Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Lunar New Year!

I had the best weekend ever full of family, friends, and many of my favorite things. I always get the Sunday blues when it comes time to shift into the daily grind, but this week, the party continued with Lunar New Year falling on Monday. This holiday is mainly celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese and since I consider myself both, I can't just refer to it as Chinese New Year or Tết. Hence, Lunar New Year.

Anyway, LNY is a celebration of family and tradition. There are several traditions that go along with the new year like offering food and incense to pay respect to our ancestors, cleaning the house and settling debts before the new year to start it off right and get rid of bad luck, and giving/receiving red envelopes filled with "lucky money," or as they call it in Mandarin Chinese, hóngbāo. There's also the tradition that you aren't supposed to wash your hair on LNY, as it will rinse away your good luck. So yeah, I have bed head and it's extra fancy and nice.

 {Lucky luck}

LNY is a day when I think about what it means to be Chinese or Vietnamese. I consider myself lucky to be both. My paternal grandparents left China for Vietnam out of starvation and my maternal grandfather left China for Vietnam because of maternal grandmother was born in Vietnam after the huge movement of Chinese people to Vietnam. (She's considerably younger than the rest of my grandparents and in turn, my only living blood-related grandparent). All that aside, this is why I am both Chinese and Vietnamese. Then comes the part where my parents left Vietnam (Communism strikes again) for the United States. And that is why I am Chinese-Vietnamese-American. So now you know "what kind of Asian" I am.

My parents speak English, Vietnamese, and a multitude of Chinese dialects. I took a few years of Mandarin Chinese and a semester of Vietnamese in college to start to make up for the fact that I can't speak my "homeland tongue." It's a little bit embarassing and a little bit heart breaking, which is why I need to work on it more this year. (Who wants to get Rosetta Stoned with me??)

To me, being Chinese means that you honor your ancestors and respect your parents and elders. Family is always first. You call every friend of your parents "auntie" or "uncle." You know how to eat with chopsticks. Your stove has been covered with aluminum foil at one point or another and your furniture with clear vinyl. You use the dishwasher as a drying rack. You know the smell of mothballs all too well. You will never let someone pay for the dinner bill without a fight. You eat rice every day. 

Being Vietnamese means that phở is a food group. You put soy sauce or nước mắm on everything. You know a different story about the Vietnam War. You're not afraid of 100 mopeds coming at you. Paris By Night. Seafood buffets. You greet everyone by a combination of their gender, their relation to you, and their age in comparison to your parents. (And you're still confused about how to do this). You have a 55-lb bag of rice in your pantry and no milk in your fridge. You eat fruit for dessert. 

Those are very short (and not totally serious) versions of what being Chinese and Vietnamese means to me. At any rate, I'm glad to have each of those fibers woven through me, in addition to all of my American attributes and practices you're probably very aware of. (Sadly, knowing only one language fluently is one of those...)

{Lunar New Year in Hong Kong, 2008}

I hope this gave you a little peek at something unfamiliar. Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. Haha Jenn, I love this post. I got a great chuckle about your 'what it means to be Chinese' paragraphs.

    And I totally know what you mean about it being a bit embarrasing not knowing your own language! I'm in an Asian group at work and I'm one of two people who doesn't know a minumum of three languages. I felt quite


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