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A fleck of froth for the new year

by Betsey Culp (bculp@sfcall.com)

Welcome to 2002, the Year of the Horse. You probably did not know, did not care, that the snake which shepherded us through the tribulations of last year departed with the last breath of December 31, to be replaced by a high-stepping, rip-snorting horse. But anyone in Japan could have told you that the temple bells tolling 108 times at midnight marked the arrival of uma-doshi

Throughout the ages, Japan has demonstrated a flexible approach to the foreign influences knocking at its door. A prime example occurred after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the country not only opened its ports to Western emissaries but — in a fine example of the phrase, “My time is your time” — adopted the Western calendar as well. For denizens of the new capital city of Tokyo, the year suddenly began on a static date of January 1 instead of the fluid date prescribed by the traditional lunar calendar.

But precious habits die hard. The old practice continued, imported centuries earlier from China, of identifying each year with an animal. And so, in Japan, if not in most of the United States, January 1, 2002 ushered in the Year of the Horse. (This noble equine will arrive in San Francisco’s Chinatown in February, just in time for a parade that shows off Americans’ talent for cultural adaptation.)

Why am I telling you this?

Because each year in the lunar calendar arrives with its own unique characteristics, and the Year of the Horse promises a rollercoaster ride. Says astrologer Shelly Wu, “Horse years are notorious historical turning points — turbulent, untamed, and chaotic.” Wu notes that the end of World War I ended, U.S. entry into World War II, and the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire all occurred during horse years.

The web-based astrologer at chinesefortunecalendar.com puts it more bluntly: “Year 2002 won’t be a peaceful year. It’s just like an unfriendly area and we have to pass through it.”

In the interest of defusing the chaos and easing the journey, I offer these suggestions:

When faced with a runaway horse (or economy), decrease your own pace. Even the most energetic jumper doubts the urgency of the steeplechase if everyone around him has slowed to a trot.

Not only Mr. Ed but all horses (and all politicians as well) love the sound of their own voices. Trust your instincts and really listen to what they’re saying. Sometimes a good horselaugh is all that’s needed to prevent disaster.

Madly racing into the sunset is no way to live. Stop once in a while to nibble on a choice tidbit; stop and smell the daisies as well. Another piece of Asian wisdom advises: If you’re down to your last coin, spend half of it on rice; use the other half to buy a flower.

If this year is determined to be a “historical turning point,” the trick will be to harness its equine strength and stamina. Use your own horse sense to turn it from the present course of self-serving competition, where the roads are paved with cobblestones and falls are painful, and into a meadow of inclusive cooperation.

When all else fails, call time out. Because — according to the complex world of East Asian astrology — the element of wood has the power to calm the horse’s frenzy, chinesefortunecalendar.com concludes: “If any dilemma happens to you in year 2002, you can try to sit under a big tree in the park for one or two hours to cool down yourself first.”

And then ride ’em, cowpeople!