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Shooting the bull about the Year of the Bull

By Berlin Fang | China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-06 09:05

Li Min/China Daily

The year 2021 is the Year of the Niu in the lunar calendar. As a lifelong student of the English language, I love to explore how the animal zodiac gets translated into English. And I love to use idioms related to the animal of the year. I live in Texas near a cattle ranch, so you can imagine my excitement with the Year of the Niu round the corner.

The Chinese word niu is often translated in English as "ox". So the Year of the Niu gives me an opportunity to practice with cattle phrases that I am learning. Please correct me if I am wrong.

The Year of the Ox can also be referred to as the Year of the Bull. Anyway, in English, niu has many identities, elusive and evolving, like Old Bull in Jack Kerouac's On the Road:"... Old Bull had seven separate personalities, each growing worse and worse on the way down, till finally he was a raving idiot and had to be restrained with chains."

Speaking of restraints and chains, we hope to bid goodbye to the misfortunes of the previous year, the Year of the Rat, which rattled humanity with the worst public health crisis in recent memory. Personally, I believe rats are not to be blamed.

But with reduced travel and interaction, I found myself becoming a crazy cat man, owning as many as nine cats at one time. Now I am down to five. It was a crazy year by any account. Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders brought much needed warmth to companionship, both in humans and animals.

As a Chinese American, I hope for a bucolic relationship between the two countries. Last year was like an ox-in-the-ditch situation for us as we faced suspicion and distrust for no fault of ours. As we enter the Year of the Bull, I hope politics is not a choice between hawks and doves.

What about a bull? I hope 2021 is a year of recovery and reconciliation in US-China relations. I hope that we don't have a-bull-in-a-china-shop situation in the relationship, one of the most significant yet extremely fragile relationships in global politics. When the relationship turns sour, an ordinary person caught in the tension can be as awkward as a cow on roller skates.

Restoration of ties requires the constitution of an ox and an open mind that is not obsessed with a sacred cow. Action should be taken with resolve, like taking the bull by the horns. Talking can be seen as all hat no cattle, but it would be a (good) start. You may not hit the bull's eye in any conversation, but the act of a dialogue alone can launch us into an upward spiral of improvement.

There shouldn't be a rush like having a bull at the gate. Trade can be a tradeoff. As a cowboy would say, "Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got."

Without humility on either side, we may have to wait for the day the cows come home. Good relationships also require respect. You cannot cow people into accepting something. Neither side should be bull-headed. And neither side should see a disagreement as a bull seeing a red flag. We need to build a healthy relationship for the benefit of posterity, and the millions of people that might benefit immediately.

As effective vaccines roll out one after another, I wish good health to all. May you be as strong as a bull. May your endeavors be fruitful, unlike people who try to milk a bull. I wish this is a year of bullish markets. And I wish you find your own cash cow somewhere.

But don't get too carried away with your adventures. Here is another piece of cowboy advice: "If you're ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there with ya."

In Texas, people also say the only good reason to ride a bull is to meet a nurse. I don't know why there are still rodeos every year. But I digress. I am just shooting the bull.

Wish you all a great year!

The author is a columnist based in Texas. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

If you have a specific expertise and would like to contribute to China Daily, please contact us at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn, and comment@chinadaily.com.cn.

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