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Remembering Lunar New Year
12 February 2018
This Lunar New Year (February 16) marks the Year of the Dog, which is associated with loyalty. We spoke to two of Westpac’s Asian Exchange Scholars about what Lunar New Year means to them. Their personal experiences reflect Lunar New Year in a variety of cultural contexts.
Australia is well-placed to contribute to and benefit from the opportunities presented by Asia, and vice versa. To cultivate the future leaders needed to connect to Asian markets and create the Asia-literacy needed to access the opportunities in the region, Westpac’s Bicentennial Foundation established its Asian Exchange Scholarships.
Scholars are Australian citizens or permanent residents and can use the scholarship to attend any university in the regions of Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore, provided that there is an exchange agreement in place with their Australian university.
Emmelyn Wu (above) has just returned to the University of Western Australia, where she is studying Economics, Marketing and Chinese, having completed a semester-long exchange at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her Lunar New Year reminiscences centre on family and reflection.
"For me, Lunar New Year means spending time with family, reflecting on the past year, and wishing each other well for the year ahead. We'll usually visit friends and other family members, bringing them oranges to wish them good fortune, and have a reunion dinner on the eve of the New Year with the whole family.
“A special tradition we have at the reunion dinner is mixing yee sang. Everyone tosses together ingredients (such as raw fish, peanuts, and noodles), simultaneously. Each ingredient represents an auspicious New-Year wish.
“Celebrating Lunar New Year in Australia showcases and celebrates Chinese culture. You see windows and walls adorned with wishes of red and gold; traditional Chinese New Year snacks in abundance; fireworks and firecrackers add sparks of excitement; families reunite and enjoy a meal together.
“One of my favourite parts - and a fond childhood memory - is watching lion dances. First, you hear the familiar and particular rhythm of the drums. Then, if you’re lucky, the dance troupe enters the restaurant you’re in, and the ‘lion’ comes up close as children ‘feed’ it red packets of luck.
“Having lived and grown up in a predominantly Western society Lunar New Year allows me to reconnect with and celebrate my family's culture.”
Scarlett Bian (above) is studying at the University of Pennsylvania this year. A student at Sydney University she has completed an academic exchange at the University of Singapore. Her goal is to understand the challenges and barriers Australian businesses confront in leveraging the Asia growth platform and find solutions.
“Huan hao xin yi fu, yao gei yeye nainai bai nian!”, I recall mum reminding me on my last Lunar New Year celebration spent in China before we moved to Australia. I was six. In the Northern Chinese culture, where I was raised, it was considered auspicious to wear all new items of clothing to start the new year afresh. As my yeye and nainai sat upright on the bed watching the morning news, I remember climbing onto their bed wearing a new purple dress mum had bought to bai nian (wish Happy New Year) and ke tou (show deep respect by prostration).
Nowadays, whilst the physical tradition of ke tou has been phased out (particularly for Chinese Australians), mum still reminds me to Facetime my grandparents as soon as I wake up.
During the day, Chinese New Year is business as usual in Australia. In the evenings though, mum would make an effort to get home early from work to get a start on preparing dumplings. CNY’s about catching up and spending time with relatives, but using video calling and WeChat, now.
As a child, I remember walking into a round table feast with a dish of each type of meat, dumplings, pippi soup (a specialty of my home town Qingdao in Shandong Province), and my absolute favourite - yeye's savoury egg pancakes.
This year, I’m in America studying at the University of Pennsylvania, and my Australian Chinese friends and I are improvising. We are planning on preparing dumplings together. It will be an interesting experiment given that none of us have made dumplings unsupervised! If that goes South, we might just head into town and experience what Philadelphia has in store for Chinese New Year. Of course, I’ll WeChat, living vicariously through relatives in China (and also Australia this year), whilst we make new traditions.