UM Members Celebrate Chinese New Year with Couplets

Text: Kelvin U, Debby Seng | Photo: Jack Ho, Debby Seng | Issue 86 February My UM 

Celebrating the Chinese New Year with couplets is no longer a tradition only among the Chinese. In this issue of My UM, several UM faculty members and students share their thoughts on the Chinese New Year and the traditional Chinese style of celebration. Moreover, they each wrote a celebratory message for the New Year.

Hannah Keely Sin thinks that couplets can adds to a festive feel

Lucky Star Shining on Exam Days

Hannah Keely Sin from South Africa is a first-year student in the Department of English. Half Chinese and half African, Sin moved to Foshan, Guangdong province, at age seven. She confesses that although she started learning Chinese at a very young age, she only has limited knowledge of Classical Chinese. Her grandmother observes traditional customs and celebrates every Lunar New Year in the traditional way.

‘Before each Lunar New Year, my grandma would put up couplets in different places around the house. I never fully understand the meanings of those couplets, but I guess they express wishes for good things like fortune and health.’ One couplet that left a particularly deep impression on her read ‘Lucky Star Shining Above’. She found it amusing, ‘If you look up and see the stars, it will bring you good luck?’ But she has learned that ‘When in China, do as the Chinese do’, which means writing couplets for the Chinese New Year. ‘Not only will this bring a festive feel to my dormitory, it might also bring me good luck in the final exams. But of course I will work hard, instead of cramming at the last minute,’ she says.

Da Silva has been learning Chinese characters for many years

Learning to Write Chinese

Rui da Silva from Portugal is a lecturer in the Department of Portuguese. He wrote a couplet that read, ‘Diligence is the way to scale the high mountain of books; hard work is the boat that crosses the boundless ocean of learning.’ He treats this maxim as his motto and uses it to motivate his students to work hard and chase their dreams. ‘Whenever I encounter a difficulty, I remind myself of this couplet,’ he says. Silva developed a strong interest in Chinese culture in middle school, majored in Chinese in college, and taught Chinese at an overseas Confucius Institute and a university. Some foreigners think Chinese is a difficult language to learn because the strokes are not easy to memorise, and Silva agrees. He says, ‘It takes a lot of time and energy to learn to write Chinese characters. Repetition is the only way to memorise the strokes. Sometimes a little imagination helps. Interesting stories can also aid memory. Writing Chinese words allows you to understand the spirit of Chinese culture.’

Soares pasts the character ‘Fu’ upside down for luck and fortune

‘Fu’ Upside Down

Half Portuguese and half American, Benjamim Roth Soares is a fourth year student in the Department of Communication. Born in Macao, he divided his time growing up between Zhuhai and Macao. Although Chinese is not his mother tongue, he started learning Cantonese under the influence of his peers. He loves Chinese culture and enjoys the festive atmosphere of the Chinese New Year. When he first saw people pasting the Chinese character ‘Fu’ (which means luck or fortune) upside down on their doors, he thought it was a mistake. Later he learned that it was intentional, because the Chinese word ‘upside down’ sounds the same as ‘arrive’. So pasting the character ‘Fu’ upside down means luck or fortune will arrive. For Soares, the Lunar New Year, like Christmas, is a very important festival. ‘The entire country is celebrating, and everybody returns home to be reunited with their family,’ he says. Planning to graduate this year , he wishes for good fortune, and hopes to continue to enjoy music and play his guitar after starting work.

Prof Moeller

An Interesting Phenomenon

Hans-Georg Moeller from Germany is a professor in the Philosophy and Religious Studies Programme. He has noticed an interesting phenomenon: the atmosphere of the Lunar New Year or Christmas is defined by the decorative lights on the streets and the activity in shopping malls. ‘Before every Lunar New Year or Christmas, everybody gets anxious to book air tickets so they can travel abroad with their friends and spend a long holiday . But what about the original meaning of these festivals? Nowadays, aided and abetted by the media, holidays are becoming increasingly commercialised.’ Prof Moeller recalls the old days when the Lunar New Year and Christmas were joyous times when family members reunite and renew their attachments. As to couplets for the upcoming Chinese New Year, he is inclined to write Lao Tzu’s ‘The movement of the Tao by contraries proceeds’, which admonished people to just let it be.