This year Ricefield celebrated the Year of the Dog at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall, with a day of family-friendly games and activities. Here new Ricefield volunteer Kevin Schneider shares his experience of the event:
The 16th of February 2018 in the Gregorian Calendar marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog. I, born in 1991, a sheep, can only envy the personality traits assigned to this year’s zodiac: friendliness, honesty, loyalty, smartness, and a strong sense of responsibility. My first time volunteering for Ricefield, with no Chinese background whatsoever (other than being married to a Chinese woman, which probably means being married to Chinese culture), I tried to let those virtues lead the way to a successful day. Friendliness to our visitors, honesty in writing, loyalty to my (team) leader, smartness in the game, and a strong sense of responsibility in spearheading Chinese culture, representing my culture-in-law.
This year, on Sunday, 25th of February, the activity path consisted of eight main activities in Kelvin Hall as well as further events and attractions in the Kelvingrove Museum and the Riverside Museum. All of those activities were and are deeply rooted in Chinese culture, many with hundreds of years of history. At the event, their success lay in their general appeal to small children, as much as to the retired lay-connoisseurs of the Chinese way, reminded of their first contact to Far Eastern culture in the 1970s. Young and old joined the quest to get those longed-for zodiac stickers through mastering various challenges, as a sign of their ever-increasing knowledge of Chinese culture.
The first task for many is a classic: chopsticks! Both children and adults could practise their skills on dummy food items to sharpen their dexterity and avoid the embarrassing moment of having to ask for knives and forks again on their next trip to one of Glasgow’s many excellent Chinese restaurants, and to show off in front of their relatives. Also requiring dexterity and concentration, the art of calligraphy poses a challenge in an age when handwriting is giving way to hammering the keyboard. The artful way of writing Chinese characters also introduced some vocabulary to the visitors at this desk, and for me it was time to revise essential words such as 生 (shēng, life), 大 (dà, big), or 好 (hăo, good). Having to use a brush for writing did not make it easier, to be honest.
From the skilfulness of the hand to the strength of the mind, one ancient and one not that ancient board game were further challenges. Five-in-a-row (五子棋, wǔzǐqí) originated in Japan and is played on a board and with stones used for Go (围棋, wéiqí), which was created in China and has a history exceeding 2500 years. The rules are simple: Whoever can arrange five stones in a row (or diagonally) first, wins the game. Being familiar with the Western version of chess, it took me more moves than I thought to prevail over my elementary school opponent. After my hard-fought victory, I quickly moved on to the next table to witness an ongoing game of Chinese chequers, which originated in Germany, but found its way to China, where it is more popular now than in Europe. The rules are again simple: The player who manages to move all of his or her pieces to the opposite side of the board first wins. But only who can master the art of hopping, can truly master the game.
The shuttlecock game was probably the easiest challenge for the football-acquainted Scottish youth, while it proved quite a challenge to me and my two left feet. Keeping this bundle of disks (with feathers attached) in the air can be quite tricky. Less athleticism but more creativity was required for making animals, houses, and much more with wooden triangles and other shapes. The completed creations are called tangrams (七巧板, qīqiǎobǎn), which nowadays can also be found in Western homes. Dog homes were made using paper at yet another table, particularly by younger visitors, who also recreated this year’s zodiac by making cute little paper dogs.
In between all of those activities, visitors and volunteers had the chance to see one of the highlights of every Chinese New Year festivity, the lion dance. The dance was performed by martial artists from Hung-Ga, who also played on traditional percussion instruments. For the first time seeing a lion dance live, I was probably just as entertained as the young children in the front line, who were visibly scared by the approaching and cabbage-spitting red lion.
My own responsibility was to help the visitors dress in hànfú (汉服) costumes and take photos in front of a red lantern background. Wearing traditional Chinese clothes was definitely a delight for many, and I also had my share of fun pretending to be a high Chinese official from many hundreds years ago. Lots of material for profile photos, and I will try to get one of those pictures onto my next University of Glasgow student card. Wish me luck!
Wishing luck and fortune is at the heart of every Chinese New Year. The celebrations at Kelvin Hall were no different and children could make a wish at the wishing tree. More than one wished for a dog. Of course! Who would wish for a sheep?!
All the cheerful adults, smiling children, and my fellow volunteers at my first volunteering event for Ricefield turned me into a lucky dog.
A Happy Dog Year to everyone!