An interview with WSP Parent and Early Childhood Assistant, Yixin Zhang
by Christine McQuade-Hsu | Advancement Director
How did you celebrate the Lunar New Year when you were growing up?
I was born in China and grew up in China. Although we have many festivals, Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, has been my favorite festival since I was a young kid.
In my memory, when I was little, my parents didn’t have any days off except during Spring Festival. They stayed at home and the whole family was very busy shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. My sisters and I were allowed to watch TV shows at any time without time restrictions.
The most important time during the long Spring Festival was New Year’s Eve. My parents usually spent the whole day preparing for the New Year’s Eve dinner. You could find almost all of the best food on the New Year’s Eve dining table, which were hard to obtain for daily meals, or foods with good meanings, ie. fish was a must-have, as it means “surplus”, having surplus year after year, surplus in money, food, and clothes.
New Year’s Eve dinner belonged to the whole family. The fireworks were the favorite activity for young children. My sisters and I were allowed to stay awake to see the fireworks at midnight. Every family fired the fireworks starting around 11 pm and continued for about one and half hours. The loud sounds of fireworks drowned out all of the other sounds: people’s talk, TV shows, etc. People enjoyed the noises and wished the best for the new year in the splendid flames of the fireworks.
My sisters and I were not allowed to get up late on the first day of the Spring Festival although we went to bed at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Another round of fireworks sounded violently again in the early morning.
Afterward, every family member changed to new clothes dedicated to the new year. My sisters and I bowed down to my parents to wish them a happy new year with good health. My parents sent the red envelopes to each of us, which was my whole year’s allowance. I usually spent the money on books and magazines.
Then, my favorite festival tradition followed: dumplings for breakfast, which was a tradition for the first day of the Lunar New Year, and particularly special compared to our everyday breakfast of porridge. When I was young, dumplings of all kinds were my favorite food.
We spent the entire first day visiting neighbors, friends, and relatives, with every pocket filled with candies. People in the streets had smiling faces and greeted each other: “Guo Nian Hao!”, which means “Happy New Year!“
Children were gathering together to show off their new clothes, and to compete for who got the maximum amount of candies and the best candies. Boys played with the small firecrackers which didn’t need a lighter but when slammed into the ground would cause a crisp sound to pop up.
What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate it now? Now, I live overseas with my family. Usually, we have a simplified version of the Chinese New Year celebration. We keep the main elements of the traditions: dumplings, red envelopes, cleaning, visiting, and greeting friends, inviting relatives for the New Year’s Eve dinner.
Instead of spending time watching TV shows, we go outside to attend the celebrations in some museums. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is one of the places I recommend to everyone who wants to know more about the Chinese New Year.
The Lion Dance is also a good one. I had never seen it when I was in China because it was popular in the very South of China, and I was born in North China. My daughter Yumeng, who is a 6th grader now, was fascinated with the Lion Dances when she was little.
Could you suggest any activities, recipes, crafts for others to try? If writing Spring Festival couplets in Calligraphy are too difficult for you, Paper Cutting is a craft that you definitely want to try with your children. You could follow this video to make a beautiful pattern for your windows.
Some people refer to the Lunar New Year as a Spring Festival. Could you explain? The Spring Festival has a long history. It originated from the activities of worshiping gods and ancestors at the beginning and end of the year in the Yin and Shang Dynasties which was more than three thousand years ago.
In ancient China, the Lunar Calendar was used officially and popularly, like today’s solar calendar. The New Year’s celebration started on the 8th day of lunar December and ended at the night of 15th day in lunar January as the Lantern Festival. The peak time of the whole celebration was the first day of the lunar year to celebrate the coming of the spring and people would begin the farming tasks after the long winter break. People worshiped the gods for a smooth, happy, and good harvest year.
Spring Festival was another name for the Lunar New Year.
Do you have any new year’s wishes you’d like to share? The British poet P.B.Shelley said, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
As 2022’s Spring Festival is coming on February 1st, the year of the tiger, according to the legend of Chinese New Year, the monster of “Nian” who ate people once a year during the beginning of the New Year, was scared by the loud noise of fireworks, the red staff i.e. red decorations including red couplets, red paper cuttings sticking on the window glass, red clothes etc. The “Nian” never comes again.
I wish the world will conquer the “monster” of the COVID-19, which will be going away soon and never come back, as what the wise ancient Chinese did to “Nian”. And that we will have a really nice spring without masks. Our beautiful smiles will be fully presented and we will be breathing freely the fresh air anywhere.
