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Alumni & Residents Celebrate Lunar New Year

On Thursday, February 11, 2021, International House prepared to usher in the lunar new year with a visit from alumna Joanna C. Lee ’88 and her husband, Ken Smith, authors of The Pocket Chinese Almanac: Year of the Ox. I-House Alumni from all over the world logged into the virtual event and joined the current residents attending from their respective apartments in I-House North. The authors, who speak and write extensively about Asian arts and culture, offered a fascinating and informative look at how the lunar new year is celebrated by various Asian populations before diving into the Chinese almanac. Now in its twelfth year of publication, the Pocket Chinese Almanac is a translation and adaptation of the traditional Chinese almanac known as the Tong Sing in Cantonese or Huang Li in Mandarin, a centuries-old repository of cultural information that covers everything from household tips to general medical remedies. In conversation with I-House Senior Advisor John Wells, the authors discussed how the almanac’s predictions of which days are auspicious or ominous for a wide range of activities has made the annual publication a mainstay in many Chinese homes. They described the origins and history of the publication, and how geomancy–a method of divination involving natural materials and astrology–informs the predictions. They also delved into their own process of translating not just the language, but also the activities of the original ancient texts in order to relate the agriculturally-based tasks to contemporary life; for example, the project of repairing fishing nets in the original almanac is re-visioned in the 2021 pocket version as cleaning out an email inbox. The afternoon event was held on the eve of the lunar new year, when many celebrate with family and friends, so it was fitting for the authors to end their talk with descriptions of the feasts and their traditional dishes like dumplings, which symbolize prosperity in China because of their resemblance to ancient money. Coincidentally, a pair of residents from China happened to be making dumplings as they joined the conversation from their kitchen. To cap off the wonderful discussion, each resident was provided with a gift bag containing oranges, a lucky red envelope, and their own copy of the Almanac.