Traditional Chinese society observes 15-days of spring holiday which is also the onset of the year in its lunisolar calendar. However, Yang, the Zodiac sign for the year, is the same word for lamb, ram, goat, and sheep. Since the characteristics of the animals in the symbol are often the source of the qualities and virtues of persons born under the sign, those born under this year’s Zodiac sign can take their pick which animal to revere.
A hospital in Shanghai reports that its birth rate goes down 20 percent when it is the Year of the Lamb because mothers are afraid of birthing docile children. Of course, we also know of the bold lines and mucho macho gusto associated with Ram trucks, so fathers have their own ideas, though they hardly prevail in matters like this, for as patriarchal as China is, mothers still prevail. The goat and its known versatility, its survival skills and its mutton are also desired. Ask the San Mig swigging kambingan-eros among the Pinoys and their eyes would tell you that they could not wait for the next trip!
This year is definitely cuisine. The ewe, a female sheep, hangs as a roasted leg of mutton at the meat shop and it is the BBQ of choice for the canopied and tented stalls and sidewalk tables, particular this wintry cold snow-laden Chinese spring!
As the Kiwis of New Zealand are all too familiar (I drove through and around the North and South Islands one half-moon of a fall in the late ’80s), the mint and other spices are generously spread out to counter the distinct mutton scent, and today’s ewe is no exception when laid out roasted in a pan at the center of the dining table. Ah, the furry creatures that delight with meat and wool; could not lose.
OK, let us segue to the lunisolar calendar that China officially uses since 1984. In 1913, China started with the solar first day but that did not last long as five millennia of cyclical reckoning with the moon would not exit easily.
Readers would have to do their own research on this as trying to explain the heavenly and earthly stem branches that make a 60-year lunisolar cycle can be daunting to the Western educated mind.
We start with the heavenly stem after the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water with each joined to a yin and a yang in Sino dualism and you have 10 “elements,” a misnomer since the definition of each is more qualitative rather than numerical, best considered as “state of being” that is more sensual than intellectual and not conferred characteristics from up in the sky. The middle kingdom is actually “earth” before Zhong—center was appropriated for the nation Zhongguo, a Western geophysical designation when in fact, it was considered a state of being.
Anyway, marry the 10 elements to 12 earthly branches results in a 60-cycle. These branches are the Rat, Ox (water buffalo in Vietnam), Tiger, Rabbit (cat in Vietnam), Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. The Zodiac signs are similar in the rest of Sinosphere (China, Koreas, and Japan). We do know that the “dragon” is an imaginary category, but that will have to wait for another article. The rest of the Zodiac animals are for real. If born under one of the branches, an odd year would be a yin and the even year would be yang. Like that would make it any clearer!
I was once with an NMC friend whose birthday was supposed to be her 22nd so I took her out to dinner, having failed to introduce her to a young man her age as earlier promised. The event in fact was only her 20th in the solar count but born in January, she went by the lunar reckoning. The event would turn up to be elegiac in the manner of a Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz.
In any case, if any of our readers is asked out for a lamb BBQ twice in a year, they’d be glad for the chance to nurse a San Miguel twice. The inviting friend would be one of those born in the fuzzy zone between the solar and lunar calendars, universally true of China and its lunisolar calendar.
Forty years was the generational timeframe in the Levant, thus the 40 years in the desert for the liberated Hebrews in exodus from Egypt with only Joshua of the starters able to cross the Jordan into the Holy Land. The New Testament uses 40 days in the desert for Jesus to firm up his vocation, and the liturgy that followed medieval Europe observes 40 weekdays of fasting for Lent from Ash Wednesday to Good Saturday before Easter Sunday.
Hindus aim to Om their way to four phases of existence at 20 years each, a total of 80 for a generation. The 60-year cycle of the Chinese calendar reflects a lifetime as well.
Back to the ewe and the barbecue. A Korean colleague’s name, though born and bred in NYC, is exotic and unique Eumi. My Hispanic “Jaime” is pronounced “Hemi” by Shenyang Aerospace University, which my students quickly turned into Hemingwei since they read Ernest’s The Old Man and the Sea in high school. This year, Hemi becomes “Ewe Me.” Will oblige if needed for roasting.
Happy Ewe Year!