Lighting the way: Bong Hatta, a worker at Hian Thian Siang Tee Bio Temple in Palmerah, West Jakarta, decorates the temple with lanterns. A symbol of fortune, lanterns are used to deck out temples for the Lunar New Year, which falls on Monday. (Thanks to Jakarta Post for permission to use photo)
The scent of incense from lighted joss sticks, dragon dances, and fireworks will signal the arrival of the Chinese New Year of the Earth Ox at midnight here Jakarta.
Chinese lanterns hang in every lobby in our appartment building. We have one in our hallway. A Chinese lady offered me and many others chocolates as we walked outside at lunchtime. Last New Year's day was fascinating and we are looking forward to the celebrations tomorrow. Jakarta's most celebrated son, Barack Obama, who went to primary school for five years in Mentang, Jakarta was born in 1961, and must be rated as the No. 1 Ox. Also listed as prominent Ox people are former President Joseph Estrada and popular American movie stars Robert Redford and George Clooney. Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplain, Johann Sebastian Bach, Vincent Van Gogh, and Adolf Hitler are among the famous and infamous Ox people who left indelible footprints on world events in their lifetime. Van Gogh and Obama come out on my Ox list for 2009.
With the patience, perseverance, and hardworking character of the Ox, this year is seen by Feng Shui masters as a time that has room for some modest reaping despite the flood of dismal forecasts of a global economic meltdown.
Joy Lim, a recognized Feng Shui consultant, said 2009 is a "resilient year" for the country’s economy. He sees an inward wave of substantial market prospects which should push productivity and add to the country’s stability.
She said that the No. 9 flying star, which in Chinese legend is claimed to be the carrier of a lucky multiplier element, has flown into the Year of the Ox, which bodes well for industries related to metal such as computers, mining, chemicals, car manufacturing, and repairs.
In the New Year, she said, obstacles and even failures must be embraced, because it is in facing them that business and livelihood barriers can be overcome.
Hard work and endurance in taking advantage of business prospects and opportunities will play a major role in one’s becoming a winner "in any endeavour one sets his heart in."
The Chinese New Year is all about symbols of prosperity, good fortune, and good health. Hence the scramble for lucky charms, golden Buddhas, and tiny golden bells to ring in the good luck of the new year.
According to Chinese legend, it is good to display the mark of the character "fu" on doors and walls for an extra bit of luck.
Incense is lit and prayers are said to welcome the new year and encourage longevity at Chinese temples like this one in Jakarta.
Also in the year of the Ox, anything in jade is certain to attract the good fortunes in the coming year, while keeping water flowing is said to bring in great wealth.
For this year, because of the lucky flying star No. 9, it is held that this year’s lucky number is 9, but No. 8 can never be far behind.
On the eve of the Chinese New Year tonight, cleaning up and throwing out junk, getting rid of empty boxes and broken items is a must to welcome the New Year with a clean slate. See that nothing blocks windows, main gates, and doors to allow the good fortunes of the New Year to come in.
Mounds of mandarin oranges alongside a fresh pineapple fruit will be on family tables today and tomorrow. For some, 8 or 88 pieces of "quiat-quiat" (tiny golden oranges) are rolled from the main door to inside the house, and if necessary, to roll them upward on every step of the stairs in two-story homes for prosperity.
For those who were not quite lucky last year in the Year of the Rat, taking a bath with water boiled with pomelo leaves is said to cleanse away the misfortune of the past year.
After midnight tonight, the use of knives and other sharp objects like scissors and needles is to be avoided, so as not to "cut-off the thread of good fortune," or "sever away the arrival of good fortunes" expected in the Chinese New Year of the Ox.
In tonight’s feast, the central element of family reunions, the arrival of children working abroad adds an additional layer of joy and gladness to parents and grandparents.
Being the No. 1 holiday in China, the New Year is the peak of travel time for Chinese workers going home to join parents, grandparents, and other relatives for family reunions.
By this afternoon, Chinatowns in the major capitals of the world will be alive with dragon dances and the explosion of firecrackers to ward off the evil spirits of the old Year of the Rat while hailing the good fortunes of the new Year of the Ox.
In Manila, all roads have been leading to Chinatown in Binondo for several weeks for lucky charm hunters. It has been brisk business for vendors of "tikoy" and pineapple and mandarin oranges.
