Monday, February 8, 2010

Year of the Tiger

The upcoming lunar new year heralds in the Year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese zodiac. Over the years, I've found that a number of other Asian countries have roughly similar zodiac animals. For instance the Korean zodiac is identical to the Chinese one. The Vietnamese zodiac differs in three animals (the second animal is the water buffalo instead of the ox, the fourth animal is the cat instead of rabbit and the eighth animal is the ram instead of sheep). The Japanese zodiac includes the wild boar rather than the pig.

In most of these Asian countries, the lunar new year is celebrated in grand traditional fashion. I was in Vietnam when I started writing this essay and I observed the Vietnamese preparing for their lunar new year, which they call Tet. It  falls on exactly the same day as the Chinese New Year. Everywhere you went, you could see lots of decorations - arches, lanterns, posters, sculptures, etc. Red is obviously the auspicious colour. And of course, this year the tiger appears in many places of prominence.

All this got me thinking about other incarnations of tigers in our modern culture. I was able to list quite a number of instances where this majestic but fierce animal featured in different aspects of our life.

Tiger in Poetry

I believe it was the Englishman William Blake (1757-1827) who penned the famous poem "Tyger, Tyger" which English literature students in the old days used to have to learn by heart. I guess these days not as much attention is paid to this rhyme, but who knows ... it IS going be the year of the tiger soon so there may well be a revival of interest.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Tiger in Business
I'm writing this at an airport cafe, so it's probably natural that I first thought about Tiger Airways, the low-cost carrier owned by Singapore Airlines and a few others. This airlines plies routes mainly in Asia and parts of Australia.

Do you recall the slogan "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" ? Of course you do. That's from the oil company Esso. One marketing campaign I remember even involved a little bushy striped tail being given out to drivers, which they could attach to the cover of their fuel tank.

Tiger in Sports

This one is quite obvious. Tiger Woods has been a golfing sensation for many years now, until his recent fall from grace over a series of affairs. Still a lot of golfing observers are predicting he will make his comeback pretty soon.

Tiger in Entertainment

In the world of books and movies. there was Shere Khan, that fearsome character from Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book". I suspect many of us remember the Disney cartoon much better than the book itself.

A more friendly Tigger appeared in A.A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh".

Even from the world of Chinese action movies, I still remember that Golden Harvest made a flick in 1973 called "The Man Called Tiger", starring Wang Yu (of "The One Armed Swordsman" fame).

And I'm told that "Flying Tigers" (1942) was a second-rate movie about a band of American Mercenaries called upon by China to help fight the Japanese two years before Pearl Harbour. It even starred John Wayne.

In the area of music, there was a song "Eye of the Tiger" released by the group Survivor in 1982. This song was also used in the Sylvester Stallone movie "Rocky III".

Tiger in Food

There's a certain brand of frosted cornflakes, that we used to occasionally eat for breakfast when we were young which has a tiger character too. Remember Frosties ? Remember Tony the Tiger?

I'm sure you can think of other instances where tigers have been culturally prominent. Do share them ...

In the meantime, an early Happy Lunar New Year of the Tiger to everyone ...


Huy said...

Chuc mung nam moi !
(Happy new year in Vietnamese)

Leo said...

White tigers mauled a zoo-keeper to death at Singapore Zoo sometime ago.