News in Asia: Year of the Snake Edition

Happy New Year!

This weekend marks the Lunar New Year and while many news outlets focus on China, Korea also has their celebration called Seollal. This year, an estimated two million Koreans will travel back to their hometowns, eat sliced rice cakes called tteokguk (since Korean age reckoning counts the Lunar New Year as a birthday, it’s seen as a birthday food) and pay respects to their elders. Also, shops and stores are slammed in the run up to the three-day weekend as people prepare to travel and cook dinner for large gatherings.

Traditional Korean dress
It’s customary to wear hanboks during Lunar New Year celebrations. (Photo credit:

This weekend marks the beginning of the year of the Snake in Chinese astrology. This signifies a year with slow progress and attention to detail and those born under this sign are considered “thoughtful and wise and approach problems rationally and logically.”

Shopkeeper holding two golden snake sculptures
Snake ornaments sold in Chinatown in Manila (Jay Directo – AFP/Getty Images)

The Lunar New Year also marks the largest mass migration on earth as hundreds of millions of people from China to Australia make their way home. For many migrant workers in China, it’s the only holiday many of them will have this year. In Beijing, Celine Dion performed as the city kicked off its New Year’s celebration.  Many government officials were worried about noise pollution and the worsening of the ever-present smog in the city and urged residents to limit the use of fireworks and firecrackers, used to frighten away evil spirits and bring good fortune. The warning has been largely ignored.

Dragon dancers performing for Chinese New Year
Image credit: Feng Li – AFP/Getty Images

Speaking of China, political analysts have deemed that as the US has shifted its focus towards the growing powers in Southeast Asia, China has begun a pivot West, focusing more on Central and South Asia and the Middle East. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, (you have to register on the site to read the full article) as the relationship between China and the U.S. grows more contentious, with the U.S. backing Japan and ASEAN countries on security and economic issues, China is focusing on the Middle East where the U.S. holds less influence. However, the article does point out that the U.S. could use China’s help in stabilizing both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In other important holidays around the world, millions of Indian pilgrims are expected to immerse themselves in the waters where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet. If the Lunar New Year sets off the world’s largest mass migration, then India’s Kumbh Mela is the biggest gathering. All told, 100 million people are expected to bathe in the river this year.  This year marks a Maha Kumbh Mela, which comes around only once every 144 years. According to Hindu mythology, the gods and demons fought over a pitcher of nectar and a few drops fell on the cities of Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain, and Haridwar, where the festival has been held for centuries. It is believed that a dip in the waters will cleanse a devotee of sins and free them from the cycle of rebirth. The BBC news site has some beautiful photographs of the celebrations.

India imposed a curfew over the Kashmir region after the hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man convicted of bombing India’s national parliament and killing 14 people in 2001. In order to minimize protests, the court gave no advance warning of the execution, which took place in Delhi on Saturday morning. According to sources, Guru’s wife was not given the opportunity for a last visit and human rights groups are questioning the legality of the execution.

The BBC is also reporting that Malala Yousafzai, the Afghani girl shot in the head by the Taliban, has been released from the hospital after surgery. She’s expected to visit the hospital for outpatient appointments, but her doctors say they do not think the teen will need any more surgery.

The damage from the tsunami that hit the Soloman Islands on Wednesday is worse than once thought as the government begins to assess the damage. Thousands of people are now homeless and 13 people are presumed dead. Aid workers say that food and water are running low and that wells are covered in debris.

Finally, on a happier note and swinging back to South Korea, a parody of “Les Miserables,” made by the South Korean Air Force has gone viral. It’s very well-made and very, very funny.

By Stephens

Florida girl, would-be world traveler and semi-permanent expat. Her main strategy of life is to throw out the nets and hope something useful comes back, but many times it's just an old shoe. She also really, really hates winter and people who are consistently late.

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