Children scramble over each other, while teenagers feast over Instagram photos, and adults chatter away at all corners of the room. I stepped into the noise, and found my grandmother seated unceremoniously on the couch. Her eyes lit up as we walked in, as it always had the past 20 years. I embraced her with a hug, and cushioned her with the limited range of Chinese proverbs I knew. Laughing wholeheartedly, her eyes twinkled bright. It was a warm welcome, and I felt right at home again.
We chattered happily, exchanging our mandarin oranges and ang baos. Limping over to grab some plates and utensils, my grandmother pushed me towards her many hand-cooked dishes. “Eat more Qin, you’ll need it to study well!” she exclaimed in Hokkien. I absorbed the disarray around me, and indeed… it was time for the most chaotic reunion of the year – the Chinese New Year!
This festival is symbolic for the gathering of family members, collecting ang paos, engulfing a diverse range of food and of course, the crazy gambling frenzies! Most Singaporeans would visit their grandparents and family members, and go house hopping with friends over a period of two weeks. It is one of the most heartwarming times of the year, and many Chinese would look forward this holiday.
As I slowly piled my plate up with food, my cousins flanked my sides and ambushed me with a series of questions.
“Go uni already, got boyfriend a not?”
“I heard about your leg ah! How are you!”
“How come you not playing Frisbee anymore?”
“Ehh Jia Qin ah, why are you still so dark”
I laughed, struggling to answer all their queries. Different year, same old routine. Amidst the clacking of mahjong tiles, and sudden shrieks of laughter, I thought about how much has changed over the past few years. Losing two grandparents, and yet having the addition of newborns and newly-weds, it feels like a strange new kind of warmth; as if we’ve become unknowingly closer through these events.
Despite the age gap, and differences in backgrounds, my cousins and I bonded naturally over beer, pineapple tarts and love letters. We sneaked into the rooms and shared our deepest concerns, our proudest days and our past celebrations. We gambled all night long, watched Goblin (a Korean drama) under the covers and giggled at the $100 ang baos our grandparents had accidently given to us. It was a sacred and precious time, and I’d love to pin this moment forever.
I’ve heard of many friends and family who dread the CNY holidays due to the bombardment of questions by distant aunties and cousins.
“Relatives always ask the stupidest questions”
“I don’t really want to spend time with people I don’t often see.”
At times, the presence of our loved ones can worsen our day, or leave us gnawing with exasperation. Other times, our relatives may touch on insensitive topics and add salt to our wounds. Sounds familiar? Well, you’re not alone in this battle…
Too often, we’d focus on the one bad thing and leave out all the happy moments. We’d focus on what we lack, instead of what we already have. We don’t have that BMW, that condominium, or that amazing 4.0 GPA someone else does. We also don’t have that 10-year relationship, or that stable high-paying job.
However, sometimes, the most insignificant things are the ones most worth celebrating each day. Waking up in the morning to pelting rain and cool air, playing our favorite song on repeat, having your closest friends with you at all times... If we focus on how every small thing can ignite the brightest spark within us, wouldn’t life would be a lot brighter?
Happiness is a choice, and it is solely defined by us.
As I sit around the dining table this Chinese New year, I am grateful – for my new world of perspective and endless stream of joy. Regardless of how bad my days get, I know I will be able to see life through a brighter, and more colorful lens.
Leong Jia Qin
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