Happy New Year! I’m glad to be writing another blog entry because I got so busy towards the year’s end I didn’t have time to write. Now that I’m snowbound I'm anxious to share some exciting news. Last week I was notified GOOD FORTUNE was chosen for February’s read for the Gig Harbor Welcome Club Book Club II. I’m thrilled and honored they chose my novel and I look forward to meeting the members at their next meeting. Spurred by their interest, I opened an account with Goodreads.com and already have two 5-star reviews posted! Woo-hoo! (Please feel free to add yours.) When I wrote GOOD FORTUNE I hoped my readers would enjoy it, and the feedback I’ve received has made me realize my dream. Thank you so much for your support. To read all my reviews go to:
Most of us make new year's resolutions—save money, join a gym, take a fabulous vacation, lose weight, volunteer etc., but when Wu’s wife, Anna, prepares to celebrate the Chinese New Year the first thing she does is shop for her family. Once again, she and Wu are hosting New Year’s Eve dinner at their house and all the close members of the Chow family will assemble to enjoy the six course feast prepared by Anna, her sister-in-law Sue and Aunt Ying. But first Anna must clothes shop because it is important her family have new outfits to wear.
Page 271: Since it was traditional to start the Chinese New Year with a smart new outfit, weeks before she began cleaning house in preparation of the guests who would be coming to celebrate New Year's Eve dinner, Anna shopped for her family. As hosts, it was important her family be well-dressed for the holiday. She chose garments of bright red with accents of gold; red to ensure good luck and gold for prosperity, the two most important elements for the upcoming year.
After she shops, Anna tackles the project of cleaning house from top to bottom because as a teenager, she learned the hard way the importance of this task.
Page 272: Anna hummed as she mopped the kitchen floor, smiling and remembering how she used to hate housework. Now, she took enjoyment from keeping the house clean for her family. Her change in attitude began when she was sixteen. Like most teenage girls, she had a rebellious streak; both her mother and fate would rid her of it.
“No! I won't do it!” Anna yelled at her mother. “That's just a dumb superstition someone taught you when you were my age, and I'm going to prove it by leaving my room exactly the way it is.”
Anna's mother pressed her lips together with frustration. “At sixteen you are so sure you know everything. I warn you, Anna, if you don’t clean the mess in your room before the New Year, it will affect your whole life.”
“Do you hear how stupid you sound, Mom?” Anna shook her head with disgust and flopped down on her bed.
“You will have only yourself to blame when your life becomes total chaos,” her mother warned one last time, then slammed the door in anger because Anna put a pillow over her head to drown out the sound of her mother’s nagging.
Anna soon wished she had heeded her mother's ominous prediction, because the next year was the worst year of her life. It started when she came down with a bad case of German measles. After that, she and her best friend began to argue unceasingly. She received a “C” in geometry that ruined her straight “A” average and, as if that weren’t enough, her once regular menstrual cycle became erratic and painful.
After that ill-fated year, Anna always made certain to straighten her room well before the year's end. When she married, she continued the ritual by thoroughly cleaning the entire house from top to bottom, careful not to use a broom three days from New Year’s—a broom sweeps away good luck.
After consuming a delicious six course meal, the Chow family looks forward to the story-telling part of the evening that has become a tradition.
Page 283-286: A hush settled over the room as mothers sat their toddlers on their laps. Older brothers and sisters kept the other youngsters quiet so Tong could address the gathering.
“Tonight we are assembled to celebrate the coming New Year, the Year of the Boar, which has always been one of our most fortuitous years.
“As you know, the boar is a symbol of wealth and family. Since wealth usually involves a certain amount of counting, whether it is in blessings or money, tonight I have chosen to speak about the Chinese system of numbers and our lunar calendar.
“Children are taught to count by using their fingers. However, before there were numbers as we know them today, in a distant time past, three thousand years ago, our ancient ancestors drew lines and symbols to keep track of the days.”
A baby's cry interrupted Tong's speech, and he waited patiently while the mother quieted her infant before he went on.
“A thousand years later our people discovered a way to keep track of the months by watching the changing face of the moon.”
“What about the animal faces, Grandfather? Where did they come from? Was there a giant zoo in the sky?” Dennis wanted to know.
“Ho! A very good question, my little scholar. During the great Han dynasty, each year was matched with an animal name. How many of them can you identify for me?”
Dennis stuck a finger in his mouth and sucked on it while he thought about the answer. “Um . . . I know . . . there's a monkey . . . and a dog . . . and . . . and . . . and a pig.”
“Excellent. I will write out the names of all twelve animals for you. Can you draw a picture for me of each animal next to his name?”