Happy Spring Festival! Happy Lunar New Year! Happy Chinese New Year!
by Rich Armstrong | WSP Music Teacher and HS Dance DJ
The High School Courtyard was magically transformed into a red-carpeted, paparazzi-infused tunnel that opened into an art gallery and dance hall. Much effort was made to give the students an amazing experience, complete with a snack bar and a “chill” room that featured table and dance video games. I was the DJ pumping tunes in the beautifully-lit dance club area, featuring literally thousands of lights, a welcoming dance floor, and four thousand watts of well-tempered sound.
I was immediately wowed by the amazing effort put forth by the dance committee. Students had helped set up throughout the day, and when I arrived after school to set up the DJ equipment, I saw a diligent team of parents, admin, and teachers working full-steam to get things ready for the dance. Final touches were being put on the “paparazzi” area, such as lighting and even stanchions to rope the paparazzi away from the future stars as they arrived. The red carpet was being double-taped to the floor, and you could tell a magical night was ahead, with all the lights that were carefully placed all around the fully tented outdoor area. At the 7 pm start of the dance, it seemed all of the finishing touches were just completed.
Everything looked amazing, and I noticed a really cool touch: an art area complete with framed paintings that were done by the students. It helped complete the vision of an art gala. Students started trickling in, dressed to the nines in ballgowns, suits, and even some costumes that were artfully fashioned with much imagination, echoing the amazing outfits you’d see at the actual Met Gala. Slicked-back hair, and bow ties were prevalent throughout the growing crowd. It was fun to see these young adults so dressed up and energized after taking tons of arrival pics with the “paparazzi,” expertly staffed by parents and teachers of the school.
It usually takes a while to get the students dancing, so I played some of my favorite chill music and then started in with some songs to warm them up. I knew the students had learned all styles of dance from Dr. Lea Fredrickson, so I asked her for a few requests to get the ball rolling. I played a few line dances to tempt them in, and some Bee Gee’s disco got them on the floor with the hustle. It was a joy to see them do the hustle and even swing dance. Having dance in their curriculum is really unique to this school (starting in middle school) and it really shows on the dance floor in shared joy and fun dance moves.
The requests started coming in and there’s no better way to get the students dancing than to play them. The dance floor grew to a frenzied singing mass and it was a joy to behold. At moments, the students were singing together, arm in arm, and at other times they were jumping up and down, making the tented outdoor area seem almost warm. Even though you could see your breath, it somehow got hot in there! Sometimes there were squeals of anticipation at a song, something that makes a DJ happy, and it was a joy to see the well-dressed crowd so engaged in each requested song drop.
10 pm came too fast and ‘Forever Young’ was the final song, an appropriate slow dance to sum up the night. At the end, the students helped clean up, and the many participants made short work of this Herculean task. The 2022 WSP Met Gala was a total success and an amazing time was had by all.
Most of what we use in our modern world can be traced back to the fires of a blacksmith’s forge. Most crafts and trades either began or evolved with the forming of hot iron under the blacksmith’s hammer. The most fundamental impact, of course, was on food production. With the introduction of iron farm implements crop yields increased, which enabled the dense population clusters of cities, which in turn gave birth to urban trades. The flip side also included ever increasing capacities of weapons production and usage. Thus the twin threads of our heritage have come down through the ages: progressive creative collaboration along with destructive conflict and confrontation.
Just a handful of generations ago our entire modern world was crafted, created, and maintained within the fire-breathing realms of smithies (blacksmith shops). As recently as the American Civil War, steel products were still manufactured at the ends of blacksmiths’ hammers. Not long ago our hometowns, villages, and city blocks were populated with the industrious and critically important smithies. It is mind boggling that what was so incredibly prevalent not many life spans ago became nearly extinct almost overnight.
In recent years there has been a renewal of blacksmithing, especially in the artistic and architectural realms. Waldorf high schools have long known about the many wonders of the craft. When students take up the hammer and thrust iron into the flame, they do more than just make a metal gadget. They step onto the primal path of our very being as modern humans. Every time high school students move heavy steel anvils, forges, and tool racks, they do more than just set up the shop. When they approach the fury of the forge to place their cold iron in it, stand beside it to monitor its heating progress and remove the iron glowing bright orange, they do more than just simply heat iron. When they pick up the cross peen hammer, lift it high over their heads, and forcibly swing it down to strike the searing steel, they do more than just pound metal. When they reheat the iron as hot as they can without letting it burn, they do more than just watch for the right color. When they take blazing metal and clamp it into the solid upright post vise to twist and bend it, they do more than just shape it. When they render these activities, blacksmith students join the ranks of ancient alchemists and crafters as well as modern technicians and artists.
