On the Arbitrariness of Time


(WATER Dragon) Gong xi fa cai everyone! (Image sourced from Google.)


I love the fact that there’s such a thing as a Chinese New Year.

In the first place, it’s an exuberant reminder that we don’t all mark time in the same way, that duration is a regional creature for all the universality implied by the atomic clock, and that what constitutes the beginning and end of a season is ultimately an arbitrary if collective arrangement.

In the second place, I think there’s no such thing as having too many occasions to celebrate a new beginning. The blank slate of a new year gets scrawled over much too quickly, the habits of decades moving our pens in moments of too little awareness. Any excuse to wipe off the graffiti again is always welcome.

In the third place, there’s the attraction exercised by the Chinese-ness of the Chinese New Year itself. There’s something reassuring about the solidity of ritual and the persistence of a belief in fate. In an age characterized by too much choice, it’s almost consoling to think that some things can be decided solely by the appropriateness of timing.

So while I’m not exactly sure what it means that we’ve now entered the year of the Black Dragon or Water Dragon, I’m glad that we can still think of years in terms of dragons all the same.

So on that note, gong xi fa cai or kung hei fat choi, everyone! May the year ahead be an auspicious one for everyone.


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