“Don't forget me, Grandfather. I want to draw pictures for you, too,” William chimed in, jumping up and down, which excited the rest of his young cousins who all began to jump and cheer at the same time.
Tong chuckled. “Very well, all of you can learn together. I will give the list to your father. He will make copies at work so you and your cousins can each have one.”
As always, Wu was amazed by his father's broad scope of knowledge and his inspiration for teaching children. “I'd be glad to, Father. How did you learn so much about our calendar?”
“Grandfather passed on all his knowledge to me because he knew I would travel far from home and most likely never return. He made certain to teach me Chinese history so I wouldn’t grow up in a far off place and forget my heritage.”
His father's words made Wu wish he had spent more time learning from him instead of being so single-minded about business. With the approaching New Year, he made a firm resolution to make the time to listen to his seemingly endless store of knowledge, learning what he could while he still had the opportunity to do so. This was a sobering thought to have on New Year's Eve, and he quickly dismissed it, but not without resolving to act upon it.
Uncle Cho spoke up next. “Well then, I have something to share. Would anyone like to hear?”
Encouraged by the group’s cheers, Cho looked around the room, grabbed his full stomach and assumed a teasing voice. “I could not help but notice that all of you ate your fair share of noodles tonight.”
“They were delicious,” a voice called out.
A small utterance came from one of the youngsters. “I love noodles.”
“Very well.” Cho began to articulate in a sing-song voice perfect for telling stories, replete with nuances and colorful descriptions. “Tonight I am going to tell you about the Shuikou noodles that come from the beautiful Shuikou region, where the Chang and the Daning rivers meet. This basin is full of tiny black birds with beautiful red feathered tails. The birds fly within a gorge carpeted with yellow wildflowers. Five hundred years ago, the people of this region made thin round noodles out of wheat flour and limestone spring water. Rumor has it these noodles were so delicious that after one of the Ming emperors first tasted them, he demanded his tribute from the Shuikou region be paid from then on in nothing else but bundles of noodles.”
“Uncle Cho, why didn't you tell me that story when I was your Little Tadpole? I remember every story you ever told me, and that wasn’t one of them,” Wu said.
“Because I didn’t know it until today. Not to be outdone tonight by my older scholarly brother, I searched through my books for an interesting story that would have something to do with food in honor of tonight's feast.”
“Ho! Very wise of you indeed,” chortled Tong. “Just like the old days; still trying to keep up with me.” Then he turned to his beloved aged companion seated beside him. “Now we await Feng to tell us something of interest. What about it, old friend? Is there something you want to share?”
Feng slowly ground out his after-dinner cigarette and nodded his head, smiling with the sly look of someone who concealed a wonderful secret. “You probably expected me to come here on this all-important night unprepared, but your clever son alerted me to have a story ready, and his warning gave me plenty of time to plan ahead.”
Such an unexpected action on the part of Wu made Tong and Cho view him with renewed respect and pride. Apparently, Wu had invested some serious thought into the after-dinner storytelling portion of the evening that began a few years back and had since evolved into a Chow family tradition. Secretly, Tong believed it was the influence of the book of fortunes, whether or not Wu was aware of its effect on him.
“Please begin, Feng,” prompted Wu. “All of us are eager to hear what you have prepared to tell us.”
Feng felt the eyes of the guests in the room upon him and, although he was unable to make out the details of any but the closest faces, he knew these people well and felt comfortable addressing them.
“I spent many years of my life as a keeper of books. What some of you may not know is that in my youth I was also an accomplished calligrapher. I was tutored by a great scholar who taught me the art of calligraphy while also instructing me in its history.”
Only Tong knew about this area of Feng's education and he listened intently, wondering what he was going to say next.
“In ancient China the art of calligraphy was held in the highest esteem by the whole population, educated and illiterate, rich and poor. Calligraphy soared to a stature above all other forms of art because it had the most profound spiritual value attached to it. Over hundreds of years, various scripts evolved. To the student, it is easy to recognize and differentiate, for example, between Kaiti, Caoshu, Shaoer, Lishu, Weibi, and Xiaozhuan. These different styles represent not only the distinct stages in the evolution of our written language but serve as a record to preserve our past. A fact all you young people should take pride in is that your Chinese ancestors invented paper eleven centuries before the western world.”
Feng folded his hands in his lap, which indicated he had concluded.
The difference varies between cultures as they celebrate New Year according to their traditions, but what they share in common is gathering with friends and family and celebrating with hope the next year will bring good health, happiness and good fortune.
I wish you all the best!