February 05, 2014 - It's the year of the horse, according to the Chinese calendar, which was celebrated on Friday, Jan. 31.
Connor Elzerman show off his chopsticks skills ashe takes a tasty bite homemade authentic Chinese food served during the Chinese New Year. Photo by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)
To give Oxford High School's foreign exchange students from China a sense of "home" and American students a sense of culture, the New Year was celebrated with traditional Chinese decorations and food served during the lunch hour.
"The food is pretty good," said student Connor Elzerman.
When asked if it was better than American Chinese takeout? The answer was "no."
"It's pretty good though, for school food," he said.
Jessica Matuz described the food as "very good and very cultural."
"I think it's cool for all the Chinese students," she said.
Like Elzerman, Matuz thought American Chinese takeout tasted better. "It's school food," she said. "But it's not bad actually."
However, for Chinese students Saryn (Xinyu) Cui and Jack (Huizeng) Mao, the food was "amazing" and made them miss home.
"Yesterday, I had a video chat with my mom and they were having dinner and they were watching the (television) show for the Chinese New Year," Cui said. "I really want to go back home. I miss it."
"I really miss eating dumplings," Mao added. "I really want to eat more and more Chinese food."
Both Cui and Mao pointed out that while American Chinese food is good, it is definitely different than authentic Chinese fare.
The year of the horse
The Chinese New Year begins in the Lunar New Year. The horse is part of a 12-year cycle of animals that makes up the Chinese Zodiac, which includes mouse (or rat), ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig.
What's special about the horse? Cui said "a horse is an animal that is hard-working."
Chunchun Tang, director of international programs for Oxford Schools, agreed.
"Like a race horse sprints or strives forward, (the year of the horse is) a year to do some good work and make movement and hopefully, make progress," she said.
In America, new year celebrations often entail dressing up for a night on the town or going to a party. In China, it's like a family reunion, where relatives get together and share an evening of fun, laughter and lots of food. Cui described it as "Chinese Christmas."
"Usually, all the families get together and have dinner and make dumplings and watch the (Chinese New Year's) show. We also get money from my parents and grandparents and my uncles and aunts," she said. "I think it's a good time for the families to get together."
Mao said it's the same way for him.
"We will get together to have a big meal and we will eat with our friends and watch the (New Year's) shows," he said. "If we say Happy New Year to the adults, we will get some money."
The money Cui and Mao are referring to is part of Chinese New Year's tradition where the adults give children money in a little red packet. The color red of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
Tang is very appreciative of how the Chinese exchange students have been "integrated and embraced (by) the high school community."
"Like this year, instead of putting on a show or a ceremony (like the school's done in the past), we're just celebrating the holiday with a lunch at the high school cafeteria where all of our students, American or international, can celebrate this cultural event with an authentic taste of the culture," she said.
Oxford High School Principal Todd Dunckley said cooking traditional food is fun and good, but it's only the start.
He believes they need to be focused on doing it for every culture in order to "truly celebrate global diversity." And it needs to involve classroom discussions, not just serving food, in his opinion.
"We've had such a focus on the Chinese (students and culture), which we'll maintain, but it's almost not fair that we don't make a point enough to show the true diversity and have an understanding and respect for the entire world."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.