2020 is the Year of the Rat, and I am a RAT. I may not give two shits about western astrology (apologies to half of my team), but I do not fuck with the Chinese Zodiac. The year of the rat comes around every 12 years after all, and it always begins the same way for me. Mum sits me down and in a very stern voice says, “Steffanie, this year you will make a lot of big decisions. You cannot be indecisive. You must be confident in all that you do. Be careful, ya?” She’s given me this speech five times already, this year. And it will only increase as the Lunar New Year approaches, and it approaches tomorrow.
I’m not going to pretend like I know heaps about the Chinese zodiac, but because my background’s Chinese-Indonesian, I do know bits and pieces thanks to Mum. Your mum may judge your potential boo by whether or not they’re a Sagittarius. My mum? She immediately asked whether or not my boyfriend’s a Rooster or a Horse because our signs aren’t compatible.
Anyway, Mum is really keen to spread her wisdom. I can’t definitively say where said wisdom comes from – either it was passed down from Gran or she read it in a book. It’s just one of those things Asian mums know. Don’t question it.
Before I get into Mum’s wisdom, I thought I’d give you all some background.
The Chinese zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years and every year is represented by an animal who has a certain type of personality and heaps of attributes. The elements have a hand in it too, but that’s for another day. The gist is the elements differentiate the signs generationally.
Like western astrology, there are 12 signs in the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
My mum always gives my brother shit for being a picky eater because “he is a goat and goats only eat grass”, which is not at all accurate but don’t tell my mum that.
I have a chart just like this at home.
I cannot express how seriously people take the Chinese zodiac. But allow this Washington Post article, titled “Chinese couples rush to get pregnant before dreaded Year of the Sheep” do the job for me. Apparently those born in the Year of the Goat / Sheep have more shitty attributes than others. Sucks to be my brother!!!
So how did the Chinese zodiac come to be, you ask? Well according to legend, and by legend I mean the internet, the Jade Emperor (powerful god in traditional Chinese culture) invited all the animals in the world to a race. Twelve animals rocked up – see above – and as a reward, the Emperor named a year in the zodiac after each animal, and told them the race would decide their place in it.
And so the great race kicked off with hurdles big and small, including a river right before the finish line. The rat knew it couldn’t cross the river so it cheekily caught a ride on the ox’s back to cross the water. But instead of letting the ox finish first, the rat hopped off at the last second and placed first. The rat is a bit of a dickhead. Checks out. Ox placed second.
The tiger came third and the rabbit, thanks to the dragon, came fourth. The dragon apparently didn’t care about the race so it took its time (helped some villagers and whatnot) and used its mighty breath to blow the rabbit into fourth place because the poor bugger was tired. So the dragon came fifth. The snake came sixth, horse seventh, the goat eighth, the monkey ninth, and the rooster came tenth.
The dog just wanted to have a good time so everybody overtook it, but it still managed to come eleventh. Which leaves the pig, who decided to eat and sleep instead of compete. But it eventually crossed the finish line in twelfth place.
Et voila, we have a zodiac. Western astrology may be more aesthetically pleasing to look at but the Chinese zodiac has a goddamn pig. Calling someone a Pig because it’s their zodiac sign is ruthless but not untrue which makes it a million times better.
Again, like western astrology, the animals all have attributes and shit. According to legend, rats are “quick-witted, resourceful, and smart but lack courage.” Rats are also diligent workers, thrifty, and thought to be wealthy and prosperous. The rat’s lucky numbers are apparently two or three and numbers containing these numbers. Rats should stick to blue, gold, and green colours, and lucky flowers include lilies and African violets. OKAY, coincidently my favourite number is 23 (I had a crush on cricketer Michael Clarke when I was a wee babe and that was his number), my favourite colour is blue (it’s a nice colour), and my favourite flowers are lilies. COINCIDENCE.
Suitable jobs for rats include administrator, director, manager, broadcaster… writer, musician, and race car driver (oddly specific).
Those were your QUICK FACTS. So what wisdom does Mum have for all you ratatas? Well, here’s a snippet of our conversation, plus tips on how to prepare for LNY.
Steff: When you say I have to make a lot of decisions this year, what do you mean?
Mum: I can’t tell you what sort of decisions they will be, but I can give you examples. Like if you need to make a decision in the office, you need to be decisive. You can’t do that thing you do, you can’t say, “I don’t know, I’ll think about it.” Yes or no. That’s it. Make the decision. And it could be any decision, like if you want to join the gym or not. Just be decisive and follow your gut and intuition.
Steff: I don’t want to join the gym.
Mum: That was an example, la.
Steff: Oh. Ok, so how do we prepare for the Lunar New Year?
Mum: Your rice sack cannot be empty, or where you put your rice, it always has to be full. You also need to buy oranges and mandarins – lots of fruit. Eat fruit, fruit is good. And if you’ve had a bad year, clean your house in the week of the New Year, but you must stop before the day comes. On the eve, by like 6pm, you should already stop otherwise you’re sweeping away the good fortune that could be yours. And you cannot sweep on the day, otherwise you’re really sweeping away the good fortune.
There’s more to this convo, but it’s mostly Mum scolding me so I’m just going to leave that out.
To summarise: Follow your gut and be decisive.
Happy Lunar New Year, my fellow dumplings. Let there be plenty of honour upon all your cows.Image: Getty Images / Inga Kjer