As a kid, Alex Wong was always poking his older brother in the eyes, his parents, Karen Law and Randy Wong, said.
Alex Wong — a dancer who gained fame on the reality competition show “So You Think You Can Dance” and continues to entertain fans with viral TikTok videos, including a recent series teaching his parents Beyonce choreography — was born in 1986, the Year of the Tiger.
Randy Wong remembers an elderly man with knowledge of the Chinese zodiac telling him his son “will tease and play with his brother, as a cat playing around with a mouse.” Sure enough, Alex Wong’s brother was born in the Year of the Rat.
2022’s Lunar New Year (Feb. 1) brings the Year of the Tiger, third in the 12-animal Chinese zodiac cycle. Tigers were born in 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950 and so on.
The Lunar New Year that begins Feb. 1 ushers in the Year of the Tiger. Here’s The Times’ complete coverage.
According to superstition, a person born in a particular year takes on the traits of that year’s animal. Laura Lau, co-author of “The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes,” said people born in the Year of the Tiger tend to be powerful, rebellious, dynamic, adventurous, fiery, impulsive and unpredictable. Tigers also typically have strong ethics, so they’re very passionate about causes.
This is totally Alex, insist his Chinese Canadian immigrant parents as Alex looks at them skeptically during a recent video interview. In 2004, when Alex Wong earned the gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne, becoming the first Canadian to win the prestigious international dance competition, his solo performance was called “Capture of the Tiger.”
“He’s very, very persistent,” Law said. “If he wanted to have something, oh, my God, you’re in big trouble. He would constantly say in front of your face, ‘I want this. I want this.’”
“If he sees unfairness or injustice, he would fight,” said Randy Wong. “And physically, he’s very, very capable, as you can see when he dances.”
Alex Wong shrugged: “I mean, I agree to some degree, but, statistically, not everyone born in this year has these characteristics, you know?”
Alex Wong says it was a coincidence that his choreographer chose the song “Capture of the Tiger” for the solo that led to Wong’s Prix de Lausanne gold medal win. But “the Tiger helped me out,” he said. © Prix de Lausanne, 2004
Traditions, the Tiger and 2022
Tiger years have the potential to be explosive, Lau said. But because 2022 is the Year of the Water Tiger — referring to the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water and wood) that rotate alongside the animal signs — it may be less aggressive. “The water tiger is a more open-minded tiger,” she said.
Looking at where we are now, still in the midst of an uncertain pandemic, she thinks that there’s a lot of pent-up energy, and people need to express themselves.
“So I think that’s part of the potential drama of the year,” she said. “Good comes out of big, passionate expressions. But sometimes it’s tumultuous.”
Many are familiar with the traits and superstitions associated with the Chinese zodiac. Animals across from each other on the zodiac wheel — tigers and monkeys, for example — aren’t supposed to get along, Lau explained.
Who are your animal friends? Each sign belongs to a triangle of affinity, a trio formed from the animals four spaces from you in either direction.
There’s also the concept of Fan Tai Sui: offending Tai Sui, the Grand Duke of Jupiter, a powerful god. This can happen if it’s your own animal year, though other animals (this year, monkey, snake and pig) are affected as well. For these signs, 2022 is a year to be cautious and to do all you can to accumulate good karma. Otherwise you may be in for difficulties at work, relationship troubles, health challenges — unstable luck in general.
Minh-Hoa Ta — president of University of the West, a private Buddhist university in Rosemead — said that on the eve of Lunar New Year, people will go to the temple to pray for protection. Some may even wear a charm of a different animal to block evil spirits.
Asian Americans are celebrating a second pandemic Lunar New Year, with the Year of the Tiger set to begin Tuesday — and that means adjusting long-held traditions.
But she is quick to distance these ideas from Buddhism.
“A monk is going to encourage you to pray, have a sense of compassion and be mindful,” she said. “He’s not going to tell you, ‘Do this, do that,’ and pray for the purpose of asking the heavens to protect you. The mercy of Buddha is to protect everyone.”
Monks also aren’t going to tell you to say, “Gong xi fa cai,” she said, referring to the common New Year greeting, which literally translates to “Hope you increase your wealth.”
Jon Huang, an Alhambra businessman born in Hong Kong to Taiwanese parents in 1974, remembers his relatives trying to teach him and his cousins about the Zodiac animals.
“But really, we were all focusing on the red envelopes,” he said, referring to the “lucky” envelopes of money that are traditional gifts at the Lunar New Year. “Who could concentrate when you’re waiting to count what you got?”
How are traditions evolving?
Some who believe in astrology will consult fortunetellers before they pick an auspicious date for important life events, including when to get married, start a business, hold a funeral — and have a baby.
