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Many stories and legends tell the origin of the Chinese zodiac or Chinese horoscope (shengxiào - ??), but the most well-known (and also most fun) one states that the Jade Emperor invited the entire animal kingdom to partake in a tremendous race! Well, Rat, although very small and not a good swimmer at all, used his brain and played a little trick! Cat and Rat were the best of friends, the kind of friends that spends almost every waking hour together. Don't miss out on more articles and news about Hutong School, the Chinese language, life in China and much more.
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Many people view Chinese astrology and the Chinese animal signs as something they see on placemats  in restaurants. I will continue to write more articles as people ask, so post a comment and let me know what interests you. According to a Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years.
The rat and the cat quickly jumped up and were very excited when the ox soon took the lead in the race. The poor ox had been tricked into second place and the second year of the horoscope was named after him. Just as he was thinking the horse would be the next animal to arrive, a sneaky snake wriggled out from around one of the horse’s hooves.
Now there was one place left in the horoscope and the Emperor wondered when the last winner would come. As for the cat who had been pushed into the water by the rat, he finally crawled out of the water but was too late to have a year named after him. From that day to this Chinese Astrology has followed this cycle of years named after these twelve animals. CORA WEN grew up in a traditional Chinese family in Asia and the West, and took refuge in the Buddha as a teen. My own family is part Chinese but growing up in the Philippines,  the extent of our observance of Chinese New Year was , well–watching dragon dance if it happened to be there, or scoring a good buffet meal at Mandarin Oriental Manila (this happened twice).
Until I got to know Zombie, (whose family is Malaysian-Chinese), I didn’t really know that Chinese New Year was seriously observed. And when I moved to Sydney, I gauged Chinese New Year whenever there’s a Dragon Boat competition (when I used to join).
This year, Zombie and I got invited to his relatives house on Saturday to have a Chinese New Year celebration. Yee Sang or Yu Sheng, is a salad made of strips of vegetables such as radish, papaya, carrots, with strips of smoked salmon in it.

It is believed that this salad dish should be tossed as high as possible before serving (by ALL family members and guests). Despite the mess, I do have to say the Yee Sang is one of the best and most refreshing salads I’ve ever tasted! There seems to be a long list of food considered to bring prosperity and good luck for Chinese New Year.
And lest we forget, these were the  marvellous desserts and snacks that we feasted on the entire afternoon and evening.
We had lychee and mint as the main dessert, and an assortment of candies, nuts, pastries, and chinese biscuits like egg rolls, stickr rice bars, and of course, fortune cookies.
As Zombie and I were married, we didn’t do the tea ceremony as we cannot be recipients of the red envelope, and as a married couple, gave every non-married person in the family a red envelope.
Here’s a quick chart of Chinese Zodiac if you are curious to know what animal you are. About Jean Holy SmithereensJean is a lover of luxury travel and adventure, always looking for that "Holy Smithereens"-inducing moment on her travels. What a great explanation of Chinese New Year and cool insight into your personal experiences and info on you and Zombie’s multi-cultural background.
Amazing to think that my home country of the USA is not the only “melting pot” of cultures ?? Cheers! The first 12 animals able to cross the river, would be assigned to a year of the Chinese zodiac system in order of appearance. Both were very excited about the news of the great race and immediately started to make plans to cross the river.
In the Chinese horoscope, the five elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth, which make up all matter, are combined with the twelve animal signs of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Lamb, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig to form the sixty year cycle. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish. The first twelve animals across the fast flowing river would be the winners and they would each have a year of the horoscope named after them. They had almost reached the other bank when the rat pushed the cat into the river leaving him to struggle in the water. Swimming across the river had been an enormous struggle for him against the strong currents.
He hopped across on some stepping stones and then found a floating log which carried him to the shore. The horse was so surprised that he jumped backwards giving the snake a chance to take the sixth place in the race. He said the goat would be the eighth horoscope animal, the monkey the ninth and the rooster the tenth.
An international childhood growing up in Hong Kong and Indonesia, Switzerland, Australia and the US, has instilled the spirit of a travelling adventurer. I heard it took hours and hours to make this cake as each layer had to be baked separately before manually layering on top of another.
We don’t gamble normally but apparently, it is only in Chinese New Year that gambling is not frowned upon.
Having said my piece about my dislike of birds, it’s quite ironic that I am a rooster!
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We absolutely loved our time in Singapore and Malaysia and experiencing the vast differences in these cultures and how they live together in harmony- most of the time.
If you are one to indulge in travel yet be up at the call of a good adventure, then stay , relax and have a browse. Very satisfied by this teamwork, the Jade Emperor assigned Goat as the 8th animal of the cycle, Monkey as the 9th and Rooster as the 10th. On the day of the race, Cat wanted to take a little nap before partaking in the race, since it would ask a lot of effort and would therefore be very exhausting. The Chinese horoscope is partly legend and partly an ancient system of viewing the heaven and earth and all that moves through it. Then just before the ox was about to win the race the rat leapt on his head and on to the bank to finish first. After sowing wild oats in New York City in the 70s with rockers Deborah Harry and Patti Smith, she had careers in fashion and banking. And your loss or victory in this gamble will pave the way of how things will be for your year. The street and beach ones especially (pigeons, seagulls, pelicans, magpies, ibis, etc)- I see them as rodents of the skies and disease carriers. The food was the best definitely ?? The Dragon sign is meant to be prosperous– lucky you!
It would seem rather unlikely that such a small animal would win this race, don’t you think? Dog became the 11th animal, since he couldn’t resist to play a little bit longer in the river before crossing it. Rats are excellent swimmers so I was a little confused on that section of the story but a very good read. Travel-wise, I know this is a big deal because airfares around Southeast Asia spike up like crazy around end of Jan-early Feb (which is usually when the Chinese New Year is). When they neared the other side of the river however, Rat quickly jumped ahead and was named first animal of the Chinese zodiac, followed by Ox, who came in second. So, instead of waking up Cat, Rat silently sneaked out and spurred to the shore of the river. She has been dedicated since 2002 in support of indigenous culture for exiled Tibetan people and land mine victims. He got hungry during the race and stopped to grab a quick bite, but fell asleep afterwards.
After enjoying his splendid nap in the sun, Cat woke up to discover the race was already over and Rat had finished first.
Following closely was Rabbit, who had crossed the river by jumping from one stone to the other. Dragon, who was expected to finish first, had to stop to make rain to help all the creatures on earth and came in fifth place. Snake, hidden in the hoof of Horse, suddenly appeared, scared Horse and was named 6th animal.

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