No to the New Year

Happy Birthday Everyone!

In case you had forgotten, at the beginning of the Lunar (or Chinese) New Year an extra year is added to everyone’s age. If you were born at the end of the Old Year it would mean you were two years old in the New Year. A drawback for anyone hoping to play for their county’s minors.  

(My birthdays is listed as I January.)

In China this New Year’s celebrations won’t differ from last year’s which were cancelled by a lockdown.  Thanks to intensive efforts early in 2020, the country was almost free of the virus until the beginning of this year. An outbreak was reported in the northern city of Shijiazuang and by 7 January there were 123 symptomatic and 181 asymptomatic cases there.

Immediately the country was once more declared ‘at war’ with the virus and people were confined to their houses until further notice.

The entire population of the Shijiazhuang (11 million) was tested within a week and a week later a second round of tests was finished in three days. There is no travel in or out, or inside, the city. Factories and offices are closed. Everything stopped. The virus continued however so there was a third round of tests.

Not unexpectedly in these anti-religion days, a rumour started that a foreign priest had brought the virus to Shijiazhuang.  Although there is no international travel and foreign priests are not welcome in China the story spread quickly through social media and the Church took a lot of violent criticism. Eventually a government official stated the rumour was untrue and the attacks have simmered down.  

The ‘we are at war’ approach puts a stop to any celebrations again this year. However it won’t stop you from becoming another year older.

Year of Ox

2020 was the year of the Rat, 2021 is the year of the Ox. So is that any reason for hope?

In Asia the Rat is considered smart and active.  His ‘year’ is the first in the twelve year cycle so the Rat is seen as a sign of ‘new beginnings’ – of love, money and other opportunities.  So far, so good. However the 2020 Year of the Rat was under the influence of another star and foretold to cause all kinds of health issues.  As you know he did create opportunities – for the Covid virus to spread. Active but not very smart. Maybe that is why elsewhere the rat is considered a pest.

Now enter the Ox. In countries where the Ox has been the tractor for muddy rice fields he (or she) is considered hardworking, positive and honest.   Korean proverbs often praise the Ox, Chinese paintings lovingly portray the Ox and Japanese temples abound in Oxen. The Ox‘s image has always been praised, he (or she) is considered the helper of mankind.

So what has the Ox to offer us in 2021?  Well, did you notice that the next vaccine being offered to us, easier to transport and not needing extreme refrigeration, is the Ox-ford. No coincident there.

Buy box, return jewel

One of my Chinese friends said this year their Christmas greeting was mai du huan zhu

Of course I had to ask what that meant.

A long time ago a craftsman found a unique jewel and polished it up till it glowed like a star. When it came to selling it, he wanted to design a box worthy to hold it. He used the finest wood and the most colourful enamel.  

Finally a customer came who seemed rich and refined enough to deserve to be its new owner. The customer examined the box carefully, inside and out. He seemed satisfied.

After paying a handsome price he gave it to his servant to carry and they left.

The next day the servant returned with a cotton bag.  ‘My master found this in the box and wants to return it,’ he said.

The craftsman looked inside and was amazed to see the jewel.

‘But this is a priceless Jewel, does your master not want it?’

The servant looked puzzled, ‘My master is very proud of the box but has no time for whatever was in it.’

Every Chinese child knows that story,  mai du huan zhu, buy box, return jewel.

So what was that to do with Christmas? Well, I was told, at Christmas we enjoy the decorations and trapping but might overlook the jewel behind them.

What jewel? If you don’t know what the jewel is you won’t recognise it. 

Hoping you (and I) will find it this year and that it helps clear off some of the gloom and fear with which the year ends,

And have a Happy Christmas!  Hugh

Hidden Meanings

We usually expect some hidden meaning in Chinese stories but I have some trouble with this one.  It was originally heard from a Chinese priest who had studied in Germany so maybe there is some distortion.

Anyhow, an allied airman was shot down over Western Europe during World War ll and landed in a tree. He could see all around him but was not sure what country he was in.

A man cycled past on a bicycle so he called out to him, ‘Could you help me? Where am I?’

The cyclist stopped and answered, ‘You are up a tree.’

‘Are you a priest?’ asked the pilot.

‘How did you know?’ asked the man.

‘Because what you told me is true but it is not useful,’ the pilot responded.

Is he saying what I think….? No it could not be.

It definitely must be Chinese story with a deeper meaning.

Checking the Sources

These lockdown days I have plenty of time to listen to the stories of my Chinese fellow-residents.

It seems there was one young man in North China who liked gambling and to ensure his good luck kept a statue of every god he heard of in his room.

One of his neighbours came back from the city with a present of a new god, named Jesus. There was only one problem, there was no space left in his room so he decided to find out which ones he could do without.  He put a small cup of wine in front of all the statues, including that of Jesus which was sitting on his bed.

He called out to them, ‘Drink up the wine. If you cup is empty I will keep you and throw out the rest.’ He then shut the door and waited an hour.

When he went back in all the cups were empty except that of Jesus. He immediately threw out the other statues and just kept the one of Jesus.

When his friend asked him why he changed his mind he replied, ‘How could I trust any god who obeyed a human?’   From then on he did not need extra luck when picking winners.

