Chinese New Year’s 2003

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    Next week, starting Feb. 3, we all get another opportunity to start the year anew. Welcome to the Year of the Black Sheep, a time for gaiety and going against the grain. If you plan on celebrating in traditional Chinese style, start by giving your housekeeper the week off and clean, clean, clean. Make it a meditation. Before the 3rd, go slowly from top to bottom, sweeping away all traces of bad luck and the year about to pass. All debts must be paid off before New Year’s Eve and grudges cast aside-and once the day begins, don’t lend a thing or you’ll be lending all year.

    Next, it’s time to call the handyman to give the doors and windowpanes a fresh coat of red paint. This creates an interesting dilemma given Malibu’s no “see-em” rule about houses standing out on our hillsides. Have your children or grandchildren make paper cutouts denoting the words love, happiness or longevity to decorate doors and windows, the access route for beneficent spirits. Or, you might have your kids just cut out the word “Fook,” meaning good fortune, and color it red.

    What you eat counts. Serve prawns for liveliness and raw fish for prosperity. Eat oysters, their name, “Hao,” is a homonym for a word meaning “an auspicious event,” and “neen gow,” a sticky rice cake for cohesiveness. Be careful not to break or cut anything-you might cut away your fortune. Speaking of which, potstickers look like ancient Chinese money, so they are essential elements in a New Year’s feast. In some regions of China, the chef secretly places a coin in the center of one “jiaozi.” The lucky person who bites into it is guaranteed an especially prosperous year and the possibility of a new crown. Serve every dish in pairs to double your fortune and make enough for leftovers to guarantee you have more than enough all year.

    Clothes make the year. Red wards off evil spirits, which explains why your doors are now painted red. Don’t wear black or white, colors of mourning. Eschew bad-tempered words and tell no ghost stories. Finally, if you feel a tear start to well up, blot it fast and start singing and dancing at sundown. By midnight, you’ll be ready to pop open the windows to let in benevolent gods with a blast of fireworks to guide them. Midnight is a moment for new beginnings, joy and peace. Set the tone for a happy new year.

    It does promise to be a happier one than the year just past-the brutal Year of the Dark Horse, that hotheaded toppler of proud institutions like Enron and Worldcom. The powerful chaos of a horse year wanes into a more casual “live and let live” lassitude of a sheepish cycle. Conflicts that started when the stallion broke free from the herd are penned like sheep, but it is the Black Sheep, or Ram, who guides this year so expect continued iconoclasm and a bit of irresponsibility, dare we say, extravagance? Those capricious Black Sheep years tend to bring dramatic shifts in politics and the division of wealth so keep an eye on Washington and its harbingers of war and new taxes. This year, expect the unexpected, but know that deliverance from calamity will always arrive just in the nick of time. Remain flexible.

    Black sheep, being black sheep, leap from one imaginary cloud to the next seeking novelty and the path of least resistance. Undisciplined? To be sure, but also creative and adaptable.

    The year 2003 promises to be an “interesting year”-may it bring good fortune for you and yours.