On the eve of Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, I wandered on the way home through last-minute sales of dried seafoods, flowering-on-demand plants, mandarin oranges and tidbits. I inhaled the salty, pungent smells. I navigated through frenetic calculations. I cast heavy-lidded eyes over the scene, half-heartedly pondering the wisdom of $2 per box.
A quiet, hobbling figure was contemplating the same. Thin and bent, she wore a flower print, silky samfoo top, cotton pants and pushed a relatively new yellow plastic cart. It was devoid of the usual cardboard stacks. She shuffled quietly from one stack of dried squid cans to another. I got the sense that Chinese New Year would be a special occasion for her and she wanted everything to be the best that she could make it. My personal interest in buying was gone. A heaviness rose in my throat and I could no longer watch.
Just before reunion dinner, the streets seemed deserted by all except those of ethnic minorities and tourists. For that matter, most shops were closed. Those without family would find it the occasion only a time of greater solitude and inconvenience.
As on other festive occasions, the new year magnifies the best and worst of every family. Mothers and grandmothers put enormous efforts into preparing the house and meals to make it special. Every expectation, neglect and wound becomes more acutely felt.
Many of my friends hate the nosy questions from their relatives, unsolicited narrow opinions and undue comparisons of personal achievements. “Dear uncle or auntie,” they might say if courtesy permitted, “Stop asking these questions and comparing me with your children every year please. Both your children and I don’t appreciate that. By the way, I’m gay.” Whether or not the last bit is true, you must admit it has shock and stop value.
My strategy is to avoid the small talk and fortunately, my closer relatives don’t ask the usual questions. I talk with my cousins; generally eat too much and too long. This year, I got to play with my energetic nephew and niece. If given unwelcome advice, I simply nod and smile, the words slide off my ears. So the worst that happens is that I get a little fatter.