One week from today, the Chinese will ring in the lunar new year. Red lanterns can be seen blowing in the wind all around us, from the crumbling apartment buildings of the expat village to the crumbling storefronts of downtown Haiyang. Special foods and trinkets are being sold in the grocery stores and outdoor markets like fake paper money, which will be burned for good luck, and fireworks, which will be set off on the eve of the new year to ward off evil spirits.
2015 is the year of the sheep according to most English language sources, but in China it’s hailed as the year of the goat. I didn’t realize there was confusion around this until I Skyped into my sister’s day care class to tell them about Chinese New Year. It was something I was sort of nervous about and spent a lot of time preparing for. I mean, I’m not a kid expert. I’m the youngest of three and don’t have much experience with kids other than a growing group of tiny nieces and nephews. It’s one thing to entertain a two-year-old over Skype by asking him if he likes seafood and then opening your mouth to reveal what’s half-eaten inside (yes, this is disgusting, but it’s also wildly entertaining to two-year-olds who love to do it back to you), but it’s another to keep a four-year-old’s attention by talking about a real concept. I had so many questions. Was I supposed to speak more slowly to them? What words would they know? What would they be able to comprehend?
More than I realized. Leave it to a classroom of frenetic kids to jump down your throat when they think you’ve screwed up something related to cuddly animals. I guess they had received some information before our virtual chat because they weren’t buying my assertion that it was the year of the goat. “Huh?” came a few mumbles. Others shouted: “It’s the year of the sheep!” Oh, kids are the cutest, right? I trumped the rambunctious munchkins by using my I-live-in-China-and-am-an-adult authority and thus know what I’m talking about.
Clearly, we’re talking about two different animals here, so what’s with the confusion? I asked my go to Chinese friend to clarify. They’re the same animal, she reckoned, because in Mandarin there’s only one word for both: 羊 (yáng). This might be the common understanding amongst most Chinese since the woman hawking those bloody goat parts below told me she was selling 羊. But according to handy Google Translate, there is a separate, though clearly similar, word for goat: 山羊 (shānyáng). I’m half-tempted to forward these photos to the kiddos to prove that in China, it’s most definitely the year of the goat. The petulant four-year-old in me says “Go for it!,” but the loving aunt in me says “Don’t be cruel!” Then there’s the two-year-old nephew who I think would probably shout at me “No! No! No!”