Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 09 February 2010
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 00:00

Chicago celebrates the Year of the Tiger


It is the sound of firecrackers bursting through a quiet night and the sight of vivid orange and red dragon or lion costumes coming to life at a street parade. It’s also the taste of fresh oranges and pomelos that help to fill the senses of those ready to take in the Lunar New Year celebration known as Chinese New Year. For centuries, the Chinese have viewed their New Year as a time of good luck and fortune in anticipation of a new beginning. While the actual day changes based on the Lunar calendar, the New Year is celebrated on the first day of the first moon in the calendar. This year it falls on February 14, and families celebrate for a total of fifteen days. 2010 also ushers in the year of the Tiger, a sign of bravery.


This two-week break means Chinese and Taiwanese families gather together, eating homemade meals and enjoying each other’s company. For the children, it’s also a time to revel in getting lucky red envelopes filled with money or“hong bao,”in Mandarin.


While a holiday steeped in tradition and centred in the Eastern part of the world, Chinese New Year celebrations take place beyond Asia.


Kim Ow, 76, has lived in Chicago for over 40 years, and says he and his family always celebrate Chinese New Year. Ow came from Hong Kong to the States as a young teen, and continues to keep the Chinese holiday alive for his first generation Chinese American family.


AnnaTesauro_Chinatown2_s“For the Chinese, it’s what you grow up in and believe in. When I was a kid, the most important day was Chinese New Year.


We eat good food, get red envelopes and light off firecrackers,” he said.


As a Chicagoan, Ow watches the annual Chinese New Year Parade held in Chinatown in Chicago. The parade includes a lion and dragon dance, something Ow used to participate in when he was in his thirties.

In addition to Ow’s wife and five grown children, his brother and two sisters come with their families for a big dinner, which he says includes mushroom with pork and most importantly, chicken. “My wife is Buddhist, so we pray, too,” he adds. For dessert, they enjoy homemade pastries. True to tradition, the children receive their lucky red envelopes. As first generation Chinese American children, Ow admits his children are more American than Chinese, but he notes, “they still believe in Chinese holidays.”



Andy Siharath, of the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce notes that Chinatown initially began developing in 1920 and has progressed ever since. Every year, the city holds the lunar New Year parade for the entire city to enjoy. This year’s parade will include marching bands, floats, lion teams, a hundred foot mystical dragon, and the Miss Friendship Ambassador for Illinois.


Today, Chinatown is home to an estimated 18,000 Chinese, with about 68,000 Chinese living in the entire city of Chicago.





Tuesday, 09 February 2010 19:48

The Jonangpas are still alive!

No more then 20 years ago the Jonang School was studied and described as "a now defunct Tibetan Buddhist school".

The lineage was born at the end of the 13th century, when Kun spangs Thugs rje Brtson ‘grus , a Kalacakra pratictioner, settled in the valley of Jomonang. Focusing on the Kalacakratantra teachings and with a particular vision of emptiness, this man and his further disciples were the first jonangpas.

The valley of Jomonang became their main centre, so that those who adhere to the practices that were preserved and transmitted in that place were later called Jonangpa.

The lineage continued in central Tibet until the second half of the 17th century, when the uler of central Tibet and of the Gelugpa school, the 5th Dalai Lama, substained by the Mongol Army began the reunification of the country. Taking control of the places under the Jonangpa influence, the 5Th Dalai Lama also converted their temples and monasteries into Gelugpa, sealing their texts and banning their teachings. However, since the end of the 14th century, the tradition began to spread into eastern Tibet: the areas of Kham and Amdo, corresponding today to big parts of Sichuan and Qinghai.

Thanks to the fact that Gelugpa political and military power did not reach also these places, too far from central Tibet, the Jonangpa temples and masters were safe, free to maintain the transmission of their teachings and tantric practices. Their tradition was strong enough to survive not only the 17th century persecution, but also the chinese cultural revolution. In that rough period the Jonangpa lineage was kept alive by masters and disciples gathering secretly and practicing as yogis in the countryside of Amdo and Kham.


This being the subject of my specialist degree, I spent the year in Chengdu doing some bibliographical research, then June and July travelling and interviewing in Sichuan and Qinghai, mainly around the areas of Ma’erkang, Rangtang, Aba, Banma and Jiuzhi. These places are wonderful, with a medium altitude of 3500 metres above the sea level the air is thin and the nature is stunning, the people are quite poor but friendly and happy to share with you what they have. However, travelling is not so easy, because the massive presence of Chinese police and the constant controls you are subject to. I came unprepared, unsure what I was going to do and how to reach them but as soon as I arrived in Dzamthang (壤塘), the biggest and most important Jonangpa monasteries are found today, I found the monks were interested in my presence as much as I was in their lives and traditions. Thus it wasn’t hard to find people willing to talk about themselves, especially when, chatting together, they became aware that I knew something about them and that this was the reason of my visit. Almost everywhere I’ve been, the monks have been happy to help with my research, always allowing me to visit their monasteries and meet their most relevant figures.

The Jonangpa areas in Sichuan are a little bit different, as are their inhabitants, from those in Qinghai. The people in this part of Sichuan generally live in houses built with rock and wood and grow barley. Although the area is quite poor, the government is actuating a Chinese-style modernisation: entering a town you can often see a sign illustrating the new urban plan, with huge white buildings mimicking the traditional Tibetan architecture. As you get nearer to Qinghai, the landscape changes, until you find yourself on the plateau, where there are more ‘black yak wool tents’ than mud houses and a big part of the population is still nomad, moving from a pasture to another with yak herds. Even if, with people mainly speaking Tibetan languages, my poor Chinese sometimes became useless, I’ve always found some milk tea, barely flour and an extreme quantity of butter ready to be mixed in my honour.

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