Several nights ago, instead of sitting in a chair facing my window and creepily staring out into the parking lot as usual, I went out. The Vietnamese Student Association, along with other Asian clubs on campus, was hosting this year’s Lunar New Year celebration at the Davis Senior Center, and I figured I could miss a night of scaring the shit out of a couple making out in the parking lot in order to go.
The Lunar New Year is sometimes called Chinese New Year, but the Vietnamese, Koreans, Tibetans and Mongolians celebrate the holiday as well. In the Chinese culture, which I’m most familiar with, it’s a time for families to reunite and pass out lucky red envelopes with gifts of money tucked inside.
The largest human migration also happens during this time, as millions of migrant workers in China along with millions more Chinese living overseas travel back home to reunite with family. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving, but bigger. A lot bigger.
Anyway, I had a good time at the VSA-hosted New Year celebration. Not only did I gorge myself on the free samples of special snacks at the club booths (until someone recognized me the sixth time around and chased me away), I also enjoyed looking at the different traditional dresses some girls wore.
(If anyone from that night was wondering who that creeper going around taking pictures with all the girls was…it was me.)
All in all, the student-led celebration was a good preview for what I’d come home to this past weekend.
The New Year is a big deal in my family, full of food, socializing and bau cua ca cop, a type of gambling game that I’ve not only lost tons of change to, but large amounts of my dignity as well.
Upon arriving at one of my aunts’ or uncles’ houses, my family and I are ushered into the dining room where a table-full of traditional Chinese and Vietnamese dishes awaits us. Unlike my parents and sisters, I usually dig in first and continue doing so for the remainder of the gathering. That is, until a concerned relative suggests that I take a break. Which I sometimes do. Sometimes.
Aside from the food, my favorite part of New Years is catching up with my large, extended family. Or more like, poking fun at them.
For example, my relatives’ favorite question to ask is “How’s school?” To spice up an otherwise generic answer, I’ve gotten in the habit of slipping in fabricated tidbits such as an unplanned pregnancy (freshman year), bouts of homelessness (sophomore year), heavy drug use (junior year), and this year, regret over getting the word “juicy” tattooed on my ass crack.
From the blood that seems to drain out of their faces, I can tell my relatives don’t take these jokes too well.
My aunts get me back though. Sometimes, two of them will come up to me and ask coyly if I’ve found a nice Chinese boyfriend yet. Before I can put down my fork to answer, they laugh – and laugh. And laugh. And then stumble away. So it’s fair.
When it’s time for the entire family to eat, I am banished to the “children’s table” with my two teenage sisters, preadolescent cousins and three-year-old niece. I used to complain but I’ve come to accept it.
Yes, the chairs are tiny. But my tablemates are also smaller and eat less, so I can steal their food, knowing that they’re too puny to fight back.
Honestly, now that I’m older, it’s different coming home for the New Year. Despite having grown up to become a nice, young woman (see column about titties), when my relatives see me, they can’t help but see the four-year-old girl I used to be, stealing their food off their plates and running out of the house naked because I didn’t want to take a bath.
As a young adult, new to the adult world, I sometimes forget that I was ever young. So I guess it’s nice to know that little girl still lives on in my relatives’ memories. I certainly see her every time my relatives look at me and talk to me.
One day I’ll join the adult’s table. Until then I’ll enjoy my time sitting at the smaller table, watching my sisters, cousins and niece grow up right in front of me.
KATHERINE TANG NGO is the girl in the red lipstick. If you were in a photo with her last Wednesday night and feel violated, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to demand retribution in the form of a silly dance.