The Chinese, Taiwan, and Hong Kong Clubs at BYU–Hawaii celebrated Chinese New Year with their members. Despite the difference in their activities, they shared the same desire to celebrate the year of the pig and to have a good time while they’re away from their families, according to the students who participated in the celebrations.
The ‘family feeling’
Originating from Taiwan, Bob Kuo, a sophomore majoring in business management, said Chinese New Year is important to him because it brings it family together and they would visit his mother’s house.
“It is a way for the family to be united. Families sometimes need to split apart in order to work and make enough money for the family, so the [Chinese New Year] lets them be together as a whole for the first time in a while,” said Kuo.
Dr. Yifen Beus, a professor of film studies and Chinese language, is from Taiwan. She shared memories she’s had with her family during Chinese New Year. “My family and I would gather together around the hot pot and eat together. It symbolized the circular nature of the family. On [Lunar] New Year’s Eve, we would tell stories and set off firecrackers.”
The Taiwan Club began the celebration on Feb. 1. Volunteers from the club rushed around the room to decorate it with red and gold adornments, which are customary for Chinese New Year. Taiwanese chapter members explained how in Chinese culture, red is symbolic of good luck and happiness and is commonly used to celebrate the new year.
The Taiwan Club then had a potluck dinner. Students shared different Chinese delicacies including Taiwanese braised pork, tortoise jelly, braised fish, and steam fish. Fish dishes are common during Chinese New Year.
In both Mandarin and Cantonese, “fish” and “saving” have the same pronunciation, according to Steven Kuang, a junior from Taiwan majoring in computer science. He explained in most Chinese culture, eating fish during Chinese New Year is symbolic of good fortune in the coming year.
Several stations with different activities were set up for guests after the dinner. They included calligraphy practice, mahjong, PUBG, and board games.
In the calligraphy station, special pens for Chinese calligraphy were provided for participants to write Red Couplets, which is also a tradition of Chinese New Year, according to Taiwanese Club members. Red Couplets are written with positive messages such as “Healthy body,” “Being as energetic as a dragon,” and “May the thoughts in your heart come true.”
The club members shared how Red Couplets are placed outside of the house and in the living room. Those couplets normally will be kept for the rest of the year until next Chinese New Year, when people replace them with new ones. Doing so will result in good fortune.
A Japanese student, Towa Kawamura, participated in the activity of writing couplets. Kawamura said she was surprised to find out that Chinese and Japanese people share that similar tradition for the New Year, but at the same time, Japanese and Chinese people use different paper.
“We write it with just white paper. We don’t use that kind of fancy red paper, ” explained Kawamura, a junior studying intercultural peacebuilding.
The next day, the China Club celebrated, hosting a packed room. With all the chairs taken, some had to stand up as they waited for the festivities to begin. A Chinese song for celebrations, “Tonight is Unforgettable” was played throughout the room as the students checked themselves in with their ID’s.
Each student was given a red envelope when they checked in. After the activity began, each of them was given paper and pens to write lucky messages related to Chinese New Year. They put the message in their red envelopes and then exchanged the envelopes with others who were present.
Traditional spicy Chinese food was served for dinner. While students were eating, others sang karaoke. Different students took turns to go up and sing Chinese songs, including songs with the theme of Chinese New Year.
Jonathan Tam, a Chinese descendant who grew up in Georgia, said Chinese New Year wasn’t significantly important to him because his Chinese parents didn’t celebrate Chinese New Year much when he grew up. However, the activity helped him find a connection with other Chinese students.
“What’s really nice about living out here is the opportunity to be around people who look like me and know where I’m coming from,” said Tam, a sophomore studying business management. “I am closely connected to them. It’s a good time to be around people and get close together with them.”
Originating from Korea, Louis Park, a senior studying hospitality and tourism management, said Koreans also celebrate Lunar New Year and the traditions of Chinese and Koreans for the festival share similarities.
“I heard in China, old people give money to young people. We also do that. We also give good words to others,” shared Park.
Because of those similarities, Park said Chinese students’ celebration for Lunar New Year made him homesick. “Since I’ve come to Hawaii, I haven’t cared about the New Year very well, but whenever I [go to] those Chinese New Year meetings, of course, I think of my family.”
Josie Luo, the president of the China Club, said she was glad to see the celebration turn out as a success in both unifying Chinese students and sharing the Chinese culture to foreigners.
“Although we’re all from different places, this activity can bring everyone together. People from other cultures can also interact with us,” said Luo, a sophomore studying TESOL education.
Hong Kong celebration
While the Taiwan and China Clubs had their celebration held at Heber J. Grant Building, the Hong Kong Club gathered outdoors on Feb. 9 at the Stake Center Pavilion. With more than 10 pots being boiled at the same time, each with spicy chicken meat in it, members of the Hong Kong Chapter shared a feast, despite the cold wind which kept hitting the pavilion.
With a portable gas stove and a pot on each table and about eight people sitting around each table, students of the Hong Kong Club celebrated the New Year with by eating hot pot, which means constantly putting raw food into a boiling pot and taking out cooked food from the pot to eat without turning off the stove during the whole process.
Missing the traditional food from home, Michael King, a sophomore from Hong Kong studying biology, said the hot pot was what he came to the activity for.
King said he has seldom celebrated Chinese New Year since he came to BYUH. It was the Hong Kong Club’s activity that helped him return to his roots.
Enoch Ho, a special instructor of math from Hong Kong, said he would eat a big meal with his family to celebrate Chinese New Year when he was in Hong Kong. Living in Hawaii now, the Hong Kong Club acts as a family too.
Each pot was already filled with spicy chicken meat and students added vegetables, raw beef, fish balls, and noodles into the pot.
All interviewed attendees from Hong Kong gave positive comments on the food. Tsi Ying Kwok, a freshman from Hong Kong studying communications, described the food as “authentic Hong Kong food with high quality.”
Kwok explained, “Fishball, Chinese mushroom, chicken, and the seasonings are all Chinese. They remind me of my home. They are all things that I ate at home in Hong Kong but can't get to eat easily in Hawaii.”
History of Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or the annual Spring Festival, has been treated as the most important festival in Chinese culture and celebrated for more than 2,000 years, according to ktsss.edu.hk. The first day of the 2019 Lunar Year is Feb. 5.
The Chinese Calendar is based on astronomical observations of the sun's longitude and the moon's phases, according to timeanddate.com. It is believed to have been introduced by Emperor Huangdi between 2600 to 3000 BCE. The Chinese lunar calendar is used to determine festivals. The festival is believed to date back to prehistory, always falling between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between January 21st and February 20th, according to earthsky.org. This year, 2019, is the Year of the Pig, the twelfth and final of the zodiac animals.
The pig was the last of the zodiac animals because it was the last to arrive at the Jade Emperor’s place, according to chinesenewyear.net. According to the website, pigs are a symbol of wealth and prosperity because of their chubby cheeks and large ears.