For the first twenty-one years of my life, I thought I was a Rabbit. Maybe I didn’t know about the whole Chinese New Year thing until I was in fourth grade when we read In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. But, from that point at least, I constructed my whole identity around being a Rabbit.
In case you are unaware of what I believed: Rabbits (1987) are wonderful and Tigers (1986) are mean. I was glad to be born in the beginning of the year; I escaped the fate of my short-tempered classmates born just weeks before. Plus, I was going to be rich.
Then, one day in February 2008, my entire world changed.
I was sitting in a cold Chinese university classroom; I had finished an elementary conversation with my one fellow we-have-never-taken-Mandarin-before classmate about how we like to eat dumplings and drink beer. We didn’t really have anything left to say and our teacher was momentarily out of the room. We kept talking about dumplings, in English, and decided that today we would probably eat them instead of doing tai chi.
Our teacher walked back into the room. She was laughing at her cell phone. It had a charm dangling from it. She didn’t wear it on a clip on her belt like our other teacher. He called himself a nerd. She, on the other hand, probably called herself hip. Everyday she wore acid washed jeans and told us that we said everything correctly, even when the sounds we produced sounded nothing alike. We loved her.
We obviously asked her what was so funny about her telephone. It had something to do with something that led us to discuss me being a Rabbit and my classmate being a Tiger. Teacher laughed (warmly) and smiled at me: “I could have guessed you were a Rabbit,” she said. I beamed, knowing I was special and meant for greatness. And then, my teacher asked me for my birth-date.
“You are not a Rabbit. The New Year didn’t begin until after your birthday that year. You’re actually a Tiger.”
I felt like I had just gotten some sort of rejection letter. (At that point, I’d never been rejected from anything in my life, so I only made that association upon reflection.)
She sensed that my world had been rocked and told me that because I was born so close to the New Year that I most definitely had qualities of a Rabbit and a Tiger. She said that, now that she thought about it, this made more sense than the pure Rabbit she had seen in me before. She knew me so well.
I decided she was probably right and thought myself to be even more special. After adding “courageous” to my personality description, I went on to score perfectly on my chalkboard examination.