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China: Beyond the Great Wall
Chinese New Year
Fireworks, food, lanterns, red envelopes, dragon dances – these are all associated with Chinese New Year and there is nothing more incredible than experiencing the New Year in China itself.
As a celebration, the Chinese New Year is a combination of festivals over the course of approximately three weeks. The lead up to the New Year, is known as Little Year, and takes place over the eight days prior to the ‘New Year’s Day’. The actual Chinese New Year, is also known as the Spring Festival and begins on the new moon that appears between 21st January and 20th February; hence, why some years it is celebrated earlier or later than others. For example, in 2019, the new moon appeared on 5th February, heralding the beginning of the ‘Year of the Pig’. The Spring Festival/ New Year celebrations continue for eleven days and are concluded with the four day Lantern Festival.
There are many traditions associated with Chinese New Year but the most important is that of family. Millions of Chinese travel during Little Year to be home with their family to celebrate on New Year’s Eve. Red envelopes (hóng bāo), filled with money are given by married couples and the elderly to any unmarried relatives or children. All Chinese clean their houses so as to remove bad luck from the previous year and bring in good luck in the incoming year. Doors are decorated with diamond shaped red and gold signs with the character ‘fu’ which means good fortune/ good luck, with red paper cuts decorating the windows. It is believed that the color red will frighten away evil spirits which is why it is the traditional color associated with Chinese New Year.
Korea: Land of the Morning Calm
Haeyeo of Jeju Island
The haenyeo are female breath-holding divers in Korea. The word haenyeo literally translates as ‘sea women’. The women dive to depths of 16 metres into the waters surrounding Jeju Island and the south-eastern Korean mainland, holding their breath for up to two minutes. As well as the ama in Japan, they are the only women who partake in this dangerous profession. The women wear thin cotton bathing suits, are secured by rope to a gourd buoy, and dive in all seasons of the year.
The haenyeo are indigenous to the island of Jeju (or Cheju) located approximately 100 kilometres to the southwest of the Korean mainland. It is believed that the first haenyeo was the mythical goddess Seolundae, the creator of Jeju. Jeju is a harsh environment in which women working as haenyeo were often the breadwinners for the family. During the Joseon Dynasty (1362-1900), the men were frequently absent, therefore the role of collecting abalone and other sea foods became the work of the women. In the 19th century, it was estimated that 22% of the entire female population of Jeju were haenyeo.