I love the tale of the Chinese zodiac – I actually love it so much that I used it as a basis for the chapters of my attempt at NaNoWriMo five or six years ago. I don’t take much stock in what each of the signs ‘mean’, and I don’t believe in the detailed predictions that are made every year for each sign, but the story always makes me smile. It’s relatively well known, but a short and sweet recap for those who’ve not heard or read about it: a bunch of animals participate in a race, and their placings denote what order they are in the zodiac. Each of them encounter their own little problems along the way, and the mouse (or rat) wins in the end by hitching a ride on the ox and jumping onto the riverbank first. I learned the order of the animals once when I was little, and it remains one of those things that I can rattle off in Mandarin, but I have to pause between every animal for translation’s sake if I’m asked to do the same in English.
I remember sitting at home, listening to cassette tapes and watching video tapes full of new year songs. Thanks to the magic of Spotify, I’m writing this while listening to some of these songs, and a strange kind of nostalgia is wafting over me. It’s moments like these that make me hyperaware of my ‘in-betweenness’. I’m sitting in my apartment, on my own, surrounded by books written in English, and people who probably only know how to speak English, and I feel like a little bit of an imposter listening to these songs. But at the same time, it feels right. It is New Year’s Eve, after all.
Chinese New Year has always been a bigger deal for our family than Christmas, and for me, is at the heart of my (albeit partially) dysfunctional family. It is strange how much I enjoy it – considering that traditionally, it is usually quite loud (thanks to firecrackers, fireworks, and the like). Sure, some so-called traditions associated with it can be a little corny, but there’s a whole lot of heart involved. It is a reverent holiday, but also celebratory. You try and bring as much good luck into your life and year as possible, and do the best you can to ward away bad luck. Of course, most of these are simply superstitions, handed down from generation to generation, but it does make me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside. Like I’m participating in some kind of time honoured tradition.
(By the way, if you’d like to learn more about some of these traditions, go and watch the latest episode of Fresh Off the Boat – it does a pretty good job. And then after that, feel free to watch the whole show. It’s fantastic.)
I feel like my parents have impressed upon us the importance of this holiday because we are the only family in Australia – pretty much everyone else is in Malaysia. And I feel like this year will be even more important, as both my sister and I don’t live at home any more. I’m usually not the biggest fan of going home, but the apprehension that normally takes over is abated when it’s Chinese New Year. I don’t know why, but it just feels different. Lighter, brighter, and the smell of a ridiculous amount of food.
I do miss the atmosphere of a ‘proper’ Chinese New Year, with the sounds of dragon dancing and drums, red lanterns of different designs, pictures and cartoons of monkeys everywhere. Last year was the first time I’d ever had a Chinese New Year in a ‘Chinese’ country, and it was absolutely fantastic. I hope I get to do it again, sometime soon.
So, to everyone who celebrates the lunar new year (and also to those who don’t), happy year of the monkey – look out for photos of me in my qipao!