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Celebrating the Lunar New Year in West Texas

The author makes dumplings.

Billions of people around the world are ringing in the New Year today. Often called Chinese New Year’s in this country, the Lunar New Year is celebrated by Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese and many others. I went out into the field to see how people in West Texas are welcoming in the New Year. Here’s what I found.

The first thing you have to know about the Lunar New Year is that it's a big deal. Much like Christmas, it’s a time for family reunions and feasting on foods you haven’t had since last year.

I talked to Rita Wang who, along with Queena Yu and Fannie Li, are visiting from Hsiuping Institute of Science and Technology in Taiwan to teach Mandarin at UTPB.  Wang had some tips for people wanting to prepare for this year’s festivities.

“Before Chinese New Year’s you should clean up your room and wear something new. You can find your family together and have a special meal together," said Wang.

She added that during it's customary for aunts, and uncles and grandparents to give out red envelopes filled with money to kids during the holiday.

Wanting find something closer to home, I traveled to Alpine, where I found Linda Lee working at the Oriental Express. Lee has fond memories of celebrating Lunar New Year.

“Before I came to America, Lunar New Year’s was the biggest holiday in China. When I was a child I remember looking forwards to New Year because we would buy new clothes, receive gift money and do a lot of things to prepare for the festival," said Lee.

Originally, from the city of Fuzhou in China, she said as a child one of her favorite things was going to the temple to ring in the New Year with other revelers.  This year's celebration will be little different though.

“Because Alpine is a small town we haven’t been able to buy all the things we would have liked to celebrate the New Year. So this year we’ll make some dumplings, nian gao and have a simple New Year," said Lee.

Nian gao, which translates literally to year cake, is a type of cake made from rice, sugar and water. This sweet dessert is eaten during the New Year because it symbolizes increased prosperity in the New Year. Similarly, dumplings are eaten at this time because of their resemblance to gold ingots.

I too, wanted to do something to celebrate. I enlisted fellow radio intern James Kim, who also observes Lunar New Year’s, to make something.  So we headed to the local market to see what we could rustle up.

“All right, so I’m making this Korean New Year’s soup called ‘tteokguk.’ It’s basically beef broth, with actual beef, some eggs, and some – we call it ‘kim’ – seaweed paper, and the last thing that I need is rice cake," said Kim. "It’s basically like a rice pasta. It’s cylindrical looking and you chop it up thinly to make it a thin oval shaped thing to complete the soup.”

As we searched high and low for the ingredients we came to realize that we might not be able to find all the ingredients for the soup.

“It’s not a surprise but I don’t think we can find rice cakes here. I grew up in a Korean household. My parents are Korean.  Every single new year’s I would have this dish, every single one," said Kim. "So, this is the first year that I won’t have this soup at all. I’m already from out of town and having this tradition not be continued makes me feel not only distant from where I’m living but my also from my family and my culture.”

Luckily, I was able to find all of the ingredients to make dumplings. Even though I won’t be at home with my family this year, I’ll still have a taste of home when I invite people to ring in the Year of the Horse.

-Jefferson Yen