Friday, January 30

Escape Day

So I'm not sure if this is a completely legitimate holiday, but I like the sound of it so I'm going to go with it.  Everyone needs an escape, whether it is a place they go physically or in their mind, or even if it is not a place at all.  These places or frames of mind are necessary in a person's life because as much as we would like for it to be, life isn't perfect all of the time.  By having a place to run away to, people are able to stay sane in this crazy, bustling world.  My favorite escapes would have to be music and the beach -- any combination of those two.  

I have some family in San Diego, California and, being from flat Illinois, I have to say the vacations I enjoy the most are the ones we take to go visit them.  We try to visit each other every other year, and the years that my family goes there are the best.  First of all, I am not a cold weather person.  So living in a climate where it is typically 72 and sunny is the epitome of how I want to live.  The most perfect day I've seen was about 75 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and just a slight ocean breeze skimming by.  It's ideal.  Now I know a lot of people say that they love the beach, I mean who doesn't love relaxing with a smoothie and a good book listening to the waves and the seagulls as their soundtrack?  However, for me, it's so much more than that.  When I am at the beach, I feel better than any other time in my life.  I am at a maxed out happiness level and everything just feels right.  One of my all-time favorite beach activities is surfing.  I have only officially taken lessons once, but it was the most fun thing I have ever done.  It is the perfect balance of exercise and fun.  When you're out there surrounded by nothing but water, it is such a relaxing place to be, and when you finally catch a wave it is exhilarating! You feel on top of the world and so amazed that such a little person could use a huge force of nature for recreation.  Obviously, I've never ridden a wave taller than about two or three feet tall, but I can only imagine that the feeling is unparalleled.  

Going to the beach is an extra treat, but the thing I cannot go a day without is music.  It is my daily escape from the world, it knows just what to say (when I put the right playlist on my iPod) and it just enhances my day.  It doesn't matter when I listen to it or in what context, but if there is music playing I can't be feeling too desolate.  I have always loved music, but I have to say I really became attached to it through my high school choir.  In choir we would go over the meaning of the lyrics of the songs we sang and we would talk about the composer's motivation for writing these pieces of music that we did our best to portray in the desired way.  It was a really eye-opening experience and I try to keep that with me always.  One of my favorite quotes is
"When words fail, music speaks."
     -Hans Christian Andersen
It is so true because all kinds of music have a message they are trying to get across.  It doesn't matter if the music has words or not, it all has a deeper message than the things we initially hear.  Music is something that can lift me up and make me feel invincible.  It is an incredible release that, I am thankful to say, is back in my life after not being able to sing very much during my first semester in college.  I am now in Heart & Soul, a gospel-style choir right here at Purdue, and I am loving every second I spend with all of the talented people I sing with.  It is such a privilege to have things in your life that you truly enjoy, so take the time today to think about them and go do them if you are able to! Have a great day and find some time to escape from reality this weekend! :)

Thursday, January 29

Chinese New Year

January 26th marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year. 2009 is the year 4706 in the Chinese calendar, which amazes me to think a civilization has been alive and thriving for so long! This year marks the year of the Ox, known in the Chinese language as Ji Chou. Each person born in any given year is said to have the traits represented by the animal for that year. The Ox represents someone who is calm, dependable, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, modest, logical, and tenacious. Some negative traits said to be possessed by those born in the next year are tendencies to be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid and demanding. Those are a lot of things for the ancient Chinese ancestors to predict about a person, but I've got to say that I have found my traits to be pretty consistent. I was born in the year of the snake (for some reason all of my animal representations are poisonous...I'm a scorpio) and some of those traits include being ambitious, strong, purposeful, creative, wise, graceful and a deep thinker. I'd say, if you know me, most of those are pretty accurate.
The Chinese New Year is the most elaborately celebrated holiday in the Chinese culture. As for most cultures, it represents finishing up with the old and making way for a fresh start in the upcoming year. Many traditions take place annually including the sweeping of the grounds, Lai-See, "Everybody's Birthday", the lantern festival, and an extravagant parade. The sweeping of the grounds happens before the actual new year, in preparation for the celebrations to come. Every corner of the house is cleaned and flowers are placed around the house to symbolize a fresh start for the upcoming year. On the first day of the new year, children are given red "Lai-See" envelopes with good luck money inside. This is the day to put on your best clothes and your best behavior, and to make sure you do not break anything. They really want to start off the year right! The seventh day is a day to celebrate being a year older. It is called "Everybody's Birthday", and everyone is considered one year older as of that day. Imagine if it was like that in the U.S. -- people would never forget a birthday again!! The final day of Chinese New Year celebration is celebrated with a lantern festival. Everyone comes out into the streets with an elaborately decorated lantern, and watches a parade highlighting the sacred dragon dance. The young men of the town decorate a dragon made of bamboo, silk, and paper, and travel down the streets making the dragon move and dance in celebration.
I think the Chinese New Year is an incredibly rich tradition that outdoes any celebration we have here in the United States. Their culture is so meaningful, and their traditions reach back thousands of years. Not one symbol goes without a story behind it, or a tradition that goes along with it. So as all of you observe this holiday in your own way, take time to think about what your life means to you and what symbols mean the most to you in your life.