taught me much more. Cutting hair was a symbolic action to reflect on my past, to count my blessings, to lose my bad habits, and to be ready to meet the challenges in the new year. I find it appropriate when we say goodbye to the Year of the Rat and hello to the Year of the Ox.


On Chinese New Year's Eve, we will say goodbye to the Year of the Rat. The Rat marks the beginning of a cycle of the animals in the zodiac. According to legends, the Rat got on the back of the Ox, the leader of the pack of animals. When the Ox was near the finish line, the Rat jumped off, ahead of the Ox, to be the first. The big, strong and honest Ox complained not. He simply accepted it. January 26, 2009, marks the beginning of the Ox Year.


Chinese Canadians are naturally interested in their communities and communities they left behind. Last year, disasters in Asia got our attention. Among them, the images of the earthquake in China broke our hearts. Chinese groups in this region got together to raise relief funds. Due to the generosity of a loving and caring community, over $36,000 was raised. To these benefactors, we are forever grateful. We are also proud that China demonstrated an unprecedented effort in hosting the Beijing Olympics, trying to earn some of the respect of the world. We failed to see this event being an exploitable opportunity for making political statements. Although opinions in the world were diverse, we worried that distorted images would lead to undesirable consequences. We were encouraged after reading some positive comments after the Olympic Games.


On August 26, 2008, The Wall Street had an article by Mr. Blair, former British prime minister. He wrote ". . . views about China and its future. Above all, there was a confidence, an optimism, a lack of the cynical, and a presence of the spirit of get up and go, that reminded me greatly of the U.S. at its best and any country on its way forward." Of course, he did not change all minds. Debates continue. Confucius said that by the time we are thirty, our minds are set. Our minds are set for what we know. Unfortunately, digging for truth is often harder than we anticipate, especially when we are surrounded by a flood of information.


To win respect, the Rat wittingly outruns the Ox. For prosperity, human beings race forward with all their might. Their fervour caused an undercurrent that precipitated a world economic crisis in the Year of the Rat. The crisis drove some of us to start all over again, an experience usually left for newcomers. Globalization has fused several cultures into one, and in this village we are all newcomers. The Ox endures a lot, and it is an inspiration for us all. 


Locally, the march of time also caused changes to the Central Ontario Chinese Culture Centre (COCCC). Long-time members of its lion dance team have grown up. They have left this area pursuing their careers. Getting them together went from challenging to impossible. They and their supportive families have set excellent examples for others to follow. Youngsters of some families in the Region provide new blood for the lion dance program. COCCC has fostered their efforts by approaching martial arts masters to teach them. The new team will kick off COCCC's annual Chinese New Year Festivities on January 17, at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex. This free event is one of the ways we, at COCCC, try to add a bit of colour to the mosaic of this community. The lions, having their hair done, are ready to greet Happy Chinese New Year.

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Peter Chung Chieh is Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo and President, Central Ontario Chinese Culture Centre. He was born in Guangdong, China. He went to Taiwan as a child soldier, and was adopted by the late General Sun Li-jen, who gave him a chance to attend school. Following his chemistry degree from Taida (National Taiwan University), he studied nuclear science in the graduate school of National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. He then studied in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and went to University of Waterloo as a post doctoral fellow. A year later, he became assistant professor and went through all professorial ranks during his 34 years of teaching and research. He retired in 2004.
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