Age-old, sexist folklore warned would-be parents about having girls born in the Year of the Tiger, for fear that they would be too strong, too dominant, too hard to marry off. There’s also the stereotype of the overbearing “tiger mom,” a term popularized by author, lawyer and professor Amy Chua, born in the 1962 Year of the Tiger.
Lau thinks the trends are changing. “Before, people would say, ‘I want my daughter to be serene, ladylike and quiet,’” she said. “And now, people are like, ‘No, I want her to be the most assertive leader out there.’”
Alice Wong — a San Francisco-based writer, an activist and the editor of “Disability Visibility” who was born in 1974 — loves that she’s a tiger.
“Tigers are so majestic, fierce and cunning,” she said. “I aspire to be all those things.”
She even titled her memoir, which comes out in September, “Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life.”
“Two years ago when I wrote my book proposal, I stated that it was my time,” she said. “The title was a deliberate manifestation, and here I am today roaring into the Lunar New Year with some big cat energy.”
With high teas, poon choi and beyond, here’s how to make this Lunar New Year roar.
Dr. Thomas J. Kim, a Reproductive Medicine Associates fertility doctor who works near Sawtelle Japantown, said that these days, it’s not often that he encounters patients who are bound to the Chinese zodiac.
Vinh Luong, a 35-year-old father from Tustin who was born in a tiger year, said: “It’s a bit crazy to try to aim to have a tiger baby, or a boy or girl matching a certain animal. ... The ways your kids are shaped have a lot more to do with their parents’ behavior and their environment.”
Though Kim doesn’t personally subscribe to these theories, he respects his patients who do.
“This interesting tradition may provide some patients an extra measure of security and familiarity when undergoing fertility treatment, which can often feel like a somewhat sterile and unfamiliar environment,” he said.
Why are these traditions important to people?
Ta attributes people’s beliefs (or lack of belief) in the Chinese zodiac less to their age group, ethnicity or immigrant generation and more to their upbringing and the community they keep.
“The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes” is a family affair for Lau. Her late mother, Theodora, wrote the first edition in 1979 because she was giving informal consultations in Hong Kong and realized all of the English-language books on the subject were written by Westerners. The illustrations are by Laura Lau’s father, Kenneth Lau.
“My mom’s perspective was, ‘Hey, if you’re having a problem, if you’re not getting along with your neighbor or a co-worker, you should really do some introspection and research on your side,’” she said.
Her mother saw horoscopes as an entry point to making thoughtful decisions. It was about learning how to get along with people who are different from you.
“She’d say, ‘You have to be flexible. Some of these signs, you have to give them compliments. Other signs, you can’t just pop a question at the last minute. You have to work up to it,’” said Lau.
A sampling of people born in Tiger years
Lou Diamond Phillips
Queen Elizabeth II
Ta said that a lot of these superstitions are derived from philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism, mixed together with feng shui, folklore and mythology. Even if you go from northern China to southern China, there are stark differences between what is considered lucky and unlucky, she said. And especially in the U.S., where Lunar New Year is celebrated across Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Japanese and other diasporas, traditions get blended together.
Stephen Cronin, a tiger, was raised in an Irish Catholic family. He began observing the Lunar New Year after he married his wife, who is Chinese and Korean. She makes a habit of serving longevity noodles each year.
“I now have access to more traditions important to so many people around the globe,” said Cronin, an electrical engineering and physics professor at USC.
Their son, Alistair Cronin, 11, is also a tiger, but he wishes he “got the sign that’s the fishes” — folding in Pisces from the Western zodiac — rather than the year of the jungle cat. That’s due to his love of fishing, a sport that’s taken him to Catalina Island, Hawaii and Mexico. He’s caught mahimahi, mackerel and tilapia.
He knows that tigers “are strong and brave, and I have very strong opinions, like I don’t support commercial fishing because pieces go to waste.”
“But I’m not so brave,” said the sixth-grader at South Pasadena Middle School.
When Alex Wong was 11, his parents took him to a temple and bought him a pig pendant he wore around his neck for the entire Year of the Tiger — to help him avoid “frivolous accidents,” his dad said.
By the time Wong was 23, during his next Year of the Tiger, he didn’t believe in Fan Tai Sui anymore. But he acknowledged that 2010 was the year that he ruptured his Achilles tendon on national television, prematurely ending his much-hyped run on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“It definitely sucked at the time, but I think it left a mark for people to remember me,” he said. “It gave me a good American underdog story, and it helped put me in places I wouldn’t have been. I wouldn’t have had my Broadway debut if I hadn’t snapped my Achilles.”
Looking back, he said he wouldn’t change anything.
“So then is it bad luck? Or is it good luck?”
For Lunar New Year, Lan Noodle makes a single, extra-long noodle that’s more than 5 feet long for good luck and good fortune in the new year.