February 27, 2007

A Full Moon of Fun

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The Johnson Museum ushered in the Year of the Pig with a most extravagant affair last Saturday. From the Buddhist blessing recited by monks from the Namgyal Monastery, to The Story of Ong Tao performed by the Cornell Vietnamese Association, the afternoon was rich with Asian culture and history.
Although it originated in China, the Lunar New Year is celebrated in many East Asian countries. Due to their large Chinese-speaking populations as well as their proximity to China, many nations such as Korea and Thailand have adopted this holiday. For some of these countries, the Lunar New Year is as significant a part of the culture as it is in China. In others, it is one of many celebrations observed each year.
The opening ceremony was followed by a Lion Dance performance. As lions are not native to China, the Chinese designed a lion costume that is widely thought to be a dragon. The lion, however, stands for luck, fortune and prosperity in Chinese culture and, thus, is a major New Year’s tradition.
As the epic drumming and wild movement of the Lion Dance set the mood upstairs, the Ithaca Daoist Tai Chi Society was at the bottom level, performing their craft and teaching it to those who wanted to follow along. Tai Chi is a soft, relaxing form of martial art. With an emphasis one’s balance, meditation is a large part of practicing Tai Chi.
As the Cornell Chinese Folk Dance Troupe performed the Wedding Day fan dance in the lobby, dozens of children were downstairs, making lanterns decorated with Chinese characaters, out of paper and string.
Across the hall from the lanterns was a display of Korean games, Cheggy Chaggy and Yut-Nori. These two games are a traditional part of the Korean New Year celebration. As visitors learned about these games, a Korean New Year Ceremony was going on in the museum’s Lecture Gallery in the next room. This was followed by a Kung Fu demonstration in the lobby.
After Kung Fu, there was time to fill before Asian a cappella group FantAsia performed. Jim Hardesty was on the fifth floor creating Chinese brushpainting, which complimented the Tibetan calligraphy by Palden Coedak Osheo on the lower level. Adjacent to the Tibetan calligraphy was a special art exhibition that the museum was displaying in honor of the Lunar New Year.
Following FantAsia’s fun-filled performance, traditional New Year’s food was served. While some Lunar New Year enthusiasts munched on refreshments, others explored more of the ongoing action throughout the rest of the museum. The Asian Culture Club at Ithaca College was on the fifth floor presenting poetry from the Tang dynasty, a golden age in Chinese poetry. Children’s books with poems and their English translations were on display.
Next up was a duo from the Chinese Yo-Yo Club. Traditionally made of bamboo, the Chinese Yo-Yo has been an influential part of Chinese history for so long that no one knows who invented it.
The Cornell Vietnamese Association capped the afternoon off with their performance of The Story of Ong Tao. Generally thought of as one God, Ong Tao is a trinity of Gods known as the Kitchen Gods. Traditionally, Ong Tao is important to acknowledge at the beginning of the New Year because the Gods know what went on in people’s lives during the year that just passed.
The Lunar New Year celebration at the Johnson Museum celebrated the histories and cultures of many Asian nations and people. It was fun for those who celebrate the Lunar New Year annually with their families, as well as for those who had never celebrated it before.