The year 2009 is the Year of the Ox. According to the Chinese zodiac, those who are born in the Year of the Ox are "patient, speak little and inspire confidence in others".
Influenced by the Ox, these people usually exhibit extraordinary tolerance, endurance and perseverance. As someone born in the Year of the Ox myself, I am flattered to hear that statement, for I have always admired these virtues. In reality, however, I am often impatient, speak too much and thus lose confidence and respect.
The Zodiac interpretation continues: "They tend, however, to be eccentric and bigoted, and they anger easily." Ah! That's more like it, for my wife constantly chews on my ear that I have a horrendous temper like a raging bull.
Indeed, the zodiac commentary confirms my wife's keen perception, saying: "They have fierce tempers and although they speak little, when they do they are quite eloquent. Generally easy-going, they can be remarkably stubborn, and they hate to fail or be opposed."
Another zodiac commentary contends: "Oxen are renowned for their patience, but it has its limits - once roused, their temper is a sight to behold." I chuckle as I read the phrase; it's like they are unarguably referring to me.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Ox people is their excellent work ethic. Just like an ox, they work very hard whether at home or at work, and succeed through remarkable diligence and sustained efforts. When determined to accomplish a task, they become dauntless and resolute. Naturally, they are entirely dependable, responsible and trustworthy. The downside is that they tend to be workaholics and thus need to be more relaxed to enjoy life.
There are other characteristics of Ox people. For example, they are superb organizers. They not only keep their room neat and clean, but are also known to be systematic in their approach to the task assigned to them.
Ox people are known to be devoted parents that their children can rely on, as well. They are known to prefer to work alone because they hate to participate in large group settings.
The above statement definitely matches my personality; I, too, am a hopelessly incorrigible organizer who is obsessed with arranging things neatly. Visitors to my office invariably complain: "My God! Everything is so well-organized that it's almost suffocating. We can't stand it." And I, too, want to work alone in my office like a lonely ox that plows all day in solitude.
The most hilarious thing about Ox people is their strong attachment to their home. The zodiac says: "The Ox's home is his castle where he finds relaxation and peace from the everyday hustle and bustle of his career or responsibilities."
Ah-ha! That is why I rapidly rush home after work everyday to enjoy my leisure time of watching TV and DVDs or read books in my private space. Home is like a stable to me where I can lie down and relax after a hard day of work.
I guess I am an Ox man, after all, despite some dubious traits that do not fit the descriptions of typical Ox people. Other Ox people include Vivien Leigh, Jane Fonda, Margaret Thatcher, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Princess Diana, Jack Nicholson and George Clooney.
Some people see calves or cows as emblems of meekness and submissiveness. Joan Baez's famous protest song, Donna, Donna, for example, portrays a calf as a symbol of sheepish people who are chained to social and political oppression - "On a wagon bound for market/ there's calf with a mournful eye/ High above him there's a swallow/ winging swiftly through the sky/ ... Why don't you have wings to fly with/like the swallow so proud and free/ ... Calves are easily bound and slaughtered/ Never knowing the reason why."
In his famous novel Land of Men, Saint-Exupery wrote: "Yesterday I walked without hope. Today, even such words have become meaningless. Today, we walk just because we walk. Just like a cow plowing in the field." The image of Oxen, however, is different from that of cows' or calves', just as rams are different from sheep.
In South Korea, there is an interesting maxim concerning a cow or an ox. For example, when someone does not understand you or would not listen to you, you call it "Reading the Buddhist scripture to the ear of an ox." "Even a cow would laugh at it" means "It is a pure nonsense". And when someone is not prepared at all, you mutter, "You fix the stable only after your cow is stolen."
In the Year of the Ox, we should be more tolerant and reliable. Just like an ox, we should endure, persevere and work hard without complaint to overcome the financial crisis and economic recession we now confront. Then we will be prosperous, as an ox is a symbol of prosperity.
The zodiac advises that Ox people are most compatible with Snake, Rooster and Rat people. Alas! My wife is a fiery Dragon woman who can turn me into roast beef at any time. However, my wife and I get along quite well. We must realize that it is of no use to fix the stables after our cow is stolen. As it is now the Year of the Ox, we must practice less talk and more action this year. Then we will prevail.
The author is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the American Studies Association of Korea