So our home is once again stocked with food of many kinds, some from the bakeries downstairs, and many others from relatives and kind brothers and sisters from church. As in tradition every year, brothers and sisters spend the second day of the Lunar New Year visiting our home. They gather around the table, peel mandarin oranges open and enjoy the fellowship together. After we have satisfied ourselves with the goodies and candies, mum offers us her honey lemon drink to give our throats the gentle reprieve of something cool and soothing.
My mother and sister are excellent homemakers. For a good few hours from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon, they juggled between warming up the siew mais and jiao zis (Chinese dumplings) in the kitchen, entertaining the guests, and serving up the numerous delicacies and making them feel all at home. They also had to do the washing up of the dishes, the constant replenishing of the ba guas (Sliced roasted pork) and pineapple tarts on the plate, and coax the guests to enjoy and feel all at home.
Myself on the other hand, found an excellent hideaway in the form of my bedroom. Every one in a while, I would pop into my bedroom for ten minutes to a half hour, and soak in the peace and serenity away from the hustle and bustle.
Hustle and bustle is nice, they are reflections of life and joy as opposed to death and loneliness, but peace and serenity is the third space found in between the two. I never quite thought of myself as an introvert, but a friend also made this startling observation that I don’t like large groups and tend to avoid being in the spotlight or at the party. Just being with friends you are comfortable with is more than fine. Perhaps it is a sign of ageing ha ha. Also I need to take breaks of quietness to avoid getting too overwhelmed by the crowds. It happened at our church’s Christmas and New Year events, when I found great relief in moving away from the crowds and into another room (or in the toilet). So while my mum and sis were busy entertaining guests in the living room, I allowed myself to take timed breaks to replenish my energy and ease my nerves.
I remember how using electronic devices became a hot topic of the Lunar New Year in 2013. As ironic as it was, Facebook was one of the platforms in which my friends advocated the switching off of our mobile phones and devices and focus our attention on the moments that count – the here and the now. I remember being rather pessimistic about New Year visitations last year – it seemed to hold little significance other than being the usual formality to reunite as a family during the CNY holidays. I hardly spoke to my cousins, other than the twinnies and their brother who attends the same church as us, and the topics that dominated the conversations between my uncles and aunts at the dining table, were often of little interest to me. I always perceived my male cousins to be chauvinistic men who cared mainly for themselves (and I have evidence to prove it if I have to) and that gave me little reason to want to mingle.
This year was slightly different. One of my male cousins got engaged in the course of last year, and I suppose that – entering into a new stage of his life – has propelled him into the realm of mature gentleman-hood. Or maybe it is because his other counterparts are scattered across the different continents in the world. My relatives on my maternal side are the ‘globalised’ sort of family you would imagine in the twenty-first century. They skype their new year blessings to each other throughout the day because one cousin is in Canada, another is London, and yet another in Japan. (And yes, I know that just as reliably I am giving this commentary about my cousins and their ‘good’ nature, they too probably think of me as boring and elitist and deliberately detached from the rest of the world.)
So this year’s family reunion was nice. SImple, but enjoyable. The relatives who were not otherwise engaged on another part of the world gathered for a simple evening meal, each family contributing one or two specialties. Grandma is getting on in age and contents herself with a good home-cooked meal. The cousins played an ‘intelligent board game’ (in my brother’s words) Balderdash – while my sis and I took a backseat and listened in to their eccentric and hilarious discussions during the game. I managed to get on quite a bit on the new book I am reading on my Kindle – The Fault In Our Stars by John Green – and felt comfortable and respected even though I was not joining in all the ‘fun’. My aunt sat down next to me and smiled when she said she understood why I would prefer being away from the noise and in the quiet instead (‘too much noise from your students’ – I suspect that’s completely legitimate and true). My uncle who usually spouts nonsense sat next to me and commented about my being in education and his past experience working for the government as an engineer.
I think it helped that the shows were boring and purposeless – unless Mediacorp’s purpose for screening Back to the Future was to drive families closer together on New Years because the TV programmes were so horribly painful to watch. :( I completely do not understand why Mediacorp would screen such an old movie on New Year’s day. My guess is that perhaps they are trying to capitalise on the time travelling through the past, present and future – as a symbol of starting the new year with our eyes on the things that matter – family, love, virtuous things. But Mediacorp did not seem bothered to even package the holiday movies. If it is an old flick, don’t put a ribbon on it and pretend that that’s going to make it appealing.
The weather is getting warmer here, but still enjoyable. The evening still brings cool fresh breezes that makes my skin tingle and my face feel refreshed. Now let’s hope the weather stays kind as the hot season picks up.