Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Year of the Rat ( or Mouse if you're Taiwanese)

I was a bit puzzled to get an email from Taiwanese friend Luke, wishing me 'Happy New Year of the Mouse!' Up 'til then I'd thought it was the Year of the Pig', misled by a badly-drawn poster in a Gerrard Street shop window.

'No, no, it's the Year of the Rat!' insisted the elderly Singaporean who sits next to me in the Soho class. I had to agree, as for one thing he should know, and for another someone in the same class gave me a leaflet about New Year-related events in London. On the front was a smiling cartoon creature which could have been either but it was clearly labelled 'Welcome to the Year of the Rat.

Meantime in class the noise levels were even higher than usual as New Year sweets and greetings were exchanged. I was a bit late getting there because there was a pair of lions - well, costumes with men inside - in Soho, visiting every shop in turn. The crowd-attracting drum and cymbals plus banner-carrying bodyguards were blocking the pavements.

I suspect that 'shu' is one of those Chinese animal names that doesn't distinguish between different species, - like 'yang' , my own Chinese zodiac sign, which can be a sheep or a goat. It's surprising, really, if there's a choice in the matter that anyone should choose 'rat' over 'mouse', especially in London with its plague-ridden past.

Luke says the characteristics of the mythical animal are not connected with those of the actual one. Just as well, really.

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