Gung hay fat choy (Cantonese): How Cantonese speakers wish you a happy new year, the literal translation: wishing you great happiness and prosperity
“James, it’s the year of the Ox!”
He didn’t reply, but in his defence, what are you supposed to say to that?
I vaguely recall the first time I learnt about the Chinese zodiac and the great race. It was during an assembly in primary school, not a whole-school one, but smaller. Long ago, the Emperor of China invited all animals to compete in a race, 12 animals turned up: a dog, a dragon, a goat, a horse, a monkey, an ox, a pig, a rabbit, a rat, a rooster, a snake and a tiger. I can’t remember why they were racing (a quick google suggests that it was to establish a way to measure time. The winning animals would each have one Earth year named after them, in the order that they finished the race. Due to it taking Jupiter 12 Earth years to orbit the same sun, 12 animals were required. I don’t know why Jupiter was important…), but I do remember the first two animals to cross the finish line: the Rat and the Ox. The Tiger came in with the bronze medal.
In my recollections, the Ox had been leading the race, strong and steady, but then all the animals approached a river and the Rat – in a close second – was tired and/or couldn’t swim. Faced with this conundrum, the Rat sneakily jumped on to the Ox, held on tightly and let him do all of the hard work in crossing. When the two mounted the opposing river bank and approached the finish line, at the very last second, the Rat craftily jumped ahead of the Ox, thereby winning the race. I recall who won, because of the injustice of it. That poor Ox, he was cheated!
It was made all the worse, when I found out that every calendar year is associated with an animal – and I was born in 1985: the year of the Ox. I was even more annoyed to find out that my older brother, the year of the rat, had won the race (he was very mischievous growing up and I took this ox/rat discovery rather badly and rather literally – haha).
I’ve always felt for the Ox and the sense of injustice has certainly been something that’s sat with me, throughout this fertility ‘journey’ and particularly this last year. I, more than ever, feel that I should be a mother. Not just that I want to be one, but that I think I would be a good one. Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be aiming to be a good one, I’d be working towards being a great one. I already am working towards it – there’s been a lot of growth and self-discovery, strength and weakness, in this sorrow. And there’s the injustice! Why have we had to suffer? Why did our babies have to die, why did it have to be me that created some good from this situation? Surely that means I’m the sort of person who should be a mother to begin with, not someone who needed to grow into a better one? I’m doing the groundwork, while so many others get a free-ride into motherhood.
Today, on the 2021 Chinese New Year – Gung hay fat choy, ladies and gents – I’ve discovered that it’s my year. 2021 is the year of the Ox again: it is supposedly my year of happiness and prosperity. Which means that next year, will be the year of the Tiger – James’ year. I realise my thoughts are clutching at straws here, but I can’t help but think, perhaps that’s why we’ve had a tough few fertility years. Perhaps it was because we were at the tail end of our prosperity. Perhaps the next couple of years will be better. I know how that sounds, but you’ve got to take the hope where you can find it these days.
People born in years of the zodiac are said to have certain characteristics, so I’ve had a quick google (using years which I approximate are appropriate to the readership of this blog):
- Rat (1984): Quick-witted, smart, charming, and persuasive
- Ox (1985): Diligent, dependable, strong, determined
- Tiger (1986): Quick-witted, resourceful, versatile, kind
- Rabbit (1987): Popular, compassionate, and sincere
- Dragon (1988): Energetic, fearless, warm-hearted, and charismatic
- Snake (1989): Charming, gregarious, introverted, generous, and smart
- Horse (1990): Energetic, independent, impatient, and enjoy traveling
- Goat (1991): Mild-mannered, shy, kind, and peace-loving
- Monkey (1992): Fun, energetic, and active
- Rooster (1993): Independent, practical, hard-working, and observant
- Dog (1982): Patient, diligent, generous, faithful, and kind
- Pig (1983): Loving, tolerant, honest, and appreciative of luxury
I know people look at positive attributes (and horoscopes!) about themselves and go “yeah, that sounds like me!” and also that people born in the same year, can’t all have the same characteristics, but I must say, the rat, ox and tiger, do sound very much like my brother (the rat who is a salesman), myself (the ox who works with numbers) and James (the tiger who works with people).
It’s actually just made me gasp out loud and then chuckle to realise that given that Summer was born in 2020, she was born in the year of the Rat! (I’m pleased to say however, that I get on MUCH better with my brother now and, as we’ve read, his Rat tendencies aren’t all bad – I’ll have to make peace with this clash of mother/daughter personality!).
One of the saddest things about baby loss, is that you lose your future, the realisation of the hopes and dreams. You never get to learn what or who they could have been. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what Summer would have been like – that just feels like an exercise in self torture – but I do like to think of her as the best of both James and I. To that end, I have imagined and described her to people as “scrappy” – her little fight for life, showed me that. I also think of her as having James’ verbal power of persuasion and my lean towards being passionate. I see her as railroading other kids into doing all sorts of weird and wonderful, but ultimately saving or winning the day. Much indeed, like the Rat, I suppose.
‘Happy’ Chinese New Year everyone, I hope it’s a good one, all round. As the Ox shared his strength, I hope to scatter the prosperity to wherever it’s needed – even if you did cut corners across that finish line. The fertility marathon continues.
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