chinese new year makes me think of our school breaks growing up, when my parents carted us on endless trips from flight to layover to flight to transit to flight back to malaysia. i used to drag my feet because my friends went on vacations to disney world and villas in spain, and ahead of me stretched months of sitting in old people houses with moldy fridges.
my mother used to say, “you guys really make me sad”, as she broke up fights between my brother and i. the year my brother started high school we stopped fighting overnight for some reason. i think our years of spending summers in my grandmothers’ houses with no friends, no television, no internet and no understanding of chinese allowed us to spend quality time together. given our limited resources, my brother managed to provide us with an astonishing amount of things to do in the scorching heat of southeast asia. we climbed trees, except that i couldn’t reach, so he brought me a stool to stand on. we pulled down coconuts with a 20 foot stick with a hook at the end. my brother would hack into the thick green husk and stick in a straw. stray cats were another favorite and we adopted a new kitten every summer, naming each one and collecting dinner scraps. my grandmother also had a chicken coop so we chased chickens. sometimes we would follow her into the dark hut and squint to find the source of all the rustling feathers and clucking. my uncle to took us fishing and i would arm myself with a book and prep the worms. once, the neighbors invited us next door for a drink…but nothing much happened after that. my aunts and uncles brought a lot of food over – nasi lemak, char kway teow and KFC. they brought bags of durians, and we would squat on the floor piling up the seeds. sometimes we would sleep on the concrete floor when it got to hot. we mopped the floors once, then had to lock ourselves in the bathroom while our grandfather yelled and pounded on the door after he slipped on the slick concrete. sometimes we would just sit around, complaining about how hot it was, to which my mother would respond, “stop moving and you won’t be hot”.
my brother has an ability to communicate humor across language. one set of cousins don’t speak english, but with hand motions, he managed to communicate and somehow we would all end up laughing. our other cousins are younger and were always super shy, dodging behind each other and giggling every time we asked them a question.
chinese new year usually makes me miss malaysia and family more than any other time of the year. nate and i tried valiantly to celebrate by ourselves. unfortunately, philly doesn’t seem to have much going on, or we just don’t know where to go, but celebration usually just means eating anyway, so we drove down to chinatown and had some noodle soup. it feels a different without the humidity, wailing music, exploding firecrackers and piles of oranges, cookies and money, but i guess it could never be the same outside of asia. happy year of the rabbit!