herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Celebrating the Year of the Monkey

Today begins the Year of the Monkey and Dublin family, the Wus, have been busy enjoying the festivities, writes Joyce Fegan

Bing Wi and Cindy Liu and their family Angela (18), Jizhao (26) and Diyu (28) preparing for Chinese New Year
Bing Wi and Cindy Liu and their family Angela (18), Jizhao (26) and Diyu (28) preparing for Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year preparations

When Cindy Liu arrived into Dun Laoghaire Harbour in 1996 with her eight-year-old son Diyu, she was seven-months pregnant and had nowhere to live.

Twenty years later, she works as a computer science lecturer and lives in South County Dublin. Her once eight-year-old boy is now a 28-year-old married man working as a solicitor and the daughter she gave birth to two months after her arrival, Angela, is a 19-year-old psychology student in Trinity.

For some Dubliners, 2016 will be all about the Easter Rising but for others, it's the Year of the Monkey, a time of good fortune.

And that's exactly how Cindy feels, as celebrates the arrival of the Chinese New Year today - fortunate.

"Our family is doing quite well, we're very thankful. The New Year is a time we should pay back, to offer help and make people happier," explains Cindy.

Yesterday was Chinese New Year's Eve, the biggest night of the 15-day holiday period, which will conclude on February 22, with the Lantern Festival.

The centuries-old tradition is the most significant annual holiday for Chinese people and is celebrated at the turn of the lunisolar calendar.

"It's our biggest celebration, it's a very busy time. There are so many activities that I need a [separate] diary to organise my Chinese New Year activities," says Cindy.

She began the celebrations last week with a 160-seat gala dinner for the Association of Chinese Professionals in Ireland, an organisation she is the chairperson of.

Her husband, Professor Bing Wu, (Chinese women stopped taking their husbands surnames in the 50s), who is head of Dublin Institute of Technology's (DIT) School of Computing, won an award at the event.

"In his award speech, he said thank you to Ireland. We feel so grateful to live here. Dublin is the place we have lived the longest. Dublin really is our home," she says.

For the biggest night of the festival, Cindy didn't celebrate at home though.

"My family for Chinese New Year's Eve, and also our friends, went to a friend's house. There were 45 people there - lots of food, drink, fireworks, everything. We played cards and watched TV shows," explains Cindy.

They weren't just watching any TV show, they were watching the televised celebrations unfolding live from China, imaging that they too are back in their homeland for the holiday.

"I've never got the chance to celebrate the New Year in China since I left because we don't get holidays at this time.

"For the first 10 years in Ireland, there were limited celebrations, but now it has its own dedicated event, the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival. My friends that live in China think that we are busier than they are," says Cindy.

As well as ringing in the Year of the Monkey with friends - the tradition is to give small monetary gifts to your children. Like Santa here, the gifts stop coming after you reach a certain age.

"We're all grown-ups. I may give my daughter some pocket money. My son always says, 'If you want to give me a present give something to charity'," she says.

Another tradition involves the colour red. While 2016 is the year of the monkey, signifying intelligence, success and good fortune, there are some people who need to take extra care during the 12 months ahead.

"If this is your year, if you were born in a year of the monkey previously, then you need to be careful. You can wear something red all year, like underwear, to protect you," explains Cindy.

If you were born in years like 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980 or 1992 then you may need to wear red, but because the Chinese New Year does not follow the Gregorian calendar, and usually begins at the end of January or early February, you might fall outside the parameter of that year.

"For example, if you were born in 1992, you would need to have be born after February 4, for monkey to be your year. But, if you were born before January 22, 1993, then you were born into the year of the monkey."

ZODIAC

There are 12 animal signs in the Chinese Zodiac, such as a rat, ox and tiger, that each represents a calendar year.

"The New Year is our biggest celebration like the way Christmas is here, but it has no religious reason. The New Year is a new start. It's a chance for family to reunite, give gifts to children, just small money, and to wish everyone luck in the year ahead. It's ceremonial.

"We think of it as an opportunity. People have to be connected to each other and with events and dinners, people can meet up face-to-face and wish one another a good year," she says.

While Cindy sees Ireland as home now, her traditions are extremely important to her.

"I'm an Irish citizen now but also Chinese," she says.

Cindy never thought she would become an Irish citizen - her entire life here began when her husband went to study in England.

"My husband arrived in England at the end of 1991, to Manchester to do his PhD. I joined him there in 1993 with our son. We had both been lecturing in university in China.

"I thought he was just there for a PhD and that he'd come home, but I started having desires to see the New World," says Cindy.

Her husband Bing, then began looking for jobs and saw a post in Trinity College Dublin in the London Times and applied. Due to the fact that there is a Trinity College in Cambridge and given the fact that he saw the ad in an English paper, he thought the job was based in Britain.

"It's a funny story," says Cindy, "at the time we didn't realise Ireland was a different country - sorry about that!

"We didn't know if he needed a visa or not to travel for the interview, so when we rang the embassy, you can imagine the conversation, 'We are another country'," she says.

Bing flew over to Dublin and back in the one day and was successful at his job interview. He moved to Ireland in August 1996, and Cindy followed on October 20.

"I remember the day," she says, "we travelled by ferry to Dun Laoghaire and when we got off we tried to get stamps on our passports so we kept going and kept going until we were out on the street."

She describes it as an "exciting time," and how they didn't realise then, but in hindsight see how "Ireland was changing dramatically too".

"As a 31-year-old leaving China I had no idea I would never be back," she says.

Now 54 years old, and ready to celebrate her good fortune as the Chinese New Year arrives, Cindy always keeps one eye and one ear in the direction of home, where her mother and sister live.

"I never put my phone on silent, not even when I'm asleep."

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