Chinese New Year on the Banks of the Hudson
The Year of the Rat
Richard J. Garfunkel
February 9, 2008
Here we are still in early 2008 where we have just segued out of the western New Year to the ancient Chinese New Year, 4706, the Year of the Rat.
Like the rat, one is always busily pursuing a personal goal or ambition, and is thus known as one of the hardest-working signs in the Chinese zodiac. For rats in 2008, any recent setbacks or obstacles can be overcome, so look forward to a year in which to really shine, either personally or professionally. Famous people born in the Year Of The Rat include Prince Charles, ice skating champ Sasha Cohen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, William Shakespeare, and Mozart Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. Those born in rat years tend to be leaders, pioneers, and conquerors. They are charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hard working.
Last year, the Chinese believed that the Year of the Pig would not be very peaceful. The rat, like the pig, is one of twelve real or mythical animals that make up the cycle of the Sino zodiac of the lunar calendar.. Even a Hong Kong soothsayer feels that North Korea will undergo a power struggle and Singapore fortune teller John Lok predicted Iraq will remain being a quagmire and that our fearless leader, the self-proclaimed “Decider,” will have another rotten year.
Rats mark the commencement of the cycle of 12 Chinese zodiacs and thus are associated with enterprising and aggressive qualities. To start with listing the traits of a Rat, it is important to first know what this animal image stands for in Chinese philosophy. Rat has strong associations with material success such as wealth and other luxuries of life. It is their aggression, charm, hard work, discipline and passionate nature that gives an edge to their persona in comparison to others. There are good chances of Rats being wealthy and professionally successful in their lives. They are quick, energetic and mold themselves easily according to the situation, which makes them excellent problem solvers too. Unlike most of other zodiac signs, Rats believe in having a handful of friends, but they share a special bonding with all of them.
When it comes to competition, nobody can be as manipulative as they are. They are tactful and can go to great extents to win a battle. Yet honesty and unprejudiced attitude is something others need to learn from Rats. A heavy karma chakra may lead to inner conflicts. It is likely for them to indulge in speculation and other adventurous tasks in order to give an outlet to their emotions. If this kind of an outlet is not available, they might turn to self-destruction. The best spiritual message Chinese sages give to Rats is to observe self-control and be considerate while dealing with people around them. Their dynamism can be accessed with the diversity of professions they can choose. On one hand they can lend a perfection to works of art in literature, on the other hand they can also be excellent detectives, accountants, engineers and pathologists. Law and politics are some other areas they can try their hands on. Hope this year of Rats 2008 becomes the harbinger of health, wealth and good fortune for all of us.
Traditionally the color red is worn on and during the Chinese New Year to scare away evil spirits and bad fortunes. Good luck is encouraged, by opening doors, windows, switching on lights at night to scare away ghosts and spirits, and candy is eaten to insure a “sweet year.” One also will avoid bad luck by not buying shoes, pants or having a haircut. It is said that on the first day of the New Year one should not sweep the floors or buy any books!
Despite all of these forebodings, we did celebrate another edition of our annual Chinese New Year’s fandango. On a cold clear night here in the lower Hudson River valley, all our guests arrived safely and without much of a problem. We lucked out with the weather.
But on Saturday we were well prepared for the coming feast. All of our guests were given culinary assignments and came through remarkably well. Among the guests this year was our old buddy Keith Stupell, who came up by train from Babylon on the Hudson. This was the second year in a row that Keith made the journey. By the way, he is the proprietor of Carole Stupell’s on 29 East 22nd Street. Keith, not only has been carrying on the famous name of his mother, who was one of the most well-known retailers in NYC history, but is a world’s leading philatelic expert, whose collection of stamps and ephemera is almost unrivaled on our planet. If you had forgotten, or had not known, Carole Stupell invented the “bridal registry.”
Robin Lyons, a veteran of these parties, brought two pineapples; Robin is the widow of the late George Lyons, a very dear friend. George was one of the leading experts on baseball in America, and had a remarkable collection of baseball memorabilia that featured unique and rare game-worn baseball jerseys. He also was the eldest of the four sons of Broadway columnist Leonard Lyons and is the brother of Jeffrey Lyons, the movie critic.
Debbie Rubin, whom Linda knows from Barnard College alumnae events, contributed a cake. Also hailing from Barnard College was Linda’s classmate Abby Kurnit, who is retired from teaching in the chemistry department at Pelham High School. Her husband Jeff, is a professor at Queens Community College, and they both are Life Members of the Village Light Opera Guild, whose productions we have attended loyalty. Their next show will be The Music Man, which will be performed the Fashion Institute of Technology in the heart of Manhattan. They brought her homemade rice.
Another tennis friend, Diona Koerner, who is a retired chemistry professor from Manhattanville /Fordham, was accompanied by Ron, her lawyer husband. They both brought a homemade chicken dish. My old buddy Warren Adis, who is a professor at Iona College, brought a noodle dish, but unfortunately his wife Mary, who is a veteran of this event, was under the weather and couldn’t attend. We have traveled often to the New York museums with the Koerners and the Adises. Both Mary and Diona are English gals by birth, and they have similar interests in chemistry and geology. Warren and I met in the third grade (1952) in Mrs. Krohn’s class at the William Wilson/Traphagen School in Mount Vernon and have had many adventures that included being at the NCAA hockey finals in Syracuse in 1967 when our two schools, Cornell and Boston University, collided for the title.
