Missing home on Chinese New Year

FOR Diane Leow, time away from home has made her appreciate all that used to annoy her about Chinese New Year in Singapore – even prying questions from her relatives!

Diane with her parents on Chinese New Year back home in Singapore.

Diane with her parents on Chinese New Year back home in Singapore.

In my family, Chinese New Year is a noisy, messy affair. More often than not, decadent foods are over-consumed and firecrackers are fervently set off.

Of course, we also have our reunion dinner(s), annual relative visits and little red packets filled with money. And like most Asian daughters, I am subject to a barrage of questions, especially on the topic of boys.

Every year I’m asked the same questions:

  1. “So, do you have a boyfriend? No? Lose weight lah, then maybe you’ll find a nice boy.”
  2. “Have you graduated? Graduate faster and come back… With a boyfriend.”
  3. “Still no boy ah? Okay never mind, take your time. Just make sure you don’t marry a white boy.” (No racial discrimination intended – it’s just my family’s way of making conversation)

Over the years, I’ve learnt to fend off these questions with a polite nod or smile. But these exchanges have made some small part of me resent Chinese New Year, in spite of the delicious spread that annually awaits me.

Simply put, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with the festival. I love seeing the family come together. I love feasting on pineapple tarts and tender pork jerky (probably better known as bak kwa). But I hate being interrogated to no avail.

My first Chinese New Year away from home happened to be the first year I moved to Melbourne to study. Bright eyed and naive, I was almost too happy to leave home for my new found freedom.

And so, Chinese New Year rolled around, almost without celebration. If the owner of the hostel I was staying in hadn’t organised a reunion dinner, it probably would have slipped my mind completely.

On the first day of the lunar calendar that year, I took a walk to Chinatown hoping there would be some form of activity – a lion dance, perhaps, or at least something familiar. But I’d missed the lion dance and there were no fire crackers or fireworks.

Chinese New Year decorations in Singapore's Chinatown. Photo: Sarah Starkweather via flickr

Chinese New Year decorations in Singapore’s Chinatown. Photo: Sarah Starkweather via flickr

I found myself missing the things I used to find annoying – the incessant Chinese New Year music blaring out of every shopping centre, the rush to buy gifts for relatives and, yes, even the taunting about my weight and single status.

In my six years away from home, I’ve spent two Chinese New Years in Melbourne. The second time around, I was better prepared. My friends and I gathered to cook up a huge feast, complete with the dishes that were close to our hearts. By that time, my friends were my surrogate family. They were the family I chose.

And yet, it still didn’t feel the same.

I hate to admit it, but the pineapple tarts and bak kwa I love somehow taste better with the jabbing and ribbing from my relatives.

If this is your first Chinese New Year away from home, I hope you don’t get as homesick as I did. There is plenty to see and on this year, from a movie screening at Federation Square to a huge festival in Box Hill, so check out Meld’s events guide to Chinese New Year!

As for me, I’m very blessed to be heading home for this year’s celebration. I have a list of dishes waiting to be ticked off and, more importantly, I’ve prepared answers to those questions I know are waiting for me.

“Yes, I’m still single. Yes, I’ve graduated. And yes, I’m very glad to see you simply because you’re family.”

Post Your Thoughts