Year of the Rabbit Done Right

DIANE JONG/New University

On Tuesday, Feb. 8,  the East Asian Language and Literature department at UC Irvine celebrated  LunarFest 2011 — an event for the Lunar New Year — at the Student Center in Pacific Ballroom C.

Participating in the annual event were the Chinese, Japanese and Korean programs — all of which were commemorating the Year of the Rabbit — and the Vietnamese program, honoring the Year of the Cat. Each culture prepared two stations that allowed students to get a hands-on experience in doing a popular, unique tradition of that respective country.

“LunarFest is really important for us to introduce and share the culture and heritage of East Asian countries to language learners,” said Mindy Han, the management services officer of the department and coordinator the entire event. “And this is not just for students from the motherland. We are getting increasing interest from non-heritage students, and these activities provide an aspect of culture that cannot be learned through textbooks.”

The Chinese division gave students the opportunity to make a Chinese lantern out of red envelopes, as well as try their hands at knot art, whose intricate style makes it more difficult than it sounds.

“The lanterns are especially important because they connect the Lunar New Year with the Lantern Festival,” said Ruohmei Hsieh, the coordinator of the Chinese program.

The Lantern Festival happens 15 days after the Lunar New Year and marks the end of the festivities.

One prominent commonality among the Chinese stations was the color red. While other colors were available for the knot art, many students understood the importance and opted to use red, symbolizing good fortune and joy, and yellow, signifying royalty and Buddhism.

“Students also see how important red is, and they learn some of the story behind it,” said Chinese lecturer Longsheng Jin.
Nearby were stations dedicated to kimono wearing and flower arrangements, two traditions common in the Japanese culture.

The kimono has a very significant place in Japanese history, and students were allowed to try them on. It actually takes a lot of one-by-one steps to complete the proper way of dressing a kimono, and many professors and student volunteers were available to help.

“My favorite part is watching everyone see themselves [in kimonoes] in the mirror,” said Katrina Leonoudakis, a second-year student who was volunteering at the kimono station.

The flower arranging tables probably smelled the best, as, according to Yoshie Sonoyama, the Japanese coordinator, it is crucial that only fresh flowers are used.

“There cannot be fake flowers,” Sonoyama said. “It has to be real. There is also a special ‘kenzan’ that we use to hold the flowers in place and a unique pair of scissors just for cutting these flowers.”

The two Korean stations let students try on a traditional wedding dress and watercolor a folk painting.

The wedding ceremony offers students a look into how much the Korean culture respects their elders.

“Experiencing a wedding ceremony is important because it is one of the most important things that take place in a young woman’s or man’s life,” said Hyunju Choe, a Korean lecturer.

For the second activity, a picture of a rabbit against a natural, serene backdrop was available for students to take so they didn’t have to draw one from scratch. Following an example, they painted it in and used blow dryers to quickly dry up their work and take back to their dorms.

“I’m here because we all didn’t have class today so we could come out and enjoy LunarFest,” said East Asian major Elizabeth Xu, who is currently studying Korean. “But it’s really neat to learn the different crafts of each of the cultures and get an introduction to the common traditions.”

Last, but certainly not least, was the Vietnamese program. One station was for a traditional card game, which taught students about the culture’s early educational system, while another was set up for “Southern Script Fortune,” which had students spin a wheel to see their fortunes for the upcoming year.

The one notable difference in Vietnamese culture is the absence of the rabbit and the addition of the cat. It is not a blind replacement, either — both the rabbit and the cat have stark differences in characteristics, but the cat has found itself at the heart of the Vietnamese celebrations.

“All of our students come here to learn a language and, consequently, a culture,” said Tri Tran, the coordinator for the Vietnamese program. “They come to LunarFest for a cultural activity. Teaching language is important, but understanding culture is critical in the acquisition of language.”

Despite the seemingly large size of this year’s LunarFest, the budget for these events has been significantly cut. Before, there were lion dances and traditional drums, which had to be cut in order to keep the base of this program running. Han is still looking into corporate donations and employing more student and community volunteers.

Still, Han believes that the event may downsize, but it will never be cancelled completely because of its sheer importance.
“You actually get to see students walking away with experience they otherwise would be unable to get,” Han said. “Without something like LunarFest, learning languages would not be complete.”