Things We Love (and Hate) About Chinese New Year

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By Faith Ling Hsern Zhen

Chinese New Year is just around the corner! Chinese New Year is one of my favourite celebrations (after Christmas, of course). And living in Selangor, where it’s populated by around 1,499,400 (Source: Malaysian Department of Statistics, 2015) people of Chinese ethnicity, it’s no challenge to–almost literally–paint the town red. To me, Chinese New Year is all about reuniting with relatives, and rekindling relationships that have been left untouched since the previous year. Every year, relatives from my mother’s side fly all the way to Kuala Lumpur from Sarawak, Australia and Hong Kong just so we can spend a few jolly days drinking shandy and munching on keropok together. It’s pretty awesome.

But as we prep for days of pineapple tarts, gambling and tong tong chiang, the average Chinese person will not deny that the CNY season can be filled with trepidation. Especially if you’re unmarried or a teenager. Here are some things you might not particularly fancy about celebrating Chinese New Year:

  1. The fireworks

Your family’s just finished playing with explosive pop-pops, sparklers, lighting up the firecrackers, and ending it all with a big bang: the fireworks. But just when everyone’s about to go to sleep, five more houses in the neighbourhood just decide to bring out the big guns. Resulting in a really nice view, but also in a rather sleepless night. The worst of it happens during the first night when Chinese New Year has just–alright, let’s be honest. The colourful explosions and the ruckus are the same every. Single. Night.

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  1. Not getting as much ang pao compared to last year

Times get tougher each passing year, and this is evident when you count all the cash you got this year. Which really is a bummer, ‘cause you were thinking of getting yourself an iPhone X. Maybe it’s a way of your uncles and aunties lowkey telling you to get a job or to quickly marry.

Another thing about ang pao collecting is noticing that you’re one of the few older people receiving a red packet, because all your cousins are married now, and their kids are the ones getting ang pao. So you stand out as this large person in a sea of tiny people, which can be quite embarrassing. It also ushers in the unwelcome realisation that you’re getting older. *screams*

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  1. The kids

Maybe it’s age, or maybe you just really don’t like kids. Sometimes, kids can be really cute! They say the funniest things, they’re innocent, and all you wanna do is pinch their squishy cheeks. Coming from a family where most of my cousins are married with children, there is never a lack of kids running about, yelling at each other, playing their “fighting” games. And sometimes, it’s all really adorable, because you were once like that. But most of the time, the energy streaming from your 5-year-old nephew – enough to tire you merely by watching him – just makes you suspect that someone put Redbull in his milk.

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  1. The relatives

I love my uncles and aunties! They’re thoughtful and generous, and it’s really awesome getting to see them during the season. Seeing your older relatives can be a challenge though, because of all the questions. “Ah boy, got girlfriend yet?” “Ah girl, what are you going to work as?” “Did you put on weight?” “How is school? Got straight As ah?” and so on…

Sometimes we forget that our uncles and aunties ask these questions out of pure interest and concern, but answering them can be really tiring when every question only surrounds topics like getting married, what you’re gonna study in uni, and why you look pudgier.

In addition, I have a really hard time remembering all the proper titles for my relatives. Why is there a specific title for my father’s older sister who is younger than the eldest sister? Or a title for my uncle who is the youngest brother but older than all his sisters? Our parents often place emphasis on honouring our relatives by properly addressing them, but sometimes I just wanna call that uncle who always talks about investing in property and stocks by his actual name.

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  1. For my fellow bananas: not being able to speak any form of Chinese

The Chinese language has tons of dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese and Foochow. The most commonly spoken is Mandarin, and (sadly) I can speak none of the above. For any Chinese person, not being able to speak the language is a huge disadvantage. This is because most conversations during CNY take place in–you guessed it–not English. Which means you often have no idea what your relatives are saying, making you feel left out. To rub more salt in the wound, you’re used to listening to at least one lecture about the fact Mandarin is a fast-growing language and that it’s important to have in order to be employable and that it’s–you get the point.

The worst part is not being able to converse with relatives who can only really speak in Chinese, which presents a huge communication gap. And it kinda sucks when you can’t even ask your grandfather how his day was. But hey, at least you can count to ten.

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  1. How tiring it can be

Having fun is pretty draining. And during Chinese New Year, having fun is pretty much all you’re gonna do. From eating non-stop to playing card games with your cousins, visiting friends and relatives, and attending dinners – the list goes on and on and on. Celebrating Chinese New Year honestly takes up so much energy, and by the end of the day, all you wanna do is curl up in bed. And even that is hard to do, because it’s 4am and a new round of fireworks has just begun.

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Honestly speaking, all of this is part of the fun, and if I haven’t said it already, I’ll say it now: I love Chinese New Year. It’s the one chance we get to be loud and noisy and take full pride in our tradition. Sure, the celebration has its little quirks, but none of those things will ever overpower the attributes that I love about the New Year. Things like the food (*drools just thinking about yee sang and roasted duck*), meeting family members from far and wide, the music (as annoying as it can be, deep down, we love singing “Gong Xi Ni” at the top of our lungs), the ang pao and even getting to dress up in new, overly red clothing.

Chinese New Year will always have a special place in my heart, fireworks and all. Happy (almost) Chinese New Year, everyone! Have a prosperous Year of The Dog and may you get lots of ang pao!

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