Going into the new year, hopefully better and stronger

Doreen G. Yu - The Philippine Star

It was around the Spring Festival (chun jie) or lunar new year last year (Jan. 25, 2020) that a nasty little bugger of a virus began its domination of the world largely unprepared for its kind of stealthy invasion.

As millions in China made their annual trek from the cities where they worked back to their homes in the provinces, the virus went with them on planes and trains and buses and cars.

In the next couple of months, the coronavirus made its appearance in different parts of the world; how it crossed land and ocean (or did it? some speculate the virus did not originate in and spread out from China) is still a question unanswered (an international team of scientists is looking for answers around Wuhan, where the virus is said to have originated). And then it took over all our lives, leaving us in shock, in isolation, in despair, practically helpless against an enemy we could not see and did not know how to deal with.

A year hence, it is Spring Festival again (Feb. 12, a week from today) and this time around we enter the Year of the Ox with a little bit more hope – hopefully wiser and better prepared. Vaccines against the coronavirus are rolling out of pharmaceutical laboratories and into the arms of millions across the world (but so far, mostly in richer countries that have cornered the lion’s share of initial production of the vaccines). We bid good-bye – and good riddance – to the Year of the Rat and all its Bad Juju, remembering the more than 2.2 million people that we lost to COVID-19, but thankful that we made it through to greet a new year.

For Chinese all over the world – including Tsinoys hereabouts – this is the most important holiday of the year, the time for families to gather around the hearth – literally for those in colder climes, figuratively for those like us in the tropics – and partake of a bountiful feast.

But celebrations will be scaled back this year, even in China. The government – national and local – has called on China’s 300 million migrant workers not to make the trip home, offering incentives such as cash, free phone calls, gift baskets, discount vouchers and other perks to those who stay in the cities.

In a New York Times report, Chen Yongjia, a Chinese official, said last week at a news conference in Beijing hosted by the State Council, China’s cabinet: “Through these heartwarming measures, let migrant workers stay in their place of employment and spend the Spring Festival without worries.”

If that was the carrot, there is also a stick. Many cities have tightened travel restrictions. Beijing, for example, is requiring a negative test before being allowed entry. Counties with recent clusters of new COVID cases have been locked down. People visiting some rural areas are required to get tested – at their expense – and quarantine for two weeks. Such restrictions, in effect, make it impossible for many low-wage migrant workers to go home.

Hereabouts, families will be holding muted festivities. Stories circulated on Viber and other messaging apps of big family gatherings last Christmas and New Year that led to infections and even deaths of family members; whether or not these are true, they have made most people think twice about organizing big celebrations. Thus, gatherings will be smaller this time, limited to immediate family instead of the whole extended clan, in-laws and all, with a few friends added.

In Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, there won’t be fireworks or parades or lion and dragon dances in the streets, as the city government has banned such activities that will gather big crowds to prevent a surge of COVID infections. Sale of liquor and alcoholic beverages will also be banned in the area for the duration of the celebration. I haven’t been to Binondo but I assume the vendors of good luck charms and trinkets, rhizomes and fruits are still around, and as the pandemic is still very much with us many people will want to stock up on whatever will give them an edge over the bad vibes and bring in a better year.

Last time nobody predicted that the Year of the Rat would have a virus that would bring the world to its knees, so perhaps we should go easy on predictions for the Year of the Metal Ox. Rather than ask what the year will hold perhaps we should look at the characteristics of the animal whose year it is. The ox is strong, deliberate, conscientious, patient and hardworking; the element metal provides strength, firmness, determination.

We would all do well to combine the characteristics of ox and metal to not just get us through this year but to come out of it better, stronger.


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