January 26, 2009 marked the Chinese New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Ox. In the traditional Chinese zodiac, the Ox is thought to represent success, through hard work and strength of mind. We’ve certainly lots of strong minds and hard workers at CHCI, so we’re hoping for a particularly successful year!
One way we are hoping to make 2009 a success is by offering our friends and supporters a chance to sponsor a party for the chimpanzees.To kick off the new program, two familiar faces from CHCI sponsored this year’s Chinese New Year party. Shannon Wallin is the lead caregiver at CHCI and has been working for the chimpanzees since 2000. Jason Wallin is Shannon’s husband and a second year graduate student at CHCI. He’s been working for the chimpanzees since 2003.
On most party days, CHCI students and interns decorate the chimpanzees’ indoor areas (the East or West Rooms). Today, however, the celebration centered on dinner, so we decorated the chimpanzees’ Night Enclosure Area.
Jason had printed out short signs with the Han characters for gong hei fat choi, which translate as “congratulations and be prosperous,” a traditional greeting for the holiday. He also printed out drawings of Zao Jun, the Chinese kitchen god. Traditionally, Chinese families hang a paper effigy of the kitchen god above their fireplaces during the New Year season. These decorated the rooms, along with red clothing, red blankets, and some plastic oxen (okay, really they were cows).
After we put up the decorations, but before we invited the chimpanzees into the Night Enclosures, we put out some fresh oranges to begin the meal. Citrus is also a traditional food around New Year. Shannon and Jason purchased Cha Sui Bao (steamed pork buns) and spring rolls for the occasion and CHCI volunteers steamed a big pot of rice. These were all arranged on a platter, atop a pile of shredded cabbage.
The chimpanzees entered the Night Enclosures and immediately started in on their orange forage, with excited squeaks and food grunts. Austin, who was serving that night, offered CRACKERS (protein biscuits) as an added appetizer. Then he brought out the feast! Tatu watched with interest as Austin served up the rice, Cha Sui Bao, and spring rolls.
Everybody enjoyed the oranges and rice and each picked a bit at the spring rolls. No one, though, seemed to think much of the steamed buns–even after we broke one open to show her the meat inside. Tatu loves meat, but was apparently unconvinced by the slightly gelatinous, purple mass at the heart of the buns. All in all, though, it was a fun and different evening meal.
While we’ve learned that Cha Sui Bao might not be the chimpanzees’ favorite food, our Chinese New Year party certainly was a success! Jason and Shannon we happy to help make it possible, and we all look forward to celebrating more parties with the Tatu, Dar, Loulis (and you!) this year.