How the Gar-inch stole the Chinese New Year

I am not a big fan of the Chinese New Year.

There, I’ve said it.

No, I’m not a bratty 14 year old ashamed of my Chinese heritage, it’s just that I get a bit miffed by the occasional “obligatory” things we need to do during the Chinese New Year.

Context : A big part of Chinese New Year is the act of “pai nian” (拜年) (literally “pai” and “nian”) where family and friends take turn to visit each other’s houses over the Chinese New Year period. It is part of the Chinese New Year tradition, but ever since I was younger, I felt that it is just a bit too obligatory for my liking. Over the years, I actually grew to be fine with it. In some ways, I even think it is necessary to be “forced” to meet up with people you normally would not have met up with (or even go out of your to avoid meeting with). The thing that bothers me about”pai nian”-ing is how it amplifies the natural dynamics in most Chinese families.

You see, an important factor of the “pai nian” process is the exchange of mandarin oranges with the host and the giving of red packets of money (ang pows) to the unmarried members of the family.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve observed that in the steady state, a lot of Chinese families maintain relationships much like the ones between US and the Soviets during the 80s. There is a bit of competition and some hidden spite, but all in all everyone maintains a cordial (sometime respectful) relationship to avoid mutually assured destruction.

The game changes during Chinese New Year. Everyone would probably have started out bringing two oranges for the exchange and passing out $8 ang pows. But one year, Relative A (US) would suddenly decide to bring along a box of new year goodies “just to share”. This will provoke Relative B (Russia) to rush to a nearby supermarket to buy a box of oranges and say it was “just lying at home”. Not wanting to be outdone, Relative A will then give out $10 ang pows the following year because it was “a good year”. To top that, Relative B will start giving out $12 ang pows, bring along two boxes of mandarin oranges and a box of New Year goodies. Before you know it, everyone starts arriving for Chinese New Year gatherings in rented mini vans because of the amount of gifts/ang pow money they are carrying.

At this point, Relative C (China) who had not been able to keep up will pretend to be disdainful of the whole situation, and at the same time, giving himself the perfect excuse to not go for any more Chinese New Year gatherings. All the while, the only ones who stand to benefit from the fallout of this conflict are the blood thirsty terrorists and conniving arms dealers sitting on the sidelines (Child A, B, C to Z).

Of course, the “pai nian” is just an aspect of the Chinese New Year. There are other components. Taken separately, some of the individual components of the Chinese New Year are irritating, but if you put them all together they are practically intolerable.

There’s the “Dong dong dong dong chiang”. I don’t think there’s any concrete study done on this matter, but my intuition tells me that if they do a profiling of known mass murderers, an uncanny number would have a history of writing Chinese New Year songs. I mean any song writer that choose to accentuate every word of his song with a cymbal crash should be classified as what they would call in technical terms, a psychopath.

As a former percussionist in a school band, I speak with good authority that drums and cymbals are a lot more enjoyable for the player than it is the audience. Believe me there’s always a strong sadistic temptation to interrupt the most inappropriate parts of the song with a cymbal crash. Most people don’t act on this temptation because they realize that there would be consequences. I know from first hand experience that a cymbal crash at the wrong moment often cause others to want to stuff a drum stick up your… Dong Chiang, if you know what I mean (when I say “others” I meant “fellow band members who are stuck rehearsing the same piece for hours”). I would like to take the time to clarify that I am not a psychopath. I just possess a seemingly inhuman non-existent sense of rhythm.

Next is the colour red. The Chinese believe that red is the colour of prosperity. The Green Lanterns believe it’s the colour of rage. I stand on the side of the immortal wisdom of DC comics. Scarlet is actually one of my favourite colours, but during Chinese New Year, I have to refrain from wearing it because no one could see you if you are wearing red during Chinese New Year. If Modern Warfare ever comes up with a Chinese New Year mod, the outfits for the players would be red. There actually is a life lesson in all this… There CAN be too much of a good thing, especially if the good thing involves primary colours… and Modern Warfare should totally come up with a Chinese New Year mod.

Finally, there’s the Chinese New Year food.

There’s nothing wrong with the Chinese New Year food.

Chinese New Year food is awesome.

Anyway, this is a bit late, but I’ll like to wish everyone here a happy Chinese New Year and may the New Year goodies not add any bulk to your Dong Chiang.


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