High school blacksmith classes are considered practical and applied arts courses. Students apply their academic studies in practical ways in the smithy. The sciences are obviously at home there, such as thermal dynamics, mechanics, and chemistry. So too, are the arts and the aesthetics of function and form. The humanities with their cultural and historical context are equally at home in the smithy. Perhaps even more so, but a bit less obvious, the physical, psychological, and inner lives of blacksmith students are well exercised at the forge and anvil. Blacksmithing supports and strengthens physical body growth, coordination, and agility. Students gain a practical understanding of and appreciation for metal, as well as develop skills and confidence with tools and basic machinery. To craft a piece of raw steel with one’s labor into a functional item of beauty is a nourishing activity in other ways, too.
To work directly with the four most basic of “elements,” earth, fire, air, and water, not only has drama and excitement, it has power and danger! To transform one’s fear of danger into respect and confidence through one’s own disciplined efforts is a noble and worthwhile deed. The firsthand knowledge and experience of having made such a transformation—from the daunting to the capable—lives on in the students. The ability to develop capacities gives students navigational ballast throughout life. Additionally, awareness and mindfulness are two more capacities that are imperative for students to develop in the smithy. Sharing a workspace safely while swinging hammers and wielding hot steel compels students to be awake to self and others at all times. This is undertaken as a social deed with one’s classmates.
Making hard steel malleable with jets of air and fierce fire, shaping searing steel with anvil, hammer, and hand, quenching forged steel in water, sizzling and hissing, students become smiths of iron in parallel with the forging of their very selves! It is quite moving to behold their progress from hesitant, tentative work to bold, eager, and skilled execution. After all, it is no small feat to stand steady in the midst of the mighty forces of intense forge fires in tandem with hormonal surges and blooming neural networks. Our high school blacksmith students do it with aplomb and merit our applause!
…Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
— from The Village Smithy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Vikrant Batra is joining the WSP board as our newest trustee. He shared an enlightening conversation with alumna board member Alyssa Woodman to introduce him to the wider community.
What drew you to WSP?
We’ve been a part of Waldorf schools for the last eleven years. In December 2018, I had the opportunity to move from San Diego to the Bay Area for work. Being part of a Waldorf community was vital to us – WSP’s presence and reputation in the community helped us make the decision to move and live here. Through the admissions process, we had the opportunity to speak with several members of the staff, faculty, and board and came away very impressed with how well the school operated. Most importantly, during the shadow week, our kids immediately felt at home and the “new Waldorf school” experience was comfortingly seamless.
Your children Dante and Sahar are in 8th and 5th grade, which of their classes would you have most wanted to join this year?
I would have loved to join their strings class – one of my biggest regrets is not being able to play a musical instrument! When I see Dante play the double-bass or Sahar playing the Cello, I am always fascinated at how easily they can create amazing music.
What aspect or goal of our board work in the coming years most excites you?
I feel we’re experiencing a time in the world when Waldorf education is more relevant than ever. The school has weathered the ups and downs of COVID quite well and is now ready to emerge stronger and grow. I am most excited about the opportunity to work with the rest of the board and the administration to enhance the awareness and understanding of Waldorf education in our communities and grow the footprint of our school.
Do you have any new year’s resolutions or past-year reflections you want to share?
Resolution: Track what makes you feel good and bring more of it into your life. Notice what makes you feel lousy and do less of it.
What has been a favorite project you have led or participated in?
Right at the beginning of COVID, along with a couple of close friends, we decided to import organic wine and incorporate a company. It all started as something interesting to dabble in on the side while we were all stuck at home, but has turned into a lot of fun. We now have four organic wines that we source from Spain and Italy and are starting to pitch retailers. It’s been a fun “weekends project”. We created easy-to-drink, under $20 wines with fun brand names. If anyone wants to sample Pink Wink, Blanc Check, or Glorious Rascal, give me a call!
Do you have any heroes? Thich Nhat Hanh, Winston Churchill Favorite environment? Seaside Last book you read? Four Thousand Weeks: Time management for mortals by Oliver Burkeman What would you sing for Karaoke? “We’re not gonna take it” – Twisted Sister 🙂 How many/which languages do you speak?I speak Hindi & English and can understand Punjabi Can’t-live-without tool/gadget/toy? Corkscrew Do you collect anything? Wine
Please join us in welcoming Vikrant as our newest WSP board member.