Pier 21 heralds the New Year

Carina Feng says she never made an effort to learn about her culture while living in her native China. After two years in Halifax, she longs for the familiarity of home.

“I don’t have any resources to know where I should celebrate my Chinese New Year,” she said.

With January behind us, a new New Year is on the horizon. Monday, Feb. 8, marks the turn of the Chinese calendar, ushering in the Year of the Monkey in the 12- year zodiac cycle.

“Maybe just one day, when you ask them, ‘What do you know about Chinese culture?’ they won’t be silent.

Carina Feng The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 celebrated Chinese New Year last week with live music, tai chi, calligraphy and various other workshops to mark the occasion.

Pier 21 hosted the festivities in partnership with the Nova Scotia Chinese Culture and Art Club and the Confucius Institute, a Chinese cultural organization at Saint Mary’s University.

Pier 21 staff say it is the first time an institution outside the community has hosted an event for the Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival.

Feng helped the museum reach out to the Chinese community while working under their “Welcome Home to Canada” immigrant employment program.

“It’s a unique opportunity for people who are not from the Chinese community to learn, and also for people from the Chinese community to come and experience things in their own language,” said Rebecca MacKenzie-Hopkins, manager of public programs for the museum.

According to the 2011 census, 7,000 people of Chinese origin live in Nova Scotia. The community is small compared to metropolitan areas like Toronto and Vancouver, which have established Chinatowns and a Chinese population of almost a million between the two cities.

“When you’re away from your culture … you definitely think that’s a part of you,” Feng said. “It’s something inside your body that will follow you wherever you go.”

Andrea and Graham Bearly brought their eight-year-old daughter to the event so she could learn about her native culture.

Miah was adopted from China as an infant, and her parents want her to feel connected to her heritage.

“We want Miah to grow up with a sense of where she comes from,” Andrea Bearly said. “China is a part of her identity, and as her parents, it is a part of ours too.”

Miah watched the Chinese parasol dance, a folk tradition re- served for celebrations and ceremonies. She cut out the mandarin character for “spring” with pink construction paper.

The activity Miah was most excited for was dessert.

May Tian taught workshop attendees to make Tangyuan, glutinous rice balls served in boiling water.

Tian hopes participants will take the recipes home with them to share it with their family.

More than 10,000 km from China, Tian misses the big family get together around the New Year. “We at Confucius are one big family,” she said of the institute.

A tea ceremony was led by Qianyi Gao. She asked everyone to imagine they were in a tea market in China, inhaling the floral fragrance.

She performed the traditional tea ceremony, warming the teapots in in cups of boiling water.

Miah grimaced as she swallowed the hot, green liquid.

“I don’t like tea,” she said.

Gao says she had similar sentiments as a child, but after developing an appreciation for tea, as well as her palette, she now feels it is at the essence of Chinese culture.

“Everybody hurries to their workplace, then they hurry back to do all the chores and a few people need more peaceful time. They need harmony in their heart. If you drink tea, you give yourself such a moment.”

The day also included oral historians and musical performances. Museum staff hope the event will show newer members of the Chinese community that Haligonians are interested in where they came from.

“Maybe just one day, when you ask them, ‘What do you know about Chinese culture?’ they won’t be silent,” Feng said.