In the Suburbs / A crash course in the Chinese New Year
I’ve been tutoring Chinese exchange students at Fairfield Prep for the past three years and never had the opportunity to participate in a Chinese New Year celebration, until this past Sunday. Lina, the student coordinator at Prep for these students, who are part of the Apex International Education Partners, LLC (AIEP) invited my wife and me to the event, which was at the Aquaturf Club near Southington. Our biggest regret was that we weren’t able to bring our grandson Lucas (aka Lun Lun) to celebrate his heritage.
AIEP is an international student recruiting and homestay organization that was established in 2011. The program depends on and is continuously seeking host families in areas like Fairfield and across Conn. to house international students who are enrolled in schools like Fairfield Prep. Host parents receive a generous monthly stipend. The AIEP program, which started in Waterbury just a few years ago with about 30 Chinese exchange students, now has more than 300 students staying with host families across Connecticut, in New York, Mass. and Maryland.
For this special Chinese New Year event, we joined our neighbor Patty, who teaches the English as a Second Language Program at Prep and a colleague of Patty’s, who teaches Theology and social studies, his wife and some 630 other guests for a huge buffet and entertainment. Patty introduced me to the tutoring opportunities at Prep.
Students attend schools like Prep, Laurelton Hall, King Low Haywood and numerous other private preparatory and Catholic schools across the state. Coordinators, like Lina, work closely with AIEP to ensure that students have the most positive experience here in the United States monitoring their academic performance and encouraging them to apply to the finest universities in the country.
We made it to the event, which is celebrating the Year of the Dog, just in time for the opening ceremony, the entrance of the special roasted pig. An entourage of young people wheeled the cart with the sumptuous-looking pig around the enormous dining room with the theme from the movie “Rockie” blaring in the background. Despite not eating much pork, I decided to definitely try some pig.
I did a little checking online and in Chinese astrology, each year is related to a Chinese zodiac animal and according to the 12-year cycle, 2018 is an Earth Dog Year. Other Years of the Dog have included 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, and will include 2030... The Dog occupies the eleventh position in the Chinese zodiac, after the Rooster, and before the Pig.
Everything was decorated in vivid reds with touches of gold and I subsequently learned that red is a sign of good luck and money. A few of the guests wore traditional costumes or red colored outfits as well.
The buffet was a mix of American salads, pastas, mashed potatoes and roast beef. The Chinese contributions included spring rolls and dumplings. I learned the following day from Lina that dumplings are a traditional New Year treat, along with fish and egg roll. Of course, the pig was the real treat and I enjoyed two helpings since it was my first time trying this delicacy.
Lina gave me a crash course in the Chinese New Year the following day, when I was at Prep to tutor a student. She was coordinating her own New Year event at the school on Tuesday, but she explained that the actual Chinese New Year begins on the 16th, Friday, and the holiday is celebrated for about 10 days with all sorts of fanfare and pomp in China.
There are late night celebrations and people traditionally place coins in dumplings, which are shaped like Chinese ancient currency. For the New Year, if one finds coins in dumplings, he or she will be blessed with a lot of good fortune.
She also gave me a special red and gold envelope with the words “All the Best” spelled out in gold, metallic Chinese letters. Tradition suggests that we give the bright bag to our grandson with coins and dollar bills in it.
Apparently for the Prep Chinese New Year event, there were games and various food booths. One game was Mah Jong, which is popular with students, as well as with players like my wife and her lady friends, who play once a week.
The Aquaturf event made me wish we could have coordinated our adoption trip to China around the Chinese New Year. Just the colors yesterday added so much of the flavor of China to the celebration. And my wife and I so appreciated the opportunity to share in this wonderful event.
Columnist Note to any Chinese Colleagues: I know there is so much more that I was not able t to include in this piece, but greatly appreciated all I learned and welcome feedback.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.