The CNY I Remember

There’s one particular time of the year it truly sucks to be in London. No, not during winter. It’s during CHINESE NEW YEAR. Here’s why.

If you’re like me, CNY used to be the most frigging awesome time of the year when you get to eat massive amounts of peanut cookies, collect angpows, play with fireworks and lay comatose in front of the TV watching Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China or Chow Sing Chi reruns. The adults would be busy playing mahjong and gambling large amounts on Black Jack (CNY has a knack of bringing out the gambler in you), the kids would be running around high on cookies and unlimited bakwa (bedtime, what bedtime??), the aunties and uncles would be swapping gossip and crazier family members would be picking fights with one another because let’s face it, CNY is also a time for drama.

However if you’re like my husband, who I’ve coaxed/nagged/berated a gabajillion times about CNY, CNY is not all that. He doesn’t share the same fond memories I have of CNY. Visiting family and friends, playing with 29 other cousins (that’s right you Thong cousins, is there really that many of us?), eating till you can barely move, I guess that’s quite a singular experience. But hang on – what is it about CNY in London that sucks so bad?

If I really wanted to replicate the food (it has t* be said, food is KEY to a good CNY celebration), it could be done. It would take work but food can be cooked and sourced. We can even get lou sang here! I don’t reckon that it’s the weather, as I would choose the cold over the hot and humid any day. I remember those armpit stains on my cheongsam. Who wears a cheongsam when she’s about to consume her whole weight in pineapple tarts anyway???

Maybe fireworks and firecrackers hold a special place in my heart. I remember one year we hid in the monsoon drain (lovingly known as the ‘longkang’) when the police came to investigate. A few of us had set off firecrackers just a few minutes before. Maybe the police came to join the party, but we’ll never know…or could it be watching eye-ruining amounts of kung fu movies? No, that’s easily done here in London. We have Amazon Prime and Netflix. Or was it the angpows that made CNY special? No, not since I got married. Because now my freeloading cousins who are above the age of 20 and unmarried can collect angpows from me. Hmph. So what is it? What is the special sauce?

I was about to type a four letter word but that’s not the heart of it.

I believe the essential ingredient that is missing from CNY in London is FAMILY. Not just blood-related relatives, but also friends who have, throughout good times and bad, become part of your extended family. These are the people who make life worth living. These are the people who ensure that my CNY is never ever dull, hardly ever civilised, extremely loud (I’m Hakka after all) and full of laughter, joy, love and sharing.

My Dad used to drive us to Ipoh, Port Dickson (sometimes even to Singapore) and to Seremban and Melaka during CNY, which might seem mad to some people, given the traffic, the heat and the distance. But there was always sense in the madness. Every year, my sister and I looked forward to this special time of the year. We dreaded the travel, we disliked the inevitable drama, we tolerated the heat but we loved each and everyone of our FAMILY.

As I got older, CNY became even better. Dressed in our new CNY clothes, visiting close friends and basically doing NOTHING but eating, talking and gambling – ah, I can’t even begin to reminisce on how wonderful those memories are. Plus, it did help that we had holidays – over here, you get strange looks when you start to gush about CNY (which is what I did this morning at work) as the Brits can’t imagine anything better than Christmas holidays. Let’s just say bakwa wins against turkey at any given day!

Lots of friends I know who live in London have flown back home for CNY. Safe journeys to you and your families. Of course, friends and relatives back home preparing for CNY, I miss you all and I am there with you in spirit, stuffing my face of course. Please try your best not to whatsapp me any photos of durian. This year, it might suck just a little less because I have FAMILY in London – some nieces who are here, other good Malaysian and non-Malaysian friends who all embrace CNY as a time to celebrate friendships, closeness and community.

Maybe in time, my husband and I can start our own tradition of CNY for our children and pass down the CNY I remember. For now, my husband and I would like to wish you and your family Gong Hei Fatt Choy! May the year of the Rooster bring you great peace, prosperity and contentment.

Peace out. Eat well.

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