When I was a kid, I was excited during Chinese New Year when I got lai see and I could stay up late. I even had access to candy, a once-a-year treat while living under the roof of my Tiger Mom.
Riding strong on the sugar highs, I always thought to myself, this is what it must feel like to be an adult. I was flush, free and giddy.
Then at some point in my twenties, Chinese New Year became a chore. Not any garden variety chore, but a cold-sweat-inducing family obligation that I try hard to avoid.
As an adult, Chinese New Year is an annual nightmare, for the following reasons:
1. I find it sucks when you are single
Relatives feel that they have a right to judge you because you do share bits of DNA, so, really, it''s almost like they''re judging themselves.
Typically, the extended family gathers for Chinese New Year and spends an inordinate amount of time together, during which people get bored and focus their restlessness on judging the younger generation, particularly those who are single.
Singledom means a lack of responsibilities and responsibility-free people need to be reined in by the wisdom of elders, or they will be reckless with their directionless lives.
Here are some unavoidable conversations at Chinese New Year. By "conversations" I really mean monologues by one Wise Elder or another, fired away at a particular Single Younger in a trance-like manner:
"Why don''t you have a boyfriend? If you have a boyfriend, why don''t you get married?"
"Why are you not dieting at least a little bit? Second Cousin Yong Yong will have to start bringing clothes from America for you."
"What happened to your hair? Blue is not such a good color for us Chinese people."
"Are you saving up for an apartment? Why not? The most important thing in life is to have a roof over your head. You don''t want to be homeless, do you? What if the economy collapses again? At least you will have an apartment."
"Why don''t you get a better paid job? You are wasting your talent. You will regret your life."
2. I am employed
I loved the great Chinese tradition of gifting lai see. Getting HK$20 for no reason other than tradition really rocked my seven-year-old world.
I have an income now, so twenty bucks here and there doesn''t make a huge difference, but I still retain that childhood anticipation for the red packets. It''s just a bit disappointing when I open up an envelope and it isn''t concealing a massive check.
And it''s the guilt from feeling disappointed that makes me really hate Chinese New Year for making me hate myself.
It''s just like being unable to conceal your letdown expression when unwrapping that pair of socks at Secret Santa parties.
Gifting is a heartwarming tradition. It''s the thought that counts. I am not supposed to care. I am a bad person.
There''s even worse.
Chinese New Year gambling is just out of hand.
Now that I have a job, I''m expected to bet real money at The Mahjong Table, a no man''s land filled with hidden agendas, treacherous scheming and Janus-faced traitors.
If you beat your elder relatives at mahjong one too many times, beware their wrath. It really hurts when you get hit by a mahjong tile.