A Sweet Chinese New Year
Updated: Sep 25, 2022
Posted on: January 31, 2022
Cover Image Artwork by: Serena
Your eyes flutter open to the monotonous ring of the plane, signaling for passengers to buckle their seatbelts and that the plane is ready to descend onto the runway. You open up the thick oval window cover on your left, curious to observe, albeit you knew the sunlight would permanently burn your retinas. It appears as if you are now awake with the beam of light piercing your heavy eyelids. Perfect. Your languid body’s circadian rhythm is incredibly upset with the switch of time-zones as you travel with your family to pay a visit to your Chinese relatives for the new year --not to mention the plane engine’s (quite literally) ear-splitting roar and the uncomfortable sitting position you were paralyzed in for what felt like an interminable eternity, the overseas flight from Canada to China was awry and not going well, to say the least.
Back on another vehicle. Great, you think. This time, you are stuck at the back of a Chinese taxi van, while your parents yap away in a dialect of Mandarin that didn’t even seem remotely close to the language flooding the mouths of Beijing people. Despite your stuffy position and the pain in your bum, which is now sore and that is yet to support the weight of a dead elephant, you can’t help but admire the breathtaking late afternoon city skyline in the Beijing February cold. Now, the roar of the airplane dwarfs into the low rumble of the running car engine, sending you off into more sleep; the sleep you desperately need.
As the taxi van comes to a smooth stop, your newly rejuvenated and energized body immediately stirs awake. Besides your anew livelihood, you notice the atmosphere and environment changed too. Scrambling out of the van, you step foot onto a sandy, snowy road and survey the countryside’s frigid surroundings. There is not much to see, besides the chopstick-thin trees enveloped by an icy blanket of white snow and half of dozen quaint houses littered hither and thither along the faraway hills, whose roofs were bleached white as well. You could feel the pleasant countryside cold kissing your cheeks and you are pulled from your blank daydreaming by a soft nudge of a shoulder. “Come and get your luggage, doll. We’re going to take it to the house over there.” your dad says in comprehensible Mandarin. You respond back in Mandarin, “Which one?” Your dad motions his head toward a patch of white forest. Your eyebrows furrow in disbelief, asking in English, “You mean that house concealed behind the abyss of white, where you could be leading me to an evil, nasty witch’s home that is ornate with tempting candies --” “Alright, yes, sure. I will definitely do that” Your dad cuts you off in fluent English, good-humouredly chuckling in chorus with you at your “extraness”. You both direct your attention at your mom, who finishes unloading all the baggage with the helping hand of the taxi driver, and you all march towards the white abyss.
It was not a white abyss that eventually led to an evil, nasty witch after all because you are greeted or metaphorically, smothered with jubilant kisses on the cheek and warm hugs that sharply contrast the outside cold. Your grandmother from your dad’s side, was the most ecstatic of all your relatives and spoke loudly to usher you three all in. She surprises you by talking to you in semi-fluent English, taking all of your luggage in with her wrinkly, but strong hands. Your mom and dad offer to aid her but she shoos them away, ordering them to wash their hands and to get to the dumpling-making straight away. You protest incredulously, “Why are we making dumplings already?” Your grandmother shoots an austere but also teasing look that reflexively causes you to close your gaping mouth which you didn’t know you had open. Shaking your head at her intimidating mannerisms, you don’t hesitate to roll up your sleeves, clean up at the kitchen, and get to the dumpling-making.
At the floured round table with eight people standing around it, the atmosphere you begin to find very lovely; prior to your arrival to China, you were trepidatious about your experience with an unfamiliar line of family and even went as far as mentally preparing yourself for a sour Chinese New Year. However, your expectations were blown out of the water and you are at ease to learn that all eight dumpling-makers were semi-fluent in English. Had it not been for this connection of language, you are uncertain how this “bonding” experience would have passed for you. In a nuclear family of three back in Canada, things felt pretty mundane since you could only spend quality time with your parents and friends --but here around the dinner table, you learn and laugh so much at the swept-under-the-rug secrets of your bloodline. You can really feel the glorious vibes of being in a big, happy family. You get teased; you receive advice; you crack and laugh at running jokes; but the best part of making dumplings is that you master the art of dumpling-making.
When the last dumpling was taken out of the roaring boil, you triumph over this fruitful bonding experience and use the surface of your wrist to wipe away at the light perspiration forming on your forehead. Along with seven people excluding your grandmother, you all just accomplished the dreadful task of dishwashing and setting the table, all at the obdurate instruction of the head of the family, your grandmother. A vague “hm” escapes her mouth, indicating that she is rather pleased with her children and grandchildren’s handiwork. This is also the moment everyone takes their seats, but your grandmother specially pats her hand onto the cushioned seat on her right. You gracefully take a seat and take a huge whiff of the steaming dish of dumplings plated in front of you. Out of the corner of your eye, you get a nod of approval from your grandmother and don’t stop to dig in, enjoying the sweet taste of Chinese New Year.