HONG KONG - CAUTION will be the watchword for the Year of the Rat, the new lunar year that begins on Thursday, as Chinese fortune tellers predict financial and political rumblings, tsunamis and epidemics in the year ahead.
The reason, they say, is that water and earth - two of the five elements Chinese mystics believe are at the root of all things - are in conflict in 2008.
'Earth usually conquers water, but it is too weak to control the rat, which symbolizes the most powerful water,' said Mr Raymond Lo, a Hong Kong master of feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice of trying to achieve health, harmony and prosperity by the arrangement of dates and numbers, building design and the placement of objects.
Year of Rat start of a booming year in Vietnam Tran Quang Thieu, 54, director of a rat extermination company on the outskirts of Hanoi, was revelling in the Vietnamese belief that the rodent population multiplies during a lunar rat year.
'This holiday will mark the start of a booming year for us, so this is a special Tet,' Mr Thieu said. 'From a spiritual standpoint, I hope that our rat-killing techniques become more popular this year, so that everyone can protect their crops, factories and businesses from being ruined by rats.'
Mr Nguyen Tien Phat, who sells freshly butchered rat at a village market in the northern town of Bac Ninh, shrugs off any notion that more rat will be eaten this year than any other. They've been eating rats there for centuries, boiled and flavoured with ginger, lemon and fresh herbs.
'Those who like it will eat it, and those who don't, won't,' said Mr Phat, who sells rat for US$3 a kilo (S$4.25).
Rats are sneered at in the West as filthy, despite the hit Hollywood animation 'Ratatouille,' which showed a more refined side to the gutter-dwelling rodent. They are revered in the East, however, for their anthropomorphic characteristics of wit, charm and ability to amass great wealth.
People born in the Year of the Rat include authors William Shakespeare and Truman Capote, actors Marlon Brando and Cameron Diaz, Britain's Prince Charles, climate change champion Al Gore, and former US President George H.W. Bush.