It was all excitement and an opportunity to learn from other cultures on the evenings of January 23-24, 2012 as the CSSA in conjunction with IEMS’ Culturae Mundi marked for the first time the Chinese New Year at Coventry University.
The Chinese New Year is the longest and most significant festival in the Chinese calendar with century old origins and is rich in myths and traditions.
The fiesta marks the end of the winter season, and has echoes in western carnivals but the essence of the Chinese New Year is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone.
For many who had no idea what the New Year was about, they had all their questions answered and went home satisfied and less curious than they came.
Huge portions of the magnificent new Hub building were draped in the quintessential Chinese red colours. The media arrived in their numbers to be part of Coventry University’s maiden commemoration of the CNY – year of the Dragon.
Expectations reached a crest as excitement amongst the Chinese community approached fever pitch. A number of volunteers could be seen running around to ensure all was set for a smooth take off. The square One venue of the magnificent Hub was the place to be and the crowd was growing.
This began a night full of activity and show of rich culture.
The Kun fu demonstrations, the Chinese have been so noted for around the globe, was next. And the much awaited dragon dance followed, and the crowd was held spell-bound. The display was so flawlessly executed that everybody wanted to capture the moment for future reference. The flashes in the dim event hall said it all.
After the event, Adina, a Romanian final year student from the Coventry School of Art and Design remarked to me that she regretted ‘missing the Dragon dance, I wanted to see it. My friends said it was nice, very nice.’ The drummers and dancers were very energetic and their performance was punctuated with spontaneous applauses from the audience. It was indeed a moment to behold.
As part of the event, a 17-minute video was put together to inform non-Chinese students how far China has travelled to its current state, and what values the people in the most populous country in the world hold dear. The video was revealing. It captured the country’s preparations for the well orchestrated Beijing 2008 Olympics which really brought great athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to global prominence.
For me, the most engaging part was when two Chinese ladies took to the stage to share their experiences of life in the United Kingdom. Their experiences were profound and confirmed cultural shocks people normally experience when they travel across cultures. One of the young ladies observed, ‘in China young people do not always go to the club, but when I came here, I realised it was one of the main forms of socialisation, so I tried it and went to a few parties in the clubs.’ Her story, as I listened intently, underscores the need to experience other cultures so one clears the mind of all prejudices. It also enlightens the understanding of people when they meet people from other parts of the globe. A theme at the heart of Culturae Mundi!
She continued, ‘I was surprised that in the club, people were kissing themselves though they didn’t know themselves.’ According to her, as she reflected on the behaviour of the ‘clubbers,’ she ‘felt like being kissed also!’ I said to myself, ‘this lady is really in for business!’
Various games were arranged. One had three non-Chinese students and three Chinese students trying to make sense of some Chinese writings, it was obvious that the rules of this game were quite unclear to the participants as they appeared dazed in the exercise. It was simply to see if people could pronounce some Chinese words and read some phrases after the MCs, Wu Shuheng and Jin Ye took the crowd through a lesson in Chinese phonetics.
A musical presentation with a cute looking young man by name “Chinese Akon” excited the audience with a couple of well rehearsed songs.
The ‘Catch the Chairs dance’ was also fun as the MCs kept changing the rules to spice the game up. At a point, the players had to run and get a hug from the audience before rushing back to catch a chair. Then, they introduced another rule, ‘you have to run and get a French kiss from someone in the crowd before you can catch a chair.’ The crowd went like ‘hmmmm’ with giggles.
Honestly, I was also interested in seeing how the game players will get the ‘French kisses’ from the audience. But it was exciting. I remember turning and whispering to a young Chinese, Coventry University foundation student, ‘are you enjoying it?’ ‘Yeah, yes. The new year, yes,’ he answered with excitement as if not having enough space to contain and savor the terrific exhilaration he was being treated to.
The chopsticks game was soon concluded and it was now time for Dinner. An array of Chinese foods was on parade. What an experience the festival was!
As we had dinner, Shraddha, a postgraduate MSc Biomedical Technology student from India told me of her appreciation of the event. Asked whether she’s learned anything new, she nodded and commented, ‘I have learned how to say happy New Year in Chinese.’ Priyanka, an MBA IT student was happy about the tremendous enlightenment she gained. She invited herself and was happy she did, as she learned new games and made a few friends.