Hello, Tiger!

Last January, the year of the Ox opened with the meltdown of Iceland. Figuratively, of course. On “chu yi” (January 26), the government of Iceland resigned amidst the crushing chaos of Icelandic fishermen losing way too much money on investment products they knew way too little about. Oh, global financial crisis!

Following a dramatic start, the rest of the year unfolded in similar fashion. Germany celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Obama made multiple pledges regarding the fate of US troops overseas. North Korea continued to irk the international community by launching rockets and boycotting talks. The Japanese government went through yet another reshuffle. In BeijingFrom the, we also saw our share of social triumphs and falls taking place around the country.

As we prepare to send off the temperamental Ox, how do we feel about the coming of the Tiger? I imagine a lot of people are relieved. Perhaps some are hopeful. There are others yet who are probably entering lunar 2010 with trepidation about the curse of the “widow year.”

Taking stock of major events in my life this past year, I would sum up my personal feelings about the Ox thus: we have had a “mostly love, a little bit of hate” relationship.

Last year, I rang in the lunar new year rather unconventionally, by going on a weeklong fast and meditation retreat. This disturbed my mother greatly, for there is no worse fate in the eyes of Chinese than to be starving and alone on new year’s eve. After all, I was supposed to dine on a sumptuous “nian fan” with family, to ensure that the coming year would be plentiful and filled with reunions.

Fortunately, the fears of my older relations didn’t come true. My bizarre new year’s eve didn’t bring me poverty and solitude in the year of the Ox. Quite to the contrary, I passed the year with great pleasure, making time to do the things I wanted to do, instead of parking myself in front of a computer poring over Excel spreadsheets and blinking stock tickers for twelve whole months.

I stashed my worldly possessions in a warehouse, taking only a small suitcase as I boarded planes, trains, and automobiles. I wandered from the Roman aqueducts of Provence to the impoverished desert towns of Western China. While traveling, I saw more of my family and friends than ever in the last ten years. I developed a new hobby and I pursued a long dormant passion. During those nomadic adventures, I felt truly happy. The Ox was treating me well.

Yet, through the year I also came to occasionally hate the Ox. The flip side of free-spirited exploration is unbearable uncertainty. Accustomed all my life to following a well-planned academic and professional path, I finally learned how difficult decision making can be. I had taken myself out of the proverbial box and suddenly faced the problem of figuring out what exactly I should do in this wide boundless world.

That’s a question I will keep searching for an answer to in the year of the Tiger. In Beijing and beyond, there may be millions of people, young and old, doing the same soul-searching as me. One thing is for certain though: my crossover into this year will be much more to my mother’s liking. I will be eating dumplings at home, followed by a marathon viewing of the annual CCTV extravaganza.

Leaving my love-hate relationship with the year of the Ox behind, I look forward to welcoming the year of the Tiger. I wish everyone good health, happiness, and the daring to do something utterly, incomprehensibly new this year!

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