I recently wrote an article at work on Chinese New Year traditions (there are many Chinese-American doctors in the Bay Area that our company would LOVE to do more business with).
Having lived here in the States for the past 12 years, I can't remember the last time our family celebrated New Year the way I wrote about in the article. The whole red packet, new clothes, dragging ourselves all around town doing the "gong hey fat choy" thing. I'm sort of reminescent of it, the "sort of" stems from the fact that there were always a few unfortunate things that prohibited the childhood me from fully enjoying this joyous occasion.
The one inconvenience that I could usually overlook (except when I'm forced to look at the photo album my family kept diligently through the years) was the gorgeous new dresses my mom put me in year after year. Those who knew me as a child will remember those occasions where I was kicked out of the girl's bathroom at restaurants coz I should've known that "fay jai" (chubby little boys) like me are not welcomed. While I understood the dresses were meant to be nice things for me since I've been a great kid all year, I'm sure that I was not the only person that hesitated at the door, contemplating whether I should go out in public in attires dripping in laces and velvet trims that could have me arrested for cross-dressing.
After successfully convincing ourselves that I was not in drag, we would then set out on our "Bai Leen" tour, starting from my grandparents (paternal then maternal), and then other relatives in descending order of seniority. For some reason, we almost always visit our very elderly "Tai Gong" (Great grandpa) last.
I hate to admit that as a child, I saw this visit as an unfortunate obligation with a small consolation at the end. To the childhood me, Tai Gong seemed way too old and frail to be compatible with life, and I always imagined him throwing up bloody phlegm and dropping dead right in front of us. I remember the dread my sister and I felt when we knew it was time for us to enter that dark room filled with "old people smell" to see Tai Gong. There he would always be, year after year, sitting motionless and stoic in his traditional Chinese outfit, as ancient as a fossilized redwood tree. After our haste "gong hey fat choy, sun tai geen hong", he would slowly cock his head to where we stood, try to mumble something back to us that we could never understand, and reach out a deeply wrinkled and mottled hand to pet us on our heads and hand us our ley see. I'm embarrassed to describe the relief when we can finally exit the room, clutching the biggest ley see we've collected all year. Tai Gong was a generous man and I wish I knew him before he was sick. He died when I was 8 or 9.
On a less morbid note, there were many, many things that I eagerly looked forward to during Chinese New Year. I would usually empty out the Tsuen Hub (candy box) with gusto days before New Year, especially when Ley See Tong (red packet candy) is involved.
A whole week of vacation, the aroma of frying neen go (sticky rice cake), stacks of cash from red packets (that usually gets "deposited into our college funds" by our parents immediately) were other New Year goodies that I most relished.
Now looking back as grown-ups, my worries of Tai Gong dropping dead and dresses that made me look girly seemed so insignificant compared to how lucky we were to be surrounded by family that loved us and cherished us and allowed us to be totally care-free kids. I think I owe my family a big thank you. THANK YOU!!