The Year of the Ox will dawn at a strange time for China. Two thousand eight's Year of the Rat was characterized by a concatenation of horribles: A devastating earthquake that left nearly 70,000 people dead; international recalls on Chinese-made toys, food, and toiletries; and a global economic slump that wrought havoc on the country's manufacturing sector. Stateside, Asian supermarkets that usually see a spike in business around this time of year also are underperforming, due in part to prohibitions on Chinese dairy products. And yet, the worse things get on the economic front, the greater our need for a celebration. The Lunar New Year, celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, originated in China and became a global pan-Asian holiday that's now celebrated in many parts of the world, including Japan, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam (since it roughly coincides with Tet, the Vietnamese New Year). Lunar New Year has also become an entrenched tradition in parts of the US, particularly cities with large Asian-American populations, like the Bay Area.
A spate of Lunar New Year-related events will happen around the East Bay during the last week of January, including readings by local children's book author Oliver Chin, who launched his own series based on the Chinese Zodiac in 2006. (Chin hopes he can keep it going at the rate of one book a year until 2020.) One of the most exciting goings-on in the East Bay is the Oakland Museum of California's Lunar New Year celebration, an annual festival featuring Thai cooking, Korean drumming, mochi pounding, ping-pong, Balinese dance, Red Panda acrobats, a Kimono exhibition, "Girligami" projects with Cindy Ng, Japanese doll-making, paper cutting, Lao textiles, Korean kites, Vietnamese dragon mobiles, fortune telling, tea tasting, acupuncture demonstrations, Chin reading his new book The Year of the Ox, and a dragon dance by Leung's White Crane Dragon Dance Team to close out the day.
More hard times loom, but communities in Oakland will still celebrate Lunar New Year in style. It is, after all, the Year of the Ox, which signifies prosperity gleaned from hard work and ambition. Traditional ox attributes include pragmatism, industriousness, and stubbornness — perfect qualities for weathering a recession. Oakland Museum of California's Lunar New Year happens Sunday, Jan. 25, at 1000 Oak St. Noon-5 p.m., $5-$8. MuseumCA.org
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