Following the Rat and the Ox are the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. This is, of course, pure myth, as I cannot see the Dragon not flying or leaping ahead of all the others, or the Rooster outrunning the Dog.
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Philippine joins Asia in welcoming Year of the Rat
Doreen Yu (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Tomorrow begins a new cycle in the lunar astrological calendar as we go into the Year of the Rat, the first in the 12-animal Chinese zodiac cycle.

One version of the oft-repeated story has the Jade Emperor calling for animals to come to his palace for a celebration; only 12 animals responded, and as reward he gave them each a year. To determine their order he called for a race. The Rat, realizing – small as he is – that he could not outrun the other animals, got on the back of the mighty Ox. But just as they neared the finish line, the Rat jumped off and crossed the line first.

Following the Rat and the Ox are the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. This is, of course, pure myth, as I cannot see the Dragon not flying or leaping ahead of all the others, or the Rooster outrunning the Dog.

The sequence is commonly used to estimate – quite accurately – people’s ages. Someone with the same animal sign as you is either the same age or older or younger than you by multiples of 12 years. Those of my generation know this sequence by heart and are able to rattle it off in one breath – but only in Hokkien.

The story goes on to say the Jade Emperor bestowed the characteristics of the animal on those born in that particular year. Thus those born in the Year of the Rat are supposed to be resourceful, cunning even, energetic and inquisitive. Together with the other details of one’s birth – such as month, day and hour – they constitute the eight characters which is vital for telling one’s fortune, and form part of the complicated world of geomancy or fengshui. 

At this time of the year, this all makes for very interesting conversation, plus the do’s and don’ts of how to avoid misfortune and invite success, prosperity and happiness in the year ahead – what one should wear, eat, have around the house, etc. It has become big business, this chasing after swerte or good luck – starting from fortune telling to buying amulets and charms, from what to wear to what to eat (and not eat).

Someone gave me a set of five gold figurines – a rat, a turtle, an ingot, a carp and a pineapple. My colleagues demanded an explanation from the “resident Chinese;” so though I can’t claim to be an expert, let me share what is common lore among us Tsinoys.

The rat is, of course, symbol for the coming year; it’s a pretty fat rat, with candies inside. The turtle represents long life and the ingot, naturally, wealth. The carp suggests abundance, since the word for fish (yu) is a homonym of the word for surplus, thus the saying nian nian yow yu, meaning to have surplus or excess every year. In the same manner, the Chinese term for pineapple (ong lai) sounds like good luck or prosperity coming your way.

More than anything, the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival is a time for family gatherings. China experiences the single greatest human migration at this time, when people go by land, sea and air to gather around the family hearth on this most important and auspicious night. The current new coronavirus outbreak is complicating this annual migration, and pity those folks in Wuhan, which is on lockdown, who cannot leave to go home.

My hearth will be full tonight with family and friends (although one family member is away doing her LPGA golf seminars in Florida), and my table will also be full as we give thanks and celebrate family, friends, good health, good tidings and toast the New Year with a cup fine pu-erh tea. So, then, gong xi fa cai – a prosperous new year to all!     

YEAR OF THE RAT
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