Young and old alike will be wearing new red polka-dotted clothes and children await "ang pao" red envelopes from their elders. Children will be encouraged to stay awake until the early morning hours for their parents and grandparents to live long, healthy lives.
Having most family members present around dinner tables by midnight tonight is a great source of contentment to parents and grandparent, an ancient secret of prosperity among Chinese families who believe that "only he who knows the meaning of contentment is truly prosperous."
"Kung Hei Fat Choi!" or "Gong Xi Fat Choi,"
New Year traditions to attract good fortune, health, prosperity, peace
Most of us feel Barack Obama is ushering in something new and he will need to be stronger than an Ox to cope with all the expectations heaped on him. At midnigfht I will raise a glass to Barack and the Ox. But at this time of celebration let's not forget about rising food prices that is affecting the poor and seeing millions of more children malnourished daily.
Just because the issue of food prices has not been in the headlines recently it has not gone away.
The world's economic problems have exacerbated the food price crisis
Although prices have fallen from the highs recorded during the unprecedented spike at the beginning of 2008, they have not fallen back to where they had been before the crisis began.
And many of the factors that contributed to the rise then are still driving prices up.
These include competition with biofuels for scarce land, worsening agricultural productivity, the increasing proportion of people living in cities, and the effects of climate change threatening harvests.
Since an emergency summit meeting in Rome last June, the UN has set up a task force to coordinate action on food, now headed by Dr David Nabarro, who established a troubleshooting reputation when he led the UN response to the threat of bird flu.
Ahead of a two-day meeting in Madrid designed to put fresh momentum into the food price issue, Dr Nabarro said: "The worldwideCareful policies
As the ripples spread out from the banking sector in the richest countries in the world, the waves are hitting those least able to cope - in the poorest countries.
Richer countries have less money to invest in foreign investments
There is less money to invest in new businesses, and as well as a cut in foreign direct investment, the global economic slowdown means that money sent home by those working abroad has gone down.
In a country like Kenya, where locally prices have continued to rise, the effect is being felt hard.
According to the World Bank, the volume of world trade is likely to contract for the first time since 1982, further reducing the potential for growth in developing countries.
The collapse in commodity prices has taken the pressure off food price rises, but has also given new problems to some developing countries that depend on commodities, like Zambia, with its reliance on copper.
A World Bank report on economic prospects for 2009 concluded that it is not inevitable that there will be shortages of food and oil, but that careful policies need to be followed.
The author of the report, Andrew Burns, said aid needs to be better targeted.
"Action is needed at the global level to discourage export bans of food grains, strengthen agencies like the World Food Programme, and improve information about and coordination of existing domestic grain reserves," he said. The current consumer society is rapidly eroding the traditional security nets system
The World Bank has earmarked $1.2bn to help those countries worst hit by the price spike last year, part of more than $18bn committed worldwide, but anti-poverty campaigners say that not all the money promised has been delivered.
The head of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) in Kenya, Mwangi Waituru, said that food prices continue to rise, making it harder for people to feed their families.
"The current consumer society is rapidly eroding the traditional security nets system, leaving the poor more and more vulnerable," he said
All of this means that efforts made to reach Millennium Development Goals on poverty and hunger are now being undermined, as the number of people in the world who go to bed hungry comes close to a billion, while the colossal sums needed to bail out banks make further demands on funds in the richest countries, cutting their ability to feed the hungry, or fund agricultural innovation.
in my own organisation the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, we are struggling to get adequate funding for the Horn of Africa. I quote from one of our people in the field in Ethiopia, Greg Jack from the British Red Cross.
“I am quite confident that our work in Wolaita is making a difference in the lives of 76,000 beneficiaries. But the food problem in Ethiopia is far greater. The IFRC launched an emergency appeal aiming to help some 2.3 million hungry people in Djibouti, Ehtiopia, Kenya and Somalia. More than a million of them are Ethiopians. That should give you an idea of the challenges the Red Cross Red Crescent is facing.
“For our help to be effective, we would need about 62 million pounds sterling (103.5 million Swiss francs). I know, many people would freeze with shock at the thought of such an amount. But the Red Cross Red Crescent can save a life with just 26 pounds sterling (43 Swiss francs). Think that for the price of a couple of music CDs, a child will not go to bed hungry, a mother will deliver a healthy baby and a pastoralist will get back on his feet.”