, FEBRUARY 1, 2008  (STAR) By Ching M. Alano -And the countdown begins. At exactly 00.01 of February 7, 2008, we stealthily move into the Year of the Rat, having just snorted our way out of the Year of the Pig. But take note that the Year of the Rat (itís an Earth Rat) starts from 7 p.m. of February 4, 2008 and ends on February 3, 2009. So, if your zodiac sign is lucky this year (but more on that later), you know when your luck begins.

Luck was certainly on my side when I attended the press conference-cum-lunch hosted Wednesday last week by Mandarin Oriental, Manila, which yearly celebrates Chinese New Year, with a mouthwatering lineup of activities. First of all, there was no traffic on Makatiís usually traffic-choked streets on a usually frenetic Wednesday. This must be my lucky day!

Good fortune and lots of goodwill and good food awaited us at the Ballroom of Mandarin Oriental, Manila thatís all set to roll out its 12th traditional welcome to the Lunar New Year on Wednesday night, Feb. 6, the eve of Chinese New Year with a lot more fanfare than a fireworks display and lion dance. Guests can look forward to the prosperity parade with BMW cars, the first lucky meal at midnight, and the debut of the 2008 forecast of Hong Kong-based feng shui master Joseph Chau. And prepare to be charmed by China with Phyllis Zaballeroís art exhibit on auspicious themes, Feb. 5-17 at the Clipper Lounge of Mandarin Oriental, Manila.

The festivities which kick off on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 10:30 p.m., the biggest lunar welcome outside Binondo, are held in collaboration with Citibank, BMW, Hennessy XO, Shanghai Tang, and Lifestyle Network with the support of the city government of Makati.

Now, how lucky can Mandarin Oriental guests get! But you donít really have to be lucky to get a Shanghai Tang eyewear (a global Chinese lifestyle brand thatís a stylish fusion of the east and the west) of your choice. All you have to do is to avail yourself of a Chinese New Year set menu for a minimum of eight persons. Enjoy the glorious food and have fun picking your Shanghai Tang eyewear. Now, the world looks brighter with your Shanghai Tang eyewear that incorporates Chinese symbols of longevity, well-being, happiness, peace, harmony, wealth and prosperity.

And now, Mandarin Orientalís Tin Hau presents the Chinese New Yearís lucky dishes:

ē Braised dried oyster with black moss in brown sauce. Oyster, in Cantonese, means good business.

ē Deep-fried shrimps with sliced almond and mayonnaise, and golden fried sugarcane prawns with plum sauce. The dish is believed to help foster a healthy and active life.

ē Imperial chicken with Chinese herbs and gingko nuts. Chickens are known to start the day bright and early. They are considered propitious dishes because like their morning clucking or wake-up calls, they are believed to bring about good news daily. One of top 10 symbolic Chinese foods, chicken is served whole to symbolize family unity.

ē Braised Chinese New Yearís lucky e-fu noodles. This dish is lucky for two reasons: First, the noodles represent long life (an old superstition says itís bad luck to cut them). Secondly, the color of the dish is red, considered an auspicious color.

ē Sweetened glutinous rice balls with red dates and Osmanthus syrup. The sweet and sticky glutinous rice symbolizes a rich, sweet life while its round shape symbolizes family reunion.

ē Panfried Chinese New Yearís rice cake (tikoy). Tikoy is considered a purveyor of good luck and prosperity. May your good fortune be as sticky as tikoy!

To cap a heartwarming Chinese New Yearís Eve celebration, hereís something to warm the belly and start the year on a sumptuous note: Mandarin Orientalís midnight buffet, the first lucky meal of the year, at the Ballroom and Tin Hau (P1,588++ for adults, P988++ for children). The buffet includes fulsome choices of dim sum (including your favorite deep-fried seafood and vegetable spring rolls, and panfried radish cake with Chinese sausage and mushroom); appetizers galore (including everybodyís favorite marinated Pacific clams and French beans with XO sauce, and roasted Beijing duck rolls); a super-duper selection of soups (including your favorite braised sharkís fin soup with salmon and shrimps); and, of course, a hearty array of main courses (think steamed pink garoupa with superior soy sauce, golden fried sugar- cane prawns with plum sauce, steamed crab with Shao Shing wine and Chinese herbs, deep-fried boneless chicken stuffed with minced pork and shrimp mousse, stir-fried scallops with celery and Chinese wolfberry, baked pork spareribs with fermented bean curd, braised green vegetables with seashell and bailing mushrooms).

To end the meal and start the year on a sweet note, have your sinful fill of Chinese desserts, including everybodyís favorite buchi, Chinese walnut cookies, sweetened glutinous rice ball soup and, of course, the panfried Chinese New Year tikoy, which will also be available at Tin Hau and the Chinese New Year Lobby booth for takeout.

Mandarin Orientalís New Year celebration heats up well after its midnight fete. Tin Hauís master chefs, truly among the best in the east, are cooking a feast fit for a king with their Chinese New Year set menus.

By the way, youíre in luck! The midnight buffet is inclusive of a complimentary copy of the 2008 Year of the Earth Rat Forecast by Joseph Chau (or you can buy it at the hotelís Lobby Shop and Deli for P388 per copy starting Feb. 7).

So, whatís in store for you in the Year of the Earth Rat?

Hereís a sneak peek at Chauís forecast (or e-mail him at or contact him through the Yin & Yang Shop of Harmony, ground floor of Mandarin Oriental, Manila, at 752-5882 or via e-mail at This year, the lucky zodiac signs are Ox (a very lucky year, truly oks na oks!); Tiger (a specially lucky year for those in PR, marketing, education, publishing, medicine, transportation); Dragon (luck is carried over from last year); Monkey (but there are unlucky stars lurking so Monkeys should stay away from ďwicked peopleĒ); and Dog (for working Dogs, thereís a chance for a promotion or a better post).

What about the other signs?

Although not very lucky this year (because they offend the Grand Duke or Tai Suey), Rats will find luck in money matters. The year wonít be slimy either for Snakes who will have better and more stable luck (love and romance look rosy for Snakes, too). No more horsing around for Horses because they will be down on their luck (they clash with the Tai Suey this year). But Rabbits will be hopping their way to better luck in the months of February and June. Goats can stop whining now because even if theyíre in conflict with the Year of the Rat, they face a promising year. Roosters can also start crowing as their luck will be bitter at first but turning sweet later. As for Pigs, donít be pig-headed now. Lady luck smiles on Pigs at the beginning of the year; but there will be obstacles later because of the presence of unlucky stars.

Towards the end of the press lunch, my name was called as one of three winners of an exquisite pair of Shanghai Tang eyewear of my choice. And I breezed through traffic to get back to work.

Just my luck!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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