The mother-in-law faithfully consults her geomancer, or fortune teller, every year just before Chinese New Year. Without fail, he would advise her on the auspicious dates for putting up the festive red banner, or ‘ang chai’ over the main entrance of each of her children’s respective homes. This would be ascertained based on the respective members of the households’ birthdates and Chinese zodiac signs. Then she would dutifully call each of us to convey the geomancer’s instructions.
Neither the husband nor I are totally convinced about this sort of thing, but we abide by it nevertheless. It gives the mother-in-law some peace of mind, and for us, it’s just a quaint old custom that adds flavor to the festivities. It also keeps us in touch with our culture. (And a good thing for the kids to observe and learn.)
Then again, I don’t believe in rocking the boat. If someone tells me something like that, I’d be foolish not to just go along — even if it was, to me, a bit of superstition. After all, it doesn’t hurt go through the motions, and who knows? this custom may actually work. I am not so arrogant as to think that I know everything about how the world and cosmos function, and indeed, perhaps there is a place in the bigger scheme of things for such beliefs.
Three thousand years of successful Chinese culture can’t be so far off the mark.
So just last week, I get her phone call with news of the geomancer’s advice. For the first time in 20 years, it was not instructions of dates and times to hang up the ang chai.
This is the year of the Fire Monkey, the geomancer had said. Being a household of two Earth Monkeys (me and the husband), the geomancer had told her we should not to put up any red or pink decorations nor wear those colours on the first day. This is because the fiery hues would clash with the arrival of the Fire Monkey, which would of course be a Really Bad Idea. What’s more, the Fire Monkey was expected to be particularly volatile this cycle, so you really don’t want to piss him off.
So the giant pink iridescent pineapple that I had just bought to hang gaudily from the eaves of my roof, and the 2-metre red plastic dragon which I had hoped to string across my driveway, will have to wait until next year. I will have to make do with yellow or gold auspicious decorations when Chinese New Year descends upon us on 8 February this year. And just for good measure, the mother-in-law will ensure that we have a bunch of lucky leeks hanging from the kitchen ceiling (date of installation to be advised by geomancer) to keep the year a happy and healthy one for all.
Hope it would be a great one for you too.