Manyu and I sometimes drive two and a half hours to grocery shop. When we first moved to La Crosse in the early 1990s, we sometimes drove six. La Crosse’s Chinese/Taiwanese community is too small to support much of a Chinese market, so whenever we need to stock up on Chinese ingredients, it involves a road trip. During our first few years in Wisconsin, we drove to Chicago. More recently, good Chinese food marts have opened up in Madison and the Twin Cities, so we don’t have to drive as far.

Usually when we go to these larger cities, we go for reasons other than shopping. Buying groceries is somewhat an afterthought, so I often forget to bring an ice chest from home. I end up buying a cheap cooler to keep the frozen foods cold during the drive home, and I now have enough Styrofoam in the garage to build my own life raft. For Lunar New Year, we actually make a trip just for shopping. Last Tuesday Manyu and I drove to Madison to check out the city’s new Global Market. I remembered to bring a cooler.

Every January I ask Manyu why we need to make a special trip for food we eat only once a year. She explains that most grocery stores and restaurants are closed for three full days over the new year, so we need to stockpile food. I point out stores and restaurants in Wisconsin do not follow the Taiwanese tradition of closing for the New Year, and she replies that it doesn’t make any difference. 

2022 is the year of the tiger. Some couples of Chinese heritage avoid having tiger babies. Tigers are fiery and fearless, two characteristics not conducive to fitting seamlessly into society. Local schools in China and Taiwan have difficulty managing enrollments because birth rates follow a 12-year sine curve according to the Chinese zodiac. There are lots of dragons and not so many tigers. If parents were entirely logical, they’d intentionally have little tigers. Some things in life, such as getting into a prestigious university, are easier in years when the competition is less.

I am a horse in the Chinese zodiac. In matters of love, horses are dull, shy, and loyal. They should marry a sheep or a tiger or a rabbit. They should avoid marrying a rat, a rooster, an ox, or another horse. Of course, Manyu is an ox. My ex-wife is a horse. I did, however, marry Manyu on the lunar calendar’s luckiest day for marriage, so that should count for something.

* The photo in this week’s blog are of two prints hanging over the table in the breakfast nook of our house. They were done by the daughter of one of Manyu’s friends. We got the rabbit because Clare is a rabbit. We got the tiger because Manyu liked it. Others must have liked it, too, as it won an annual Chinese New Years art competition in 2010, the last time it was the Year of the Tiger.

Steven Simpson