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I was born in a small, picturesque water town outside downtown Shanghai in the year of the Dog. My mother, a friendly Goat, and my father, a stately horse, shared their home with me and my younger brother—a stubborn Ox.

When I first visited the zoo at the age of five, I announced to my family that I wanted to be a Tiger. My mother found this amusing, but insisted we hold a family meeting to discuss it properly. She explained that becoming a Tiger meant more than just changing my identity—because the Ox year would precede the Tiger year within our Chinese zodiac cycle, my brother would become the big brother and take on additional responsibilities for me and our family.

At first I was excited about becoming a Tiger but then realized what it meant for both me and my younger brother. After several sleepless nights deliberating over my decision, I decided to stay as a Dog.

My father often told us the story of a great race before bed, filling my childhood mind with vivid images of the twelve zodiac animals. I learned that each animal had its own unique traits and personalities, and while becoming a Tiger still seemed like an exciting prospect to me, I accepted that in this life I was destined to be a Dog.

As I grew up, I made many friends of different zodiac animals, and met my Monkey husband.

Moving to New Zealand and starting a new life there was both an exciting and challenging experience for me. I missed my friends and family back in China dearly, so whenever I tried to explain them to my new friends in New Zealand, words felt inadequate—I couldn’t capture what the people closest to me meant to me. Family members and friends have helped shape who I am: we are similar, share so much, and grow together. How could a single drawing or painting ever express that?

I have found myself struggling to accurately portray my family and friends. The Chinese zodiac has given me a unique way of doing this—one that has resulted in great enjoyment and fun while creating family portraits in zodiac animals.

Initially, I worked alone, but as I shared the portraits with my own family and friends, more requests started coming in. As families approached me for their own portrait, we all had a hand in creating the final piece. It was no longer just calligraphy painting, it was an experience that allowed us to understand each other better and spend quality time together.

In order to help more families enjoy the experience of creating their own zodiac animal portraits, I have developed a blended calligratherapy programme called “The Enchanted Brush.” Through an online teacher-guided course paired with an offline face-to-face workshop, this programme offers a one-of-a-kind and captivating learning experience. It tells a story of love, family, friendship, the Great Race of the Zodiac Animals, ink art, and Chinese characters—all through the magical brush that ties it all together.

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