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Chenxi (Charlie) He wants to start off the new year by sharing his culture with new friends.
Thursday, Cape Breton University will hold a Lunar New Year to celebrate the Year of the Rat (which officially begins Saturday) with cultural displays, traditional music and dance, food samples and more at the Verschuren Centre from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. And for He, a 25-year-old from Fuzhiou in the Fujian province of southeast China, it’s a chance to teach other students and people from the local community about his traditions while learning about theirs.
“I want to see more new face join us to celebrate — the people and the students they can join, and they can know the Chinese students and this culture,” said He, who is a second-year master of business administration student. “I expect to see different faces and also share our culture, and they could also have their traditional new year’s celebration and we can communicate with different cultures and perspective about this. That will be interesting for me.”
Jennifer Billard, a student life community engagement co-ordinator at CBU, said these types of cultural exchanges and celebrations are an important part of life at the university where more than half of the students come from outside of Canada.
“It’s vital. If you look around our campus we’ve got 40 countries represented and how we’ve grown and how you see that reflected in the community, it’s really important for us to share and to learn from one another, and to really understand who everybody is as people and what they have to offer to our community. It can only be positive,” she said.
“It’s part of Cape Breton tradition and culture and history, really, to invite people in, learn from them and make them friends and make them family. That’s our goal for these events, to share and to learn from each other and to create those relationships.”
CBU usually holds an evening soiree to celebrate the Lunar New Year but Billard said they’ve scaled it back this year so they can also hold another traditional Chinese celebration, the Mid-Autumn Festival, in the fall.
“We’re looking forward to September and we’re looking to plan an outdoor autumn harvest festival at the end of September to share a different side of the lunar calendar and the lunar celebrations. We thought we’d look at a different part of the culture,” she said, adding that people from the community are still welcome to attend the Lunar New Year event to sample food, watch musical performances and dances, learn about the art of tea and have their name written in Chinese calligraphy, among other things.
“It’s become part of the community — the community looks forward to it every year — and we’ve decided to switch it up this year and do the smaller-scale one during the day for students and the campus community, and if the community members come out, that’s great, we’d love to share that with them, too.”
Shiwei Wang is a former CBU bachelor of hospitality and tourism management and bachelor of business administration student who now works in enrolment services. She said the Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in many Southeast Asian countries, comparing it to Christmas.
“We’re very similar to whatever people do on Christmas here — we just gather together. Family will go home to reunite. We eat a lot of food. We’ll do a lot of sophisticated cooking, just like you guys do the turkey dinner — normally you don’t do that every day — and then we sit together and talk,” said Wang, 28, who is from the city of Guangzhou in Guangdong province.
Kalie Wang, another former CBU student who now works at the university, agreed.
“The tradition is a bit different, the food is a bit different,” said Wang, 30, who is an international student adviser at CBU. “Other than that New Year’s is all about family get-together and spending time together.”
Wang, who is from Lanzhou in northwest China's Gansu province, said the Lunar New Year celebration at CBU is also a chance for her to learn about how other students from neighbouring countries mark the holiday, which is known as Seol in Korea and Tết in Vietnam.
While CBU has long had a sizeable population of students from China — there are now about 560 — this year there are now about 130 students from Vietnam and four from South Korea. Both groups will also have a presence at the celebration.
“At first I would say I didn’t know that this is just as important to Vietnamese students and Korean students as to Chinese students,” said Wang, who graduated with an MBA from CBU. “Now all the cultures we share together the different foods. I met Vietnamese students in the hallway and they shared their traditional food with me and they said, ‘That’s our new year food.’ That was something I never tried before.”
Celebrating that diversity and learning about those customs is what He is looking forward to.
“It’s very important for us to set up this kind of event. We know in different countries in Asia they also have different perspective and celebration,” he said. “We gather together sharing culture, sharing our food and also sharing the rituals, different traditions.”
YEAR OF THE RAT
From Jan. 25 and Feb. 11, 2021, will be the Year of the Rat, according to the Chinese zodiac. Here is some information about what that means:
- RESPECTED RODENT: In Chinese zodiac, the rat is respected for its cleverness and quick wit and are seen as a sign of prosperity. Married couples also prayed to them for children because of their reproduction rate.
- RAT RACE: The rat is the first of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. According to one myth, the Jade Emperor held a race on his birthday to decide the order. The rat won by tricking the ox into giving him a ride, then jumped off just before the finish line.
- ARE YOU A RAT? People born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 and 2008 have the rat sign.
- PERSONALITY AND CHARACTERISTICS: Optimistic and energetic, people born in the rat year are likable and sensitive to other people’s emotions. However, they can also be stubborn and because of their poor communication skills, can come across as rude. On the financial side, they like saving and can be stingy.