Being a transplant from Chicago where rats are the size of an Italian Beef sandwich, I grapple with why the Chinese celebrate the Year of the Rat 大 鼠.
Really? Celebrate with a rat?
The rat problem is so bad in Chicago, the city even has a Department of Rat Control. But in China, they have a two month holiday.
In Kunming, I haven’t seen as many rats as I thought I would, probably because of the amount of feral cats. Or, it just might be the toxins in the environment that I don’t want to think about but make the fruit really tasty. In Thailand, I’ve actually seen a lot of rubbery tailed rodents–something they won’t tell you on Lonely Planet–and not just nibbling scraps at dawn while monks are collecting their alms. Just walk into a small fresh market and you’re likely to see a frisky body scurrying across a display of leafy greens. So tourists—watch your toes and think twice about free samples.
So why did China pick a rodent for this holiday and not a cute kitten with a bouncy paw or a panda?
According to an ancient myth, the Jade Emperor wanted to pick twelve animals for the zodiac. The order of the animals would be determined by who arrived at his party first. Being well before the days of Uber, a tricky rat bummed a ride off the back of an ox, then jumped off to be the first creature through the door, and the first of the Chinese Zodiac.
Who cares if the rat could give you the Black Plague. In China, the Rat is associated with wealth. So, if you are born in the Year of the Rat, you probably make more money than a middle aged English teacher who is still paying for a divorce. You make as much as my students’ parents.
Still, I hate seeing rats in Chinese stores, even if they were designed by an art director in Shang Hai. The holiday, also known as Spring Festival, officially kicks off January 25 this year. However, I’ll be Loas escaping the rodents and crowds, searching for something better to write about than rats.