This week marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebrations – fifteen days of festivals and tradition to mark the start of the lunar year. If you live in the United Kingdom, it's better known for the time that good old Marks and Spencer start rolling out their Chinese ready meals selections. Not that this is a bad thing, spring rolls and prawn toasts must be among the enjoyable ready meals on offer.

As it happens, I've always had a soft spot for all things Chinese. Well not the human rights issues, obviously, but culturally and prandially speaking, at any rate. And, of course, since Chinese New Year is really celebrated all over the globe, it would seem a pity to miss out on a party, purely on the grounds of geography. From the Chingey Parade in Hong Kong, via the dragon parade in San Francisco to the Hong Bao Carnival in Singapore 

Several years back I was lucky enough to visit Singapore. What a  gorgeous place!. You step off the  plane and from the moment the scent of spices and of exotic flowers hits you, you  know you're somewhere really very different. And you simply have to love a place where orchids grow wild through the trees.There's a unique mix of cultures, with Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese and European settlers all leaving their mark. And the food there is incredible. Especially the proper Chinese food. The rather posh hotel in which we stayed served Chinese food for breakfast, although as Chandler from "Friends" once said, "there they just call it 'food'". 

As it happened the whole country was preparing to celebrate New Year. And it seemed the Year of the Tiger was destined to be very special indeed. Because some years are just more desirable than others. Many couples, we were told, have 'timed' it to ensure their new baby would be a Tiger because this would ensure that they were popular and successful. I hadn't realised just how complex it all was. 

I learned that I was born in the Year of the Rooster which means I was given the attributes of being practical, resourceful and honest, all of which I'd like to think I am. My Rooster-ness also supposedly ensures that I am neat and tidy, but I clearly fell short on that one. You might suppose that those born this year, in the Year of the Dragon  the only mythical creature among the twelve – would have some pretty impressive characteristics. And they do. They are beautiful, creative and uninhibited, flamboyant, fearless and ambitious. This year's dragons also have the calming influence of water upon them. Each animal's characteristics is altered slightly depending on which  of five elements (fire, earth, metal and fire being the others) is associated with the year of their birth. You can probably imagine what the influence of fire does for the dragon. 

But there's a danger of applying our own, Western, perceptions of certain animals when we learn which one we are. I can't say I found the idea of being a rooster very glamorous. And I'm not sure my parents were too enamoured at the idea of being monkeys. After all, it has to be said, most of us would probably more happily own up to being a Tiger or a Dragon or even an Ox than a Rat, a Pig or a Snake. But should you be afflicted by one of the latter, things aren't all that bad. According to Chinese philosophy, rats tend to be quick-witted, charming and funny, while pigs are intelligent, well-mannered and tasteful and snakes are generous, seductive and analytical. Of course, these are the positive attributes, but if I told you about all their bad points, I'd have to do the same for my own, rooster, downsides. Besides, I'd like to say that I don't have any of the bad traits I should have, but that wouldn't be true. To be honest, it doesn't really matter which of the 12 animals I look at, I can pretty much recognise at least one of my bad points in each of them …