“Where are we going again…”, an Asian teenager asked his mother, eyes burning with annoyance, body slumped into a hunch.
“We have to go buy dat faat choi (髮菜: Chinese black seaweed) thing that your Mah Mah (嬤嬤: Grandma) likes!”, a Cantonese mother gently explains, “Mah Mah says, ‘no faat choi (髮菜), no faat choi (發財: wealth)!'”
If you happen to walk through the markets of Chinatown during the Lunar New Year season, you would witness these conversations happening all around you. From buying food items to prepare for the family reunion dinner to purchasing various different crimson decoration to hang up in places where the Christmas decorations used to be, Chinatown’s market is definitely one of those places that fuels you with an extra oomph of New Years’ spirit.
However, if you look closely at the environment, you’d notice that most of these shoppers are of the older generation. Even if you do spot a teenager or a young adult helping out, you would immediately notice the amount of disgust that loom over their faces like a mourning veil. Asian, specifically Chinese, teenagers and young adults nowadays are just not as interested in their own culture as the older generations do. I might go as far as to say that Chinese teenagers refuse to be associated with anything regarding their roots. And this is not hard to understand: because ‘being Chinese’ is a derogatory remark.
One hidden connotation of ‘being Chinese’ is being too superstitious. The Lunar New Year highlights the superstitiousness of the Chinese culture. Every single food item that is placed on the table of the family reunion dinner represents a different good fortune. Fried shrimps with garlic suddenly turned into a blessing of happiness, seaweed with oysters, a blessing of wealth, steamed lotus, a blessing of abundancy, and so much more. Even the putting up of the decorations carries a much deeper meaning that what meets the eye. Every single act of the Lunar New Year carries some sort of superstitiousness.
So are the teenagers right about denouncing the superstitiousness of the Chinese culture? I would say not. Simply because the main focus of the celebration is not in the blessings, but in the blessing to be able to reunite and enjoy each other’s company. Our seniors put in the effort to prepare us meals not to ensure that we get the blessings of wealth and fortune each year, but to ensure that no matter what happens in this year, there will always be a place where you could call home.
This is my second year celebrating Lunar New Year away from my relatives in Hong Kong, away from my grandma, and most importantly, away from my grandma’s cooking. I could not tell when I would be able to celebrate Lunar New Year with my grandma again, but I sure do hope that this would not only be a tradition in my grandma’s household, but also my future family.
It still saddens me to see how Chinese culture in America is slowly fading away, as the number of younger generations willing to learn it diminishes. There might be a time when this beautiful tradition fades into oblivion, and when that time comes, there will be no one left to save it from extinction.