Posted by: 지인 | 6 February 2008

새해 복 많이 받으세요!

My thoughts have been so scattered lately, I almost forgot that it’s really, truly, actually the Lunar New Year holiday, like, right now.

Here in Hawai’i, the celebration has been ongoing for some weeks now — picking up almost right after the solar calendar New Year holiday hubbub wound down — with weekend festivities happening in Honolulu Chinatown. Yobo A. and I went to check things out, enjoyed some “dragon whiskers” (or is it “dragon beard” — or is that same-same?), picked up some “Year of the Rat” merchandise for my nephews, and ate heartily at the various food booths, and last weekend we made it out for the parade. (Photos forthcoming, really.)

Although I love the Chinatown hoopla and go there every year, I still wish that a stronger, more cohesive Korean-American community existed here, so it’d be easier to come by some 설날 festivities. Without having to go pray at a Korean church, that is.

Yet the Chinese-American community is larger and more organized, and the local “Chinese New Year” traditions run strong, with gau for sale at your corner drugstore, and “Gung hay fat choy” (bastardized Romanization, sorry) being much more widely recognized than “새해 복 많이 받으세요.” Though I spent plenty of time training Yobo on the finer points of pronunciation of the Korean greeting, for the hell of it. (Not that he retained the finer points, but we tried.)

In the past I tried to sustain my own version of Korean 설날 traditions, but this year, I’m just kind of making things up as I go along. We’ve had a plateful of other obligations and concerns with which to fill our bellies without trying to sort out which soups you’re supposed to eat and when. These days, I’m like, “Yum, I found some frozen mandu in the freezer! That’s probably symbolic of something good, right?”

Lately I’ve been thinking, though, that one of the factors behind some recent difficulties and setbacks we’ve been experiencing has been our seriously neglected feng shui. About a decade ago, I became obsessed with feng shui and even went so far as to sign up for feng shui courses to train to become a consultant.

In fact, I embraced the whole feng shui thing before I became interested and invested in exploring my own Korean heritage. Possibly, it was because I was at a sensitive turning point, where I was opening myself up to Asian-ness, but not yet truly cognizant of what that meant for me, in light of my own history, cultural/ethnic displacement and evolving identity.

Turning to something like feng shui was like sidling up sideways to face my own reflection, rather than attempting to face up to it full-on and risk scaring myself away. I’ve known many other transracially and transnationally adopted Koreans who have done similar things to warm up to the idea of exploring their Korean identities, through such routes as learning Japanese or traveling to Tokyo or Beijing or Phuket or Hong Kong — figuratively dipping their toes in the waters neighboring Korea before diving into the Han River.

In the years since that first surge of feng shui enthusiasm, however, I’ve reined it back in quite a bit, for various reasons. Feng shui classes are not free, for one, and for another thing, I don’t have the discipline or the sense of cultural investment to learn all the complex details and deeply rooted Chinese principles that underlie the popular feng shui notions of windchimes and fountains. (Not that the theories behind feng shui are exclusively Chinese; much of the theory translates and is mirrored in Korean tradition and culture as well.)

Instead, I purchased books of charts that served as cheat sheets for the elaborate formulas for flying stars and four pillars and whatnot. I’m pretty sure I would have gotten a nice fat F if I had still been taking those classes.

In the years since we’ve been living here in Hawai’i, however, I’ve really let things go. “Clutter” doesn’t even begin to describe what has happened here, as we downsized from a four-bedroom suburban single-family house to a single-level townhome with half the square footage and almost none of the storage space of yore. Sacrifices, sacrifices.

Stagnant chi runneth amok. Or actually, I should say, doesn’t run amok. There hasn’t been much chi flow here at all, to tell the truth.

From both personal and secondhand experience, I am still more or less a believer in the fundamental principles of feng shui — specifically, balancing and paying attention to elemental energy and energy “flow” in one’s surroundings. It’s true that the more “stuff” that seems to be cramping my style and blocking up my space, the more scattered my focus becomes and the less healthy my lifestyle in general.

A lot of it is common sense, I reckon. And I can’t say that I am really a strict enforcer of placing this trinket here, and that doohickey there, especially when I can’t even properly pronounce what they’re called or tell you what they mean, exactly. Maybe if I had studied properly I would know, but I left my studiousness behind when I graduated from high school and took up smoking, promiscuity and black lycra spandex. (Wait a second. That wasn’t me; that was from “Grease.”)

Anyway, for real though. I spent a whole day scouring out our master bedroom because I hadn’t dusted or swept the corner back behind my nightstand since the day our furniture was delivered in 2005, and I don’t care if you’re a feng shui believer or not. That’s just gross. So I cleaned. And I cleaned. And I wound up with six garbage bags brimming over with clothes, shoes, handbags and books to take to Goodwill.

I don’t know what wind & water magic I’ve stirred up, mind you, but I do know that I’ve slept a lot better since then, what with the vastly reduced allergens and the dust mega-bunnies banished from my sleeping chamber.

One room down, seven more to go.



  1. Woo hoo for cleaning the dirty ass out of reach places! Gross as it is, there’s always a certain amount of satisfaction sucking up those pillowy dust bunnies up into the vacuum.

    I feel the push too to do more Korean things and start my own traditions, it’s like an unspoken obligation. Boston is just like Hawaii where the Asian community is Chinese dominated. Hmm, maybe start a Korean heathen’s R us group? Blasphemy and bibimbap, hedonism with you hwe dup? I’ll do the MA chapter if you do your state.

  2. 1. HAPPY NEW YEAR! May the Rat bring you and Yobo lots of good luck this year!

    2. Oi. My grandmother is into the whole feng shui and always blames the location of the bed (which can be fixed) or the direction of sunlight (which really cannot be helped unless you’re prepared to tear down the entire apt (a-pa-tu) building) for our family’s general bad luck. She may have a point, though.

    3. All that minimizing and cleaning out the dust bunnies – I can totally see the chi sparkling.

  3. You know what bugs me a lot, for some reason. And it’s that everyone in HI calls the red envelopes lycee, even if they’re not Cantonese!

    Happy new year!

  4. BB — Do you want to start the paperwork, or should I? 🙂

    Hawai’i actually has larger Japanese and Filipino ethnic populations than Chinese, but neither celebrates the lunar new year, so the Chinese take the lead on the LNY festivities.

    MN — Come to think of it, my 엄마 was fussing over something related to our home and room arrangement or something. Then she sent an extra set of the Korean wedding ducks home with me.

    DF — Hmm, I actually haven’t heard people calling the red envelopes that, although I haven’t really spoken to anyone about them either. 😛 The thing that tends to bug me is when people refer to the Lunar New Year as “Chinese New Year,” even though it’s not like China has an exclusive claim to the lunar calendar. Bah.

    Happy new year to all anyway!

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