Participation in local community brings in confidence and happiness

28 November 2016 by Suyen Hu

This is the second time we have participated in the Christmas craft fairs in our local West Oxford community centre. What we have found the most exciting is the confidence, happiness and sense of achievement that participation in local communities can bring to us.

We have met many different people: artists, authors, linguists, school teachers and of course lovely children, parents and grandparents!


In such a small community as West Oxford, it seems as if the whole world has come to us. An artist could recognise immediately that there was a design in every page to integrate illustrations and Chinese characters in order to meet the reading habit of English speakers. How exciting for us to find out this secret is uncovered by another pair of keen eyes! A linguist consulted us on the possibility for him to write Chinese characters at such an ‘advanced’ age, though he is only in his early fifties. But after learning that Chinese children start practising writing the characters as early as 5-6 years old, he decided to give it up. It is not really that bad at all. Most educated Chinese can speak English. The most impressive and easiest way to win Chinese friends’ respect and admiration is to use the fixed four character sayings! This is our advice. After reading a few sayings himself, he went away happily with our Animal Wisdom Chinese Zodiac book to embark on his first journey to Beijing in the coming January. A school teacher whom we met last year saw us again this year. He happily started talking about how he had many times used the New Year Beast story as teaching materials to his classes of students. All his students loved the story and learnt that an old man instead of a young and handsome man was usually the hero in a traditional Chinese story.  The Chinese respect tremendously the experience and wisdom of the senior members of the society, as we told him last year. How exciting for us to hear a story like that! The dream of introducing the culture to schools is coming into shape. Now this year he walked away with the Big Red Rooster and was excited to share the legend with his students! We decided to meet this time and discussed how to develop more ideas for his new class of 28 pupils.

Local Oxford people love the Ashmolean. Whenever we told them that they could find the original design of our Silly Billy, the wise goat, in the Yuan porcelain collection in the Chinese gallery of the Ashmolean, their eyes brightened and they were eager to go to look for it, particularly those who happened to be the goat people! This also brought us such a great sense of achievement to make the museum objects and collections connected to people’s lives. An older lady who is currently studying the Chinese brush paintings could recognise immediately the traditional painting style she saw was very similar in the Ashmolean. When she found out that special style was called Bada Shanren and was developed during the seventeenth century she asked us to go to Ashmolean to give a talk!

(This bird has the famous Bada Shanren style found in our most popular How Mouse Gave His Name to the First Year.)

There were parents who had already acquired a lot knowledge on the different types of animal for each particular year: characteristics of metal, wood, water, fire and earth! Even we can’t work out exactly this layer of complicity apart from the 12 animal cycle. It seemed the Chinese Zodiac has such an intriguing effect on children and their parents. We must work hard to get the rest of our Zodiac stories published. We have promised so many disappointed children and parents that their stories would be out by next summer. We will try our best to keep our promise!

There is so much for us to discover from local communities. There are so many stories we can share and spread. It is a great way for us to see the whole world without getting onto a long journey to exchange ideas and experience.

We will look forward to more opportunities to join in more local communities and share the ideas of diversity and of a different culture.