DO you want to be happy in the Year of the Rat? Just say no . . . to duck. Looking forward to an upsurge in the Hang Seng Index? Don't drink cola this year. Believe it or not, what we eat and how we eat have got a direct bearing on our fortune and our fate, according to Chinese astrologers. 'There are a lot of taboos in eating that can affect our luck, especially during Lunar New Year,' said Chinese geomancy expert Lee Chik-san, who has been lecturing on Chinese geomancy for 10 years. Cola drinks are out because of the meaning of its Chinese name - ho lok (can go down), he said. 'For those who are involved in the speculative investments, cola drinks are a taboo,' he said. 'They should take Seven-Up instead which signifies the movement 'up'. 'Not only local Chinese, but many expatriates follow this guide. And it works.' With similar phonological principle, Mr Lee's acquaintances are advised not to take vegetables such as cucumbers and fruit such as melons (gwa - a slang which means 'die' in Cantonese) or pears (lei - separate in Cantonese) which carries bad semantic connotations. 'If we eat something that brings luck during Lunar New Year, it brings luck for the rest of the year,' Mr Lee said. Select the food that sounds positive in meaning such as celery (kan choi, where kan means hard-working) and pig tongue (chu lei, where the character for lei means fortune and advantage), Mr Lee advised. 'New Year is a time for sweetness and happiness,' He said. 'Sweet stuff like red bean sweet soup would be another good choice.' Bean curd and salty duck eggs, which had a lethal connotation in Chinese culture, should also be totally avoided in the menu during Lunar New Year. 'I'd also take apples and oranges,' Mr Lee said. 'They are lucky and healthy fruits. A platter of oranges resembles a plate of gold, and the ping in ping gwo [apple] signifies stability. They are also rich in vitamin C. But make sure you give two to people. It has to be double, never an odd number.' Though it might sound a bit too meaty, fish, poultry and pork could not be left out during the reunion dinner before Lunar New Year's Day, said astrologer Raymond Ng Kwun-yeung of the International Institute of Astrology. 'They bring luck. The first day of the year is a vegetarian day, and it is fine to have something richer before and after that.' Apart from chicken, the popular poultry to worship the gods and goddesses during such a festive occasion, goose is also a highly recommended bird to have on the menu. 'In Cantonese, ngo sounds smooth and rich,' Mr Ng said. 'It has also got a comb on its head which resembles an ancient official's hat. It brings luck to the whole family.' Duck, unlike other creatures on the farm, is an animal that will not receive a warm welcome on the dining table. 'Ducks' beaks are flat and they always look as if they are crying,' Mr Ng said. 'It brings unhappiness.' A hearty and healthy banquet cannot be complete without greens. Lettuce is one of the most favourable vegetables for Lunar New Year. 'Lettuce's leaves are large and wide and represent fortune and wealth,' Mr Ng said. The slender choi sum, bound by its natural svelte shape, would look too thin and frail in the superstitious Chinese person's eyes for a rich and lucky New Year dish. Garlic and mushroom would also be nice ingredients to go with other festive dishes, Mr Ng suggested: 'Garlic doesn't only keep the evil spirits away, but brings in wealth. The shape of a mushroom resembles an official's hat and its stalk represents many male offspring.' There seem to be endless rules governing Chinese eating habits during the festive occasion - not only those concerning what we eat, but how much and how we eat. Rule number one - prepare eight or, better, nine dishes altogether, and avoid the deadly number seven. Rule number two - tell your maid not to get half a roast pig or a half catty of roast pork even if you are preparing the meal for two. Whether or not ingredients are 'whole' is a big issue in Chinese culture, especially during the festival season. 'We have to take one whole pig or one catty of roast pork,' Mr Lee said. 'It means integrity and completion.' It is up to you to choose the method of cooking - frying, deep frying, steaming, braising or stewing will all do - but just keep one thing in mind: never burn it. This is rule three. 'Burning food is a real taboo, not only in New Year, but other occasions such as starting a business,' Mr Lee said. 'It brings bad luck.' And one more thing to bear in mind - pick the right time to eat. The time chosen to have the last meal of the year has to be calculated cautiously to welcome a blossoming and smooth year ahead, Mr Lee said. The annual reunion feast, traditionally scheduled to be held on the 30th of the 12th month in the lunar calendar, is a family dinner which signifies the well-being of the entire family. But it might not be a good day this year, Mr Lee warned. 'February 18 will be a day with many car accidents,' he said. 'It is a dangerous day, and it affects the well-being of [people for] the whole of next year. 'The dark cloud will disappear after 9pm and it would be much better if reunion dinners start at 10pm. 'The family can then go to the flower market.' It sounds like good planning for the night - catch the crowd at the flower market around midnight. But do remember to tuck into a few more sandwiches and biscuits during tea-time. You probably don't want to get stomach pain and ruin your Lunar New Year as a result of a late supper, even before your luck comes - if, of course, you are bound by Chinese geomancy.