Kung hee fat choy! Gong xi fa cai! Either way, it means “Happy Chinese New Year,” right?
Up until a month ago, I thought those phrases were literal translations (in Cantonese and Mandarin) of Happy New Year. But comedian Ronny Chieng educated me in his Netflix standup special.
“Kung Hee Fat Choy means ‘Hope you get rich!’ . . . The go-to phrase during Chinese New Year is not ‘Hey, Happy New Year!’ It’s ‘Yo! Hope you get rich!’ “
Chieng prefaced this factoid with a hilarious monologue on the stereotyped Chinese appreciation of money. “We love money more than anyone; we love making it, we love spending it, we love giving it, we love receiving it, we love throwing it up in the air. . . . Chinese people love money so much, we have a god of money and we pray to him for more money!”
Now, before you accuse me — or Ronny — of cultural insensitivity or political incorrectness, I’d like to point out that my friends of Chinese ancestry wear the “Pake” badge proudly. Several of them often repeat the old playground rhyme about the “Chinaman sitting on a fence, trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.”
I’m not Chinese, but I see nothing wrong with being thrifty or industrious; in fact, I wish I had a bit more of both qualities. So I like the idea of wishing each other a prosperous New Year, which, according to my online research, is the actual translation of “Kung Hee Fat Choy.” One website, goodcharacters.com, suggests replying to the greeting with “Hong Bao Na Lai!” That’s Mandarin for “red envelope, please!”
Armed with this new knowledge, I attended the Maui Chinese Cultural Society’s New Year festivities at the Maui Mall on Saturday and wished prosperity on dozens of friends. With many others, I deeply felt the absence of Sifu Steve Catugal, who passed away unexpectedly in May after 30 years of leading the Maui Chinese Martial Arts Academy. Feeding the lion was bittersweet this year, but Steve would have been proud of the way his widow, Kathy, and fellow Academy members carried on.
By the time I arrived at noon, the vendors had sold out of gau and almond cookies, but I did eat my fill of Chinese roast pork and crispy gau gee. Fortunately, Saturday’s celebration was just the first of several Year of the Rat observances on Maui, and I hope to find my New Year treats at one or more of the following events.
On Friday, the Wo Hing Museum on Front Street will hold a free celebration from 2 to 7 p.m., featuring lion dances, drumming, storytelling, mahjong, crafts and cultural activities. A history of Chinese New Year will be presented by Dr. Busaba Yip.
Two separate events are scheduled for Saturday, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Lahaina Cannery Mall and from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Outlets of Maui, also in Lahaina. Both will feature lion dances by Au’s Shaolin Society.
Ben Seng Au’s Honolulu troupe will also be at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center to ring in the Year of the Rat on Sunday, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Additionally, many of the Wailea and west side resorts have planned cultural celebrations; call the hotels directly for information and to see whether the activities are open to the public or for registered guests only.
According to feng shui and Chinese horoscope experts, your fortune for the New Year depends on your lunar zodiac animal sign. So, if you really want to know what the Year of the Rat has in store for you, you first need to determine your sign. As a rooster, I’m looking at great potential for career advancement as well as romantic involvement; however, the experts caution that 2020 also holds a greater possibility of injury. In general, though, they say the Year of the Rat will likely be a good one for all of us.
I hope they’re right. Hope you get rich.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.