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Celebrating Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rabbit

Gung Hey Fa Choy.  Happy new year.  Seems like it shouldn’t be so hard to learn, but it took me literally almost an hour to perfect a few phrases with which to greet the Chinese residents as I attended their new year’s celebration.  My 13-year-old son is learning Mandarin at school—he patiently repeated (and repeated) a few phrases so I could say “happy new year” “hello” and “thank you”.  

I was learning (or attempting) to learn these phrases so I could be respectful at the JCHE Chinese Tenants New Year Luncheon.  Our Chinese residents gather every year for a glorious celebration of the new year.  Together they go to a local Chinese restaurant for a traditional banquet, with many courses and unique flavors.  One at a time, the dishes come to a circulating platform in the middle of the table, and everyone takes a taste of each.

I felt honored to be invited, as this was clearly a very special occasion.  As I mangled the few phrases from my morning’s lesson, I looked at the faces and saw appreciation for my efforts.  Imagine!  Instead of chuckling at my ineptitude with pronunciation (as did my son!), they clapped that I was trying.  Each one of them, of course, could say “hello” and “thank you” and many have become very proficient in English.  Surrounded by so many Chinese voices at this event, I had great appreciation for how foreign our world must have been when they arrived.  How impressive to be able to make such adaptations in a country so far and so different from their homeland.

We try very hard to ease the transition of all of our residents from their various countries of origin.  We have staff who speak both Mandarin and Cantonese (and Russian) and we work hard to be culturally competent.  The testament to our success is the way word-of-mouth travels and brings, each year, more and more Chinese residents in need of affordable housing to our doorstep.

I learned many things.  This is the Year of the Rabbit.  A well-known Chinese legend is that there’s a white hare living on the moon, making an elixir of immortality.  A nice way to think about this year!  Also, in The Art of War by Sun Tzu, he refers to behaving with great urgency as being “as nimble as an escaping hare when going into action:  Dong Ru Tuo Tu.  Thus, when you wish someone Dong Ru Tuo Tu (動如脫兔) as this Year of the Rabbit begins, you are wishing that their business/life will be on a fast track to make great progress in the coming year.

But mostly I learned about graciousness in overcoming hardships.  Every resident has a story.  Due to language barriers and the inescapable time pressures, I could not stop at every table and hear them all out.  I know I would have an excellent education if I could.  I’m glad I can play a role in providing a safe and welcoming environment, and I appreciate their patience with me as I continue to learn.

As always, I welcome your comments!

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