I always whine about my Chinese New Year obligations, and with few repercussions social media is a convenient platform to do so. In the weeks leading up to the festivities as the family went about with spring cleaning, not something I fancy, the prospect of meeting up with people – even the closest relatives – felt like a drain. A year ago I was in Helsinki, Finland, where visitations were not necessary and simple dinners were all we had.
Visitations are exhausting. I don’t have interest in the games of blackjack or mahjong, don’t fancy small talk about “how life has been” or “whether there is a girlfriend”, and consequently don’t ask much in return. I spend a little more time at the dinner table because the home-cooked food is usually good, and at the coffee table trying out the more exotic goodies and devouring the gummies by the handful. Between awkward chats we watch re-runs of Stephen Chow films while I blog or reply to emails on the phone.
Absolutely no reading though, I’ve always be warned, because “读书” (reading) sounds like “赌输” (making a loss) in Mandarin.
My mother’s the opposite. At these gatherings she asks the questions and peddles new products she might be carrying, as she hands out the red packets. Perhaps this spontaneity is the reason why I get fewer questions than I should, for fear of further inquisition. This year we hosted relatives and friends, which reminded me of the moments last year in Finland when a Singaporean family invited me over for dinner, and when I invited friends over to my apartment for a warm steamboat dinner in chilly Helsinki. A little bit of déjà vu, it was.
Yet this year as a passive listener of the conversations the experience throughout the trips has been enjoyable, even nostalgic for a twenty-three-year-old. My mother has many siblings, and with her sisters they often reminiscence about the times when the cousins were toddlers, share their gossip at work, and tell stories about how my late grandmother used to care for all of us. Things are also no less interesting on the paternal side of the family.
“每年新年, 转眼之间就过了” (“the fifteen days of Chinese New Year celebrations this year, gone in the blink of an eye”), the relatives often muse when they leave. Celebrations in the future might be no less entertaining as our generation of Singaporeans finds new ways to occupy ourselves, but these extensive familial connections will be less commonplace.