Year of the Snake

Last Sunday — February 10th — was the start of the Chinese year 4711. Unlike the Gregorian (or Western) New Year that always occurs on January 1, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, which means that it takes account of both the phase of the moon (luni) and the time of the year (solar.) In the Chinese calendar, the date for the New Year is determined by the new moon, which marks the start of each month, as well as the preceding winter solstice. Since the winter solstice (December 21 in the Gregorian calendar) must occur in the eleventh month of the Chinese year, the new year will begin on the second new moon after the solstice. (Actually, it could occur on the third new moon in the rare event that a leap month is inserted after the winter solstice.)

Since lunar months are 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds long, the Chinese New Year cannot be earlier than January 21 nor later than February 20. A Chinese year with twelve lunar months is between 353 and 355 days long, so the Chinese calendar adds an extra month for a leap year. Consequently, a Chinese leap year is 383 to 385 days long since the year comprises the 13 new moons between two winter solstices.

This is the Year of the Snake, and it is a special year for me since on my upcoming birthday I will have completed a sexagenary cycle. What this means is that I will have lived through  five cycles of the Zodiac, one for each of the five elements of Chinese astrology — Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. I was born in the year of the Water Snake and this is the first repeat of the year of the Water Snake since my birth.

Wu Xing Cycle

Wu Xing Cycle

Now what does this mean (besides that I am getting old)? In Chinese astrology or Feng Shu, Water is the fifth and final stage of Wu Xing or the Five Phases structure of the cosmos. The cycle begins with Wood, a symbol of growth that represents Spring and is associated with the color Green. Wood feeds Fire, the Summer period of flowering that is full of energy and represented by Red. As Fire consumes Wood, it produces ash, or Earth, and the energy moderates. The Earth, which is associated with Brown or Yellow, contains Metal that can be mined, or harvested, and thus denotes Autumn. The Metal — Silver, Gold or White in color — can carry Water. Water, denoted by Blue or Black, in the form of ice is a period of stillness or the Winter season. Water, however, completes the cycle since it, in turn, nourishes Wood and growth begins again.

While each element leads to another, likewise each element dominates another. Fire can melt Metal; Metal can cut Wood; Wood can split the Earth; Earth can contain or channel Water; and Water can extinguish Fire. In terms of the life cycle, Wood is birth, Fire is youth, Earth is adulthood, Metal is old age, and Water is death.

In Chinese astrology, the animal signs indicate how others perceive you or how you present yourself. Each person has not only a sign for the year in which he or she was born but also one for the month (the inner animal), the day (the true animal) and the hour (the secret animal) of birth. The year animal has more influence than the month animal which in turn has more influence than the day animal. According to this web-site, I was born on the Day of the Wood Snake, in the Month of the Fire Dragon, and in the Year of the Water Snake.

Year of the Snake

Year of the Snake

I think that many people enjoy astrology since one can always find characteristics that they like to believe apply to themselves. For example, people born in the Year of the Snake (like me) are said to be intuitive, introspective, refined, hardworking, discreet, modest, industrious, charitable, loyal, punctual, elegant, graceful, philosophical, patient, intuitive, insightful, intelligent, wise, financially secure, and kind-hearted individuals with high moral standards (so far, so good!) However, they can also be self-righteous, vain, cunning, vicious, critical, judgmental, jealous, egotistical, myopic, narrow-minded, and petty with rigid opinions and views (my friends will now please stop agreeing, smirking, or laughing.)

Yaowarat

I went to Bangkok’s Chinatown to partake in the Chinese New Year celebration. Yaowarat Road is the main street in Chinatown and on Sunday it was closed to motor vehicles and jammed with revelers. Both curbs were lined with vendors selling food, flowers, food, souvenirs, food, clothing, and more food. There is absolutely no way that anyone can go hungry in Bangkok!

Chinatown was bathed in red, a color that symbolizes good luck, wealth, and happiness. Red lanterns hung above the street and on many buildings. Most people wore red shirts and many women sported red-patterned Chinese jackets and dresses. Strings of firecrackers exploded throughout the evening, and the gold shops, always closed on Sundays, were open and doing robust business.

Gateway to Bangkok's Chinatown

Gateway to Bangkok’s Chinatown

Yaowarat Road on Chinese New Year

Yaowarat Road on Chinese New Year

Fortune Tellers at Work

Fortune Tellers at Work

Red lanterns over Yaowarat Road

Red lanterns over Yaowarat Road

Brisk business at gold shops

Brisk business at gold shops

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Duck for dinner!

Little girl celebrating the Year of the Snake

Little girl celebrating the Year of the Snake

Lady with pet rabbit

Lady with pet rabbit

One of the highlights of the evening was watching the Lion Dance. Two people fill the lion costume, one up front controlling the head and the other in the back controlling the hind quarters and tail. A small cadre of musicians beats on drums, cymbals and gongs in rhythm with the movements of the Lion Dancers.

Lion dancers

Lion dancers

Lanterns on building

Lanterns on building

Musicians accompanying Lion Dancers

Musicians accompanying Lion Dancers

Heads for Lion Dancers

Heads for Lion Dancers

There was a very heavy police presence along the road that fed the rumor that the King was going to visit. People lined the street patiently waiting for the motorcade to come by. When it came, the King was not present but he was instead represented by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the third child and second daughter of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. The open-air motorcade also included Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and members of her cabinet.

After the short Royal procession, the barriers came down and the nighttime vendors speedily set up for the late start to their street side night business. The curbside restaurants were quickly full of customers, including me, while other merchants lined the streets selling their wares to the happy throng of New Year’s celebrants. On the large stage, entertainers performed well into the night.

Wat Traimit on Chinese New Year

Chinatown’s Wat Traimit on the New Year

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Cultural entertainment

Home Leave

I will be leaving Bangkok on April 4 for my annual home leave. I will fly via Narita and O’Hare to New York City where I will stay until the 7th. I will be in Nashville from the 7th until the 10th, Dallas from the 10th through the 13th, Cancun from the 13th to the 19th, Detroit from the 19th to the 21st, and Buffalo from the 21st to the 23rd. I head back to Thailand on the 23rd and arrive late on the 24th. Please send me an email if you would like to get together when I am in the U.S.

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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One Response to Year of the Snake

  1. Beth says:

    Hey Kurt! I hope to see you while you are visiting the Buffalo area! Thought of you yesterday as I bought a chuck-it ball and “launcher” for our newest (canine) O’Keefe! I haven’t tested it out yet. She is 50/50 on fetching so I pretty much see myself running even longer distances to get the ball. Take Care, Beth

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