Last Friday, most students were either sleeping in or attending class, but for a select group of students studying Chinese, it was showtime.
Belting out Beijing opera, singing group songs, reciting poetry: All were acts of welcoming in the new year of the horse. Jan. 31 marked this year’s Lunar New Year, sometimes also referred to as Chinese New Year, although other nationalities celebrate it too.
Some Vassar Asian-American and Asian students celebrated the arrival of the new year by heading home for the weekend.
And for those who stayed on campus and for Asian culture lovers, Vassar’s Chinese and Japanese departments held a morning and afternoon festival in the Aula on the Friday, Feb. 7. The Asian Students Alliance, meanwhile, rang in the new year in he Villard Room for a Saturday night dinner.
“It was fun to see my friend galloping around like a horse,” said Henry Rizzi ’16, one of the masters of ceremonies at Friday’s celebration hosted by the Chinese and Japanese departments, describing his favorite performance as a skit about an old man and a horse.
“Friday’s event was just okay. They tried to incorporate activities like face painting, paper cutting, and calligraphy, but a lot of people were there by obligation,” said Christine Lin ‘17. “I enjoyed the performances.”
“Of the performances that I saw, not to be all full of myself, but I thought that our class song was pretty good,” Min Chen ‘16 laughed. “Like we decided that song on Monday of that week. It came together fairly well. We were loud enough, we were in sync. So I was just overall impressed with what we managed to pull off. That song also, is a very classic Chinese New Years song.” Her Chinese 108 class sang “Gongxi, Gongxi,” which means “congrats” in Mandarin.
At one moment, Tianqi Zhu ’17, the event’s martial artist, slipped on a misplaced mat, injuring his knee.
“I was actually kind of terrified for a second,” Rizzi recalled. Zhu later made it to his astronomy class on crutches.
During the weekend after the 31st, groups of Asian-American and Asian students celebrated in their own way.
Chinese international students, for instance, took a trip into Flushing, the Chinatown of Queens, for dinner and karaoke. Students lounged in Davison House for a potluck-style hot pot dinner the Friday after Chinese New Years, with ingredients scavenged from a nearby Chinese grocery store, Tokyo Express, My Market and other stores. A rice cooker became a makeshift pot to boil vegetables and meat in. Still others dropped into Chinatown to see the parades and Dragon Boat festival.
Over the new year weekend, Chen returned to her home in New Jersey to feast with family. On the Monday morning drive back home to organic chemistry class, she was running on less than four hours of sleep. The night before, Chen and her family enjoyed a banquet-style dinner.
“I know that our family, we don’t celebrate any of the other holidays. But then Chinese New Years rolls around and it’s like…” Chen gesticulated. “It’s like now this is the holiday. I get how, you know, it’s a bigger deal.”
“To be perfectly honest, my family doesn’t celebrate Lunar New Year.” Cindy Wang ‘16, committee chair of ASA, admitted in an emailed statement. “However, our Lunar New Year Dinner would be similar to how I would imagine a home Lunar New Year celebration to be—lots of good food and lots of good company.”
Lin normally celebrates the new year with a family dinner but did not return to Brooklyn because she felt going back for a weekend would be too short a duration to warrant the trip. Instead she called her family members and wished them a happy New Year.
Acknowledging that not everyone can make the trip back home, Chen says she appreciates the events hosted by the language departments and ASA. “I think they’re good because you let them get some of the experience. It’s just the idea that you recognize the holiday and you do something for it.”
“It’s good to share the culture, but at the same time, you’re not going to have the same celebration here that you would in China, just because it’s mainly within the Chinese communities where it has more importance,” said Rizzi, who is originally from Colorado. He added, however, “I think it’s good that the school puts in an effort to try and include everyone.”
The food at Saturday’s dinner ranged from dumplings, Korean japchae glass noodles, sesame chicken and orange chicken, fried buns and fried rice. ASA organizers bought food from A1, Thai Spice, and cooked in Main’s kitchen.
“There were some things that were really good, like the noodles. That was pretty nice. They could definitely have used less Americanized food, I think,” said Chen.
“When I took my plate back for more food, the grease had run through the plate,” Rizzi noted.
Michelle Zhao ‘16, the media chair of ASA, replied to critiques of the cuisine in an emailed statement, “American Chinese food was created to cater to the taste of Americans. The dishes aren’t authentic, but they have a little bit of influence from some Chinese dishes. To offset this fact, we made authentic Asian dishes ourselves.”
“I really liked Sheldon’s song at the end. I don’t understand Cantonese, but I know that song. I think he did a pretty good job singing it. Because he sang it with,” She raised her eyebrows, “Quite a bit of passion! He screeched a little in the end, but disregarding that, when you look at the whole of his performance, it was pretty good. I was really impressed.”
“I think that it was a fantastic opportunity for people to come out and share songs that they grew up with or love from their own culture,” said Wang. “I loved how many of the songs that were performed this year were in different languages and I’m glad that the performers were able to share a piece of their own culture with us.”