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Sunday, 26 November 2017 12:30 am

Wellingtonians with Chinese roots celebrating Year of the Sheep

SHEAR DETERMINATION: Asian Events Trust organisers Rita Tom (left), Stephannie Tims and Linda Lim gear up for the Year of the Sheep.

SHEAR DETERMINATION: Asian Events Trust organisers, from left, Rita Tom, Stephannie Tims and Linda Lim gear up for the Year of the Sheep.

THE nation famous for its sheep will do its best to welcome the Chinese Year of the Sheep in the capital.

Chinese New Year is an annual festival which starts on February 19.

Chinese New Year is as important to the Chinese as Christmas is to Kiwis, says Malcolm Young, a Cantonese Chinese Wellingtonian born and bred.

Young is the president of the Wellington Chinese Sports & Cultural Centre.

“It means so much to them, they take time off work and it’s very family-orientated,” he says.

Young intends to keep this year’s celebration low-key, a dinner with the cultural centre contributors and a meal with his parents.

He acknowledges the importance of keeping traditions such as vegetable dishes to signify cleansing, and noodles to indicate longevity.

Drums, symbols and gongs represent scaring away bad spirits during lion dances.

“We’re pretty ‘Kiwi-fied’. The only traditions we uphold is getting together basically, the kids might receive red packets but they don’t expect it.”

Red envelopes, known as “ang pow”, are small envelopes of money handed from elders to children.

Young recalls spending Chinese New Year in Shanghai on the way to Beijing in 2007, the only time he spent it out of Wellington.

He says workers head home to their villages with presents for family members.

But that year was particularly chaotic as a major snow storm halted road access and the domestic airport cancelled all pending flights.

“Thousands of people were left stranded, not moving from their spot in order to hold on to it.

“It was bedlam, people were begging for a flight,” Young says.

Linda Lim, programme director for Asian Events Trust is also a Wellingtonian born and bred Cantonese Chinese.

“Growing up we didn’t really celebrate it, my parents focused on our family fitting in with the Kiwi culture,” she says.

After getting married and having children, Linda organised the Chinese New Year event in Wellington for the first time in 2002, and it has grown from there.

The event takes place at Shed 6 on the waterfront, where people from all cultures can get involved with the celebration.

Lim believes Chinese New Year signifies spending time with her family, giving red packets of money to her children, purchasing new clothes, cleaning her house, and paying off debts.

According to Statistics NZ, Chinese New Year helped boost the number of visitors coming to New Zealand in January of last year to 292,400.

The number of visitors in January 2014 was up 12 percent from January 2013, and was the highest ever for a January month.

Population statistics manager Andrea Blackburn says most of the visitors arrived from China and Hong Kong

“Chinese New Year is a popular time for travel to New Zealand, and it fell at the end of January, whereas last year [2013] it fell mid-February,” she says.

Vice president of New Zealand China Friendship Society Wellington Branch, Christine Strickland, moved to Nelson in 1979 having been raised in her native Hong Kong.

She became an integral member of the society after moving to Wellington in 2001.

The society was founded 62 years ago and boasts the largest of the 15 branches across New Zealand with 150 active members in Wellington.

Its Chinese New Year banquet will host roughly 120 members and guests.

Strickland is married to a European New Zealander, and tries hard to keep the Chinese traditions in her family.

She says Chinese New Year is on a much bigger scale in Hong Kong, where visiting relatives is a major activity.

“It’s very different in Wellington, we don’t have any relatives here to visit but we try to keep it very family-orientated.”

Geoff Ngan, head chef at Shed 5 and The Crab Shack, is a first generation New Zealander after his family migrated from China.

Like Strickland, Ngan’s offspring is half-Chinese, an area of his upbringing he doesn’t want his son to neglect.

“My son is going to be very European New Zealand. I probably need to encourage the Chinese side of it, so he doesn’t forget that he is half-Chinese, which is an important part.”

Owner of Monsoon Poon, Mike Egan, has four Chinese chefs on his roster.

“Chinese New Year for them is not that important here in New Zealand,” he says.

“Every year they take turns to go back to China, they can’t all go at once otherwise I’d have no chefs left. It’s really expensive, the air fares get ramped up.”

Egan says Chinese New Year in China is a massive transport nightmare, with 150 million people who all want to go back to their village.

“They are quite happy to go every three or four years, every year would just be a bloody nightmare.”

In years gone by, the restaurant has been offered to pay to have lion dancers come through, but no firecrackers due to health and safety reasons.

“A lot of Kiwis obviously don’t understand the significance of it.”

Asian Events Trust has organised this year’s celebration on February 15, which will start with food stalls at Shed 6 and climax with a street parade from Courtenay Place to Frank Kitts Park.

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