Single’s Day

You may not have been aware that last Wednesday US$74 billion was spent on online shopping in China. It was 11 November, ‘Singles Day’ or (previously) ‘Bachelors Day‘s.  The idea was launched in 1993 by students of Nanjing University to celebrate the fact they were single, and likely to remain so.

All the single digits in 11th of 11th stand for single people and the ’singles’ bought presents for each other. Soon it became National Shopping Day with huge discounts in prices and the rest is history.

This year most people opted for 5G technology devices but there were also a few unusual items at greatly reduced prices.  

You could buy a shrunken skull (originally meant for medical students to practice on) for E5. It made an unforgettable present.

For 3 to 6 Euro you could get a ‘Jar of Sunlight’ –it has a solar battery on the lid.

Five live leeches for E4 is a good bargain, they can be raised as pets or used medically.

A fortune teller will bring you good news for a very reasonable price. One person said, ‘I don’t care if he is correct, I just want to calm myself during this difficult time.’

You can have noodles with your name on them for E3.   

Most of the sales were on Alibaba, the Amazon of China which had two million new items on its ‘digital shelf’, double last year’s.  They warm up their customers the night before with an extravagant TV gala featuring international stars.

‘Singles Day’ is not a national holiday in China yet but I’m sure it will be soon and the rest of the world will be quick to jump on the delivery waggon.

Caring a fig

Our garden, planted by an already forgotten  Columban, continues to amaze me.

Now it is producing figs. Last year we had none, now we have a tree-full of them.

A few months ago we discovered a branch with half a dozen brown and mature fruit on it. They were delicious. Now the fruit is plentiful but small and green. With no sun to warm them they are never likely to ripen.

Wasn’t there a story that Adam and Eve used fig leaves as their first clothing? Our fig tree is now without a fig leaf but has plenty of immature fruit.  All we can do with them is see them as a warning about people who show a lot of promise but never deliver.

Figs are one of the first plants cultivated by humans and thrive in the Mediterranean area and western Asia. China produces 2,800 metric tons a year mainly in Xinjiang, in the papers these days for more than fruit. They call it the ‘flower-less fruit’ and even when our tree had leaves earlier in the year it never had flowers.   

There is an often quoted verse in the Bible that says it is happiness for ‘each to lie under their own vine and fig tree’.  You might not believe it but there is a vine planted next to our fig tree though we have not seen a trace of a grape on it yet. Perhaps next year it will thrive too and, if there is room, we can sit beneath our own vine and our own fig tree and wonder what’s the next surprise our garden will produce.

Ghosts in Zombie City

It is nearly a year since the Corona virus made a name for itself in Wuhan before spreading around the world. At last it seems to be declining, in China at least, so young people in Wuhan are celebrating what happened in their zombie city through Halloween events.

At a parade in an amusement park they dressed up not only as the usual ghosts, pirates and super heroes but poked fun at the virus with zombie nurses and medical instruments.

Early this year the country went through three months of severe lockdown with people confined to their homes and allowed no travel at home or abroad.

However the summer passed quietly and during the major public holidays at the start of October people were encouraged to start travelling again, within the country. Schools reopened and face masks were abandoned.  But the virus had not gone far away.

This month infections were reported again in faraway Kashgar, in Xinjiang, but more worrying in the more central city of Qingdao. After two dock workers were found positive and a number of people infected, nine million people in the neighbouring area were told to take a test. People are beginning to search for their face masks again and think of social distancing.

During Halloween there will be one ghost in the background that no one wants to meet, it has frightened enough people already.

Online Spirit Services

Where does popular religion go online during Covid? China of course.

The Chinese version of Amazon advertises religious services such as making the loved one you broke up with return to you, ensuring your car is safe and protecting your pet.

1,800 people signed up at E50 a go to have their ex-loved one forcibly returning to them by the intervention of spiritual powers.

A fortune teller promises to help solve worries about marriages, careers, emotional states or children’s future for as little as E90. He will inform you about your past first and if he is wrong you wont have to pay any money. 200 have signed up.

There is a newly recognised ‘God of the Car’ who will help you drive without accidents. It cost E40.

A popular item is offering prayers for an unborn child. It costs E30 a month.

Photos: 1. Your Fortune

2. Force loved-one to return 3. Offer prayers for unborn

Dublin’s bike lending scheme started in 2009, China’s in 2014. Dublin’s is still doing ok but China’s ran into trouble and a new possibility may replace it  –  and electric car for just 4,000 euro.

 Five members of Beijing University’s cycling club grafted the idea of renting bicycles with the convenience of the country’s ubiquitous smartphone-driven internet economy.

They launched a company known as OfO, three letters of the alphabet resembling a rider on a two-wheeled cycle. For the cost of 10 cents you could pick up or drop off a bike with the help of a smartphone app.

Soon millions of blue, red, yellow and white bikes began to flood the cities. But bad habits began to spread and mountains of impounded, abandoned and broken bikes piled up on vacant plots as city authorities discussed how to deal with them.

Meanwhile another phenomenon, the mini electric car is beginning to change the countryside.  The cheapest is about E1,500 and the most popular, the Hong guang, about E4,000.  The four-seater does 170 kms on a charge. Its not regulated yet so it is a favorite among older people in the countryside, ideal for hopping to the market!

Can Dublin catch up?