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Chinese Valentine’s

/ 05:07 AM August 22, 2018

The email announcement from a Hongkong-based company caught me by surprise. A Chinese Valentine’s?

But when I googled, there it was—the seventh day of the seventh lunar month is indeed a Chinese Valentine’s, far more romantic than the Western version.

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I thought I’d write about this special day because it gives a new take on the seventh lunar month, which is more notorious as the month of the hungry ghosts.

This Chinese Valentine’s is known as Qiqi (seven-seven) or Qixi (Evening of the Sevens), and is associated with a love story dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD). The story has many versions now, including Western ones.

Zhi Nu, the granddaughter of the Jade Emperor and known for her weaving skills, falls in love with Niu Lang, a cowherd living all alone in a cottage.

One day, Zhi Nu’s attention is caught by music from a flute coming from earth. She comes down to listen and meets the flute player—who else but Niu Lang. They become friends, and Zhi Nu keeps returning to earth to listen to the flute. You can guess what happens after, the flute becoming a mere side attraction.

The two fall in love, or, as the saying goes, start making beautiful music together. Meanwhile, though, Zhi Nu’s family, in particular her grandmother the Jade Empress, has grown suspicious about her disappearances and they have her followed. When they find out that she’s fallen in love with a mere mortal of a cowherd, they have her return to heaven. Not only that, they find a way to block Niu Lang by creating a Silver River to keep the two lovers apart.

Once a year though—when else but on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month—a flock of magpies creates a bridge across the river, allowing the two lovers to meet.

Now, doesn’t that love story beat the ones of hungry ghosts roaming the world causing catastrophes, like the Xiamen Air mishap at Ninoy Aquino International Airport? With so many Chinese tourists involved, I’m sure the mishap and the chaos at the airport will become part of the hungry ghosts folklore, reinforcing beliefs that you shouldn’t travel during the seventh lunar month.

The “Chinese Valentine’s” story has another interesting take. It seems that, on this seven-seven date, two stars appear together, much brighter, in the night sky. The ancient Chinese did, in fact, identify these two stars, and the folktale is really about Vega the weaver and Altair the cowherder. The Silver River separating the lovers is said to refer to the Milky Way.

This love story shows how people have, for centuries, been observing the skies, and how folktales come out of such sky-watching. There’s even an academic field now called ethnoastronomy to refer to studies of folklore about the skies.

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The Qixi celebrations are marked by demonstrations of weaving and sewing skills (including threading a needle in the dark!) and, in more modernized versions, gifts of chocolates (maybe some of the stranded Chinese tourists had chocolate-covered mangoes from the Philippines as gifts).

The folktale also spun off additional symbols for the Chinese: the number seven for togetherness, and magpies as symbols of joy. Yes, we do have magpies in the Philippines. The Philippine magpie-robin has the scientific name Copsychus mindanensis, with local names dominiko (Tagalog), siloy, asosiloy and asisihol in the Visayan languages. They’re colored bluish-black and white (females are more gray) and are very musical, with complex bird calls (you can find a few posted on YouTube), including some that mimic that of other birds. Interesting angle there for birds associated with romance.

(The information on the magpies is from Amado Bajarias Jr.’s “A field guide to flight: Identifying birds on three school grounds,” the school grounds being the Katipunan trio of Ateneo de Manila, Miriam College and UP Diliman.)

Now you know about this Chinese Valentine’s. I thought the story would provide some respite from the rains and the traffic and the Naia mess.

Wait, there’s more. Here’s a bonus for today. I was talking with a visiting Dutch colleague about caring for the elderly, and she pulled out a YouTube video promoting a new Gillette product for “assisted shaving”—that is, to help an older person with shaving. The video was one of those heart-tugging productions that are becoming so popular now in advertising.

I did like the video for the way it reminds us how sons can be caregivers, too, for their fathers. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjjhcdcBkK4. If you lose the link, just google Gillette Handle with Care.

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Chinese Valentine, Hongkong, opinion
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