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Spring Fashion
How a U.S. artist celebrates the Lunar New Year in China
By Li Fangfang & Zhang Shasha  ·  2019-02-01  ·   Source: NO. 6-7 FEBRUARY 7, 2019
Dressed up with a blue floral messenger bag and a brown polka dot tie, a pair of pink toy pigs sits quietly under a verdant Christmas tree on Pamela Tobey's table.

The two stuffed pigs were nakedly placed at a stall in a commodity market before Tobey brought them home several days ahead of the Spring Festival. But they weren't to be left out of the celebrations for long. By morning they were donned in their best outfits for the Spring Festival.

This year marks the Year of the Pig. According to the Chinese zodiac, each year relates to an animal and there are 12 animals in total.

Born in 1959, Tobey welcomes her birth year animal in 2019. "American people see pigs as smart and cute," Tobey said.

She also experiences the year of jiazi in 2019, a cycle of 60 years, which is of distinctive meaning for Chinese people as a time for both reflections and new starts.

The Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, is by all accounts special for Tobey. And in Chinese culture, it is not until after the Spring Festival holiday that the New Year, celebrated by Western countries on December 31, can really get into full swing.

 

Pamela Tobey shows off her fashionable stuffed pigs in her Beijing home. She bought them naked and made clothes for them by herself (WANG MEIYU)  

Living in China for four years, Tobey has been deeply affected by the Lunar New Year customs and traditions. Open-minded and curious as she is, she takes pleasure in indulging in cultures far removed from her own.

Four years ago, she moved with her husband, who works at Tsinghua University leading a global business journalism program, from Washington, D.C. to Beijing. Before that, she worked with The Washington Post as a visual reporter for 30 years.

Born with a passion for art, Tobey relishes discovering the small but beautiful details peppered throughout everyday life in China. "I didn't really think about it before but Chinese people wear fashionable clothes," she said.

"There is a wonderful fashion scene here," She said. "Chinese women are just as naturally fashionable as the French and masters of accessories. Many of the Chinese women I work with incorporate scarves and other trimmings wonderfully. They can make the outfit look amazing with just a little extra touch."

As an artist, she loves exploring the fashion across Beijing and the rest of China. "It's always interesting to go sit near one of the big malls in Sanlitun (a fashion landmark in east Beijing) and watch the photographers taking pictures of all the beautiful couples. They're all very fashionably dressed."

Every Spring Festival she writes Chinese couplets on red paper. They are composed of a pair of poetry lines vertically pasted on both sides of the front door and a four-character horizontal scroll affixed above the doorframe to welcome the new year with a metaphoric message of blessings.

"Calligraphy was probably one of the first classes I took here," she said. "You don't think about anything else, but holding the brush, dipping it in the ink, and then concentrating on each stroke individually. "

During her four years here, Tobey has experienced the two different cultures, which is a wonderful thing as it thaws the ice of misunderstandings and sparks the flame of integration.

"Before I came to China, I thought it would be more restrictive. And that the Chinese were self-contained and never showed emotion," she said.

"But none of that is really true," she said. "There is a lot of freedom and plenty of emotion. People are very expressive and generous, and even if you don't speak the language, they're always very helpful. I feel safer here too. There's much less crime."

She feels China is a connected society, with a traditional feeling of community. Family plays an important role. Elders are respected for their wisdom and experience and are taken care of. Things are quite different in the U.S.

But she also said, "One thing I have learned is an appreciation of difference of cultures."

"Often Americans think their way is the only way, and I've come to see that is not true," she said. "I am coming to understand and appreciate the Chinese perspective on life even if mine is different. And I hope that I will return home one day with more Chinese values incorporated into my own life."

This year, Tobey stayed in China to celebrate the Spring Festival with her Chinese friends.

"China is a land of surprises. It's nothing like what you might imagine it to be. It's both ancient and modern and it's very open and friendly as well as beautiful," Tobey added.

Copyedited by Craig Crowther 

Comments to zhangshsh@bjreview.com  

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