Chinese new year: we see the same people, say the same things.

My dad’s phone has been going off non-stop all morning. We are well into day 2 of Chinese New Year celebrations and my parents have been banging around the kitchen all morning, preparing for a family lunch with my dad’s side of the family. I smell chicken curry in the air and imagined a pot of it bubbling on the stove. I did my bit of preparation by hiding all my dirty laundry inside cupboards and bundling my bras into a plastic bag before shoving it behind somewhere.

Yesterday was the usual round of 5 houses. We started the day with a vegetarian dish of gingko nuts and sweet dates, where my mom professed that by not eating animals it will bring some sort of auspicious well-being to ourselves.We always start off our morning visiting my dad’s aunts. House 1 aunt live by herself in a old one-storey house and whenever we visit she’s usually by herself or talking to her little dog. this year, all her kids were in attendance so it was full of noise, chatter and happy new year greetings. I also met for the first time my third cousin (our great-grandparents were siblings). we sat there piecing out the family history of who is who and how my dad used to live with his cousins back then. it’s really strange though hearing a middle-aged lady tell her son how she and my dad, “used to play together.”

it being Chinese new year where 70% of the population is out making its visiting rounds, it’s quite normal for cars to be double parked with the scarcity of lots. at this grand aunt’s house, we were going to stop temporarily in front of her neighbour’s house but the woman inside started shouting at us. “what if my car comes back?!” she said from behind the safety of her metal door, my dad jovially told her we were just next door and will move our car away when required. then she exclaimed, “you expect me to come over and call you?!” to which my dad realised he was talking to an unreasonable selfish woman so he told her forget it, it’s okay and we parked our car 2 streets down. when we left our grandaunt’s house 15 minutes later, her car still hadn’t come back. it’s unfortunate that my grandaunt lives next to this woman. imagine if the house were burning down, the crazy bitch would be standing at her door shouting at the smoke that’s coming into her house.

House 2 is another grandaunt, whose husband is the late brother of House 1 grandaunt. she seemed to have shrank a little, her robust frame a little smaller this year. she fortunately lives with one son and his family, whom we jokingly remember as the family who wake up late every year and welcome the new year and their visitors in their pyjamas. This year was a slight improvement as the wife was already wearing her red cheongsam top but her teenage kids were naught to be seen. probably still sleeping.

House 3 and 4 were both in the far west end of Singapore, grandaunts and uncles of my mom’s side. the gatherings are a lot more boisterous with the presence of my aunts and their cousins all bursting with loud blabbering Cantonese. one of their cousins recently married a Filipino and they were passing the photo albums around. the other cousin, who also married a Filipino, has a kid so the child was being passed around. when we all congregated once more at House 4 with a lot more granduncles and cousins in a space a lot smaller with a lot more people, including 2 mahjong tables, it was a racket i tell you. It’s usually at this point when a migraine sets in and I try to sleep it off on the couch. also it is at this house where the men of the household give out ang pows when it’s usually the women of the house who do it. The 3 brothers will re-enter the room armed with red packets and those unmarried ones will stand up to receive their share. ever so often a random uncle or even my dad will join in the line as if he belonged there. every year he does this, every year the 3 brothers joke that he shouldn’t bluff them like that.

Going through 4 houses, I usually escape the dreaded question of “When are you getting married?” However with the last house, House 5, it’s inevitable that the woman who watched me grow up while she was caring for my brother since he was born, would ask that question. since eons ago she will ask in Mandarin, “when are you getting married?” and she will cackle gleefully. she’s a lovely old lady who laughs at everything, bringing such joy and mirth to the conversation that I cannot get angry at her just because. out of respect, I cackled along and said not so fast, not so soon, as I have for the past few years. this year, my brother finally broke the news to his nanny that he’s getting married at the end of the year, she was shocked into silence. I’ve never heard her silent before and her mouth formed an O so big I burst out laughing. after expressing her happiness, she suddenly realised that he was getting married before I, the older sister, am so her mouth formed another O and I said it’s okay, who cares in my broken Mandarin. seriously, old people are so full of customs and traditions, it makes me roll my eyes.

as a ritual, whenever we leave House 5, we’d first wave goodbye to her at her door, then walk down one floor and wave to her from her balcony. by the time we reached the car park downstairs, she’d have parked herself at her kitchen window to wave at us one last time before we head off.

And with that, the round of chinese new year visiting ends. it’s another year before the next round of visiting and rituals come by again.


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