by Barbara Olson
The Year of the Horse promises a time of fast victories and unexpected adventure. However, one can run into trouble if they cannot control their galloping steed . . .
The galloping steed of the Chinese New Year traveled with full pace to the home of Ann and Paul Bolno of Chestnut Hill for the celebration of the New Year, Friday, February 1, 2014. Thirty-five guests had purchased their attendance to the event at the silent auction at Preservation Celebration, Chestnut Hill Historical Society’s major fundraiser-party held in November. These were thirty-five very lucky people.
Business with GSK had taken Paul to Shanghai, and Ann, along with their two children, joined him for two years, returning to Chestnut Hill 18 months ago. They brought back artifacts – most notably a replica of a Terracotta Warrior — and fanciful treasures. Most of all they brought back memories and interesting stories of the new culture they explored.
“Living in Shanghai was like learning to navigate the world all over again – and this time with two small children,” said Ann. “I spent much of the time protecting them from throngs of people who moved differently than we do in the US. In China, pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, they get out of the way!”
One guest, Nancy Evans, who frequently visits her son in Shanghai laughed as she recounted the time when she was almost run over by six motorcycles. “I was walking in town when all of a sudden six motorcycles were barreling toward me. At first I thought I must be in the street, but realized there was a traffic jam so the cycles took to the sidewalks!”
In China, the New Year is the most important holiday of their calendar and lasts a full month. Schools close, businesses shut down and firecrackers and fireworks replace any semblance of order with loud, gun-like noise all day, all night. The traditional purpose of the fireworks is to scare away evil spirits. New Year is also a time of great migration as millions of Chinese return to their province of origin to visit family.
Paul explained other traditions. The Chinese clean their homes thorouly to sweep out the old year. Their traditional greeting – which Paul said in Mandarin – wishes everyone great health, happiness and prosperity. The older generation offers red envelopes containing money to their young relatives.
Many of the guests at the party wore clothing from their own trips to China which made the festivities more lively. Christy Kaller and her husband wore conical hats, the douli, that they had purchased in Chinatown in San Francisco. (It turned out that they were actually Vietnamese, but – hey – close enough.)
Other guests, Orla and Cornelis van den Muyzemberg-Halm, delighted in the evening because between them, they had witnessed 25 years of New Year celebrations while living in Asia. They also mentioned that the food served in the Bolno household was superior to standard Chinese fare. Servers passed shrimp and vegetarian eggrolls, assorted dumplings and screwered filet strips with a rich, spicy sauce. Dinner was prepared by Susanna Foo and fortune cookies were courtesy of Cin-Cin.
The highlight of the evening was the arrival of two traditional and colorful dragons accompanied by drummers who performed the traditional dragon dance. They weaved in and out of the rooms and danced among and with the guests to the pleasure of everyone there – including the two Bolno children who ran downstairs to greet the dragons.
Shortly after all of the excitement, the Bolnos offered a welcoming toast to all of the guests, wished them happy New Year in mandarin, and invited them to eat hardily at the buffet table.
Indeed, it was an evening of celebrating with friends, learning Chinese traditions, admiring the Bolno home touched with Chinese art, eating fine food and dancing with dragons.
Everyone was happy that firecrackers were not included.
Barbara Olson is a contributing writer for the Local. Nancy Evans is a freelance photographer.