Repost of an old blog:
When I was young, Chinese New Year meant more to me than the ‘Real’ New Year ever did. Never at a particular date (because it’s based on the Chinese calendar, which is in turn based on the phases of the moon, or something like that), Chinese New Year was always a surprise when it came along, and I was always delighted – remember how it felt when you were childishly delighted – by all the noise and mayhem.
Chinese New Year meant fireworks and dragons, red packets and moon cakes, costumes and dances, and that slow, sad Chinese melody played on the pipa. But more than that, at its heart, it meant a perfect night at my grandmother’s house on the eve of the New Year. Her house, a multi-coloured, seemingly everlasting concrete square in Rewa Street, Fiji, was (is) also a convenience store and there’s something about being in a shop late at night that twists and winds its way into a child’s imagination. All those sweets on the shelves, in the dark. Flavoured milk in the fridge, ripe for the picking. And even better, potential gremlins hiding in the woodwork; little monsters that could kidnap you while you sleep and whisk you off into strange and beautiful lands.
Oh what a rag-tag bunch we were back then. Our gang consisted of my big brother (who seemed to fancy himself the leader), our good friends Tracey and Angie (sisters), Buna (our Fijian friend, who lived next door to my grandmother) and, for a while, a boy called Loong, or Sam. As is always the case with Asian nationals coming to live temporarily in an English speaking country, Loong gave himself a good ol’ fashioned English name.
And then there was me, the youngest. The bratty, whiny one. I’ve lost most of the bratty now, but I think the whine has been refined to an art form so that it comes across as pure procrastination.
As we waited for the midnight (witching) hour, we ate a lot, teased each other mercilessly about some bodily function or lack of hygiene, and watched glorious movies, the kind they don’t make anymore. Those were the days of Goonies and Monster Squad. The days when Steven Spielberg was King, and Stephen King was God.
Even now I remember how it felt to be there, surrounded by friends and blankets and anticipation.
And then, midnight! Midnight! Out we rushed to the empty street, marvelling at the lack of people, the shadows in the corners, the blackness of the trees against the jewelled sky. How wonderful it was to sit on the streets where once, in the bright of day, cars zoomed along and buses crawled by.
Spoons raised high, we clanged on pots and pans, a fearsome thrashing of uncoordinated music, waking the neighbours, heralding in the New Year. We danced and jumped and knocked on anything worthy of making noise, and in doing so, banished all the demons and devils back to the underworld where they belonged.
Kung Hei Fat Choi! We chanted. Happy Chinese New Year!
I remember my grandmother, my Popo, smiling her wide smile, the one that made her eyes crinkle. She’s standing there, clapping her hands, laughing at our madness, and tapping her foot in time with the clanging of the pots and the pans. But maybe there’s an air of sadness around her too, maybe her smile falters a little, maybe her foot loses a little rhythm. Because she knows one day we won’t bother asking about Chinese New Year, one day we won’t want to have sleep-overs at her house, one day we’ll grow up and move away and stop being young.
I regret not running up to her, and putting my arms around her and telling her I wouldn’t forget. That I would remember all these things; I would remember the excitement and the dark streets and the craziness of it all. I would remember being young and being happy.
Adulthood happens so fast, doesn’t it? There’s no specific date, no thinly sliced piece of time that tells you you’re no longer a child. It just happens. As I get older, I find myself looking back on my young self and, like most recollections of childhood, that time feels heavy with dreams and adventures – good things, perhaps even the best of things. The sentimentality is not about endless possibilities because I firmly believe that at any point in your life, you could change your world drastically, if you choose to. If you really, really want to and if you have the guts and determination to do it. Endless possibilities exist all the time. The sentimentality is also not about being young just so I could grow up to be someone different. I like me. I’m an okay person.
Instead I think it’s the innocence. The way you knew the dark was scary because there were monsters hiding there, or how you knew there were fairies in the garden who danced on mushrooms, or the feeling you got late at night when the whole world slept and you were the only one awake. I’ve said this before, somewhere, to someone, but magic was so easy to find back then. It was so easy to just believe.
My grandmother died last year. It’s a kick to the heart to know that on this Chinese New Year, she’s not in her house, sitting in her worn out chair, eating moon cakes and tong, and gossiping with her old friends. The shop is probably quiet now. The gremlins themselves have upped and left.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s time for one more clang of that pot. Room for one more bang of that pan.
Ready? Set? Go!
Popo, this one’s for you.