Sol and Linda Haber play tennis with Linda and me in our weekend indoor games. Sol, who played basketball at Yeshiva of Flatbush, long after Warren and I were finished shooting the roundballs in Mount Vernon, hits an excellent serve and a potent forehand. Sol is a dentist who specializes in oral surgery and Linda, who is by training a CPA and recently has embarked on the sale of homes in Westchester County. Linda prepared an Asian inspired-salad.
New to the festivities were John Berenyi and his wife Eileen, who hail from Connecticut. John has been a frequent guest on my radio show, and is an entrepreneur for hire, who specializes in more things, than could be easily described here. The Berenyis brought grapes for dessert. As it turned out Rosalie Siegel did graduate work with John’s wife, and Linda Haber knew the Berenyis when they all lived in Manhattan. John introduced me to Neil Goldstein, the head of the American Jewish Congress, and he was a guest on my radio show with John a few weeks ago. His wife was called away on a family matter, but he joined us and brought spring rolls. As it turns out, Abby knows John’s wife, because they taught at Pelham together for many years. Ah, small world.
Stan Goldmark, my old friend from Mount Vernon, also made his first appearance at our Chinese New Year celebration. Ellen, his wife, was not able to attend due to a very bad cold. Stan and I met way back in 1957 in Ms. Van Allen’s class, and currently he works in the plastic business and lives in Cold Springs Harbor. Stan had a great time seeing some of his old buddies from high school. By the way, he brought the most delicious spare ribs and egg rolls. Another old friend from Mount Vernon, Michael Rosenblum and his wife Sandy, who are deeply into the real estate business in NYC, came back to enjoy our party after a year’s absence. It was great to see Warren, Michael and Stan get together after such a long stretch of time. The Rosenblums brought a terrific Chinese shrimp dish.
Michael and Marci Shapiro also joined us after a year’s absence. Michael is a lawyer with Carter, Ledyard & Milburn in NYC, which will be eternally famous for giving FDR his first job as a lawyer. It was there in 1907, that he predicted to his fellow juniors that he would be elected to the New York Assembly, then be appointed assistant secretary of the navy, and be elected governor of New York. His legal friends, who were quite accustomed to his breezy manner and thoughts on various topics, were very impressed with his frankness. FDR eventually left Carter, Ledyard in 1914, while he was serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His next job was with Fidelity & Deposit Company of Maryland, and there he hired Marguerite “Missy” LeHand. Marci teaches in the Edgemont schools, and their son Ben, who is a young teenager, plays a great game of tennis. The Shapiros brought two different Chinese vegetable dishes.
After a two-year absence, Rosalie Siegel, who is also a Mount Vernon gal and a former flatmate of Linda’s from Barnard and works for the Port Authority, came with her long-time companion Jeff Tannenbaum, a financial writer. They brought assorted Chinese fruits.
Two regular attendees were Wally and Ronnie Kopelowitz. Wally is an ophthalmologist whom I met many years ago on the tennis courts of County Tennis. Though he now lives in Great Neck with his wife Ronnie, who is a New York City lawyer and judge, Wally still plays tennis in one of my weekend games and punishes his opponents with his wicked baseline slices. They brought kosher chicken and beef dishes. Wally loves to travel, and they are still in the midst of re-modeling their home.
One new visitor was Mr. Glen Hockley, a member of the White Plains Common Council. His wife Melody was away, and Glen brought baby carrots. Our last guests were Tony Russo and his wife Andrea Kish of Tarrytown, who operate Aries Wine and Spirits in White Plains. Tony brought a couple of wonderful bottles of Chinese Sake.
We supplied the Tsing Tao Chinese beer, other soft drinks and libations, plus appetizers from Sam’s.. Linda made Asian inspired salmon. Due to the abundance of food from our wonderful guests, she returned to the freezer the steak that had been marinating and a peanut sauced chicken dish. In keeping with the red theme of the holiday, we had cherry tomatoes and radishes on a tray close to loads of Chinese sauces. Paper plates, cups and napkins plus plastic utensils made set up and clean up very easy!! We had our usual Chinese decorations and candles lit at the front door to lead our guests to our home.
Meanwhile the party was called for 7:30 pm and by 8 o’clock everyone had made their arrivals. We served the appetizers downstairs, and the main courses and desserts upstairs.
Finally after three hours of culinary debauchery the party ended everyone escaped into the cool clear air and hopefully made it home safely. By the way, “Happy New Year” is conventionally thought to mean in Cantonese, Gung hei fat choi. But that really means, “congratulations and be prosperous.” In reality the Cantonese saying for “Happy New Year” is Sun nin fai lok. So either way, thanks for coming, we had a great time so let’s look forward to a better year than the last!
We hope to have our next party when the Democrats take control of the House, Senate and White House. See you all in 2009 for that glorious event!