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Defying Traditions

Gung Hei Fat Choy! Today’s the first day of the Year of Rabbit, which also signifies my completing the third cycle of life on earth. To those who celebrate Chinese New Year, wishing you all a happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. Lunar new year has always been the most important traditional holiday in my culture, although I’ve been more excited for its arrival with the prospect of new clothes, new shoes, special food, candies, and lai-see (red envelopes stuffed with pocket money). Even parents tend to be more forgiving and lax in discipline during this time.

Chinese people, especially gamblers, are very superstitious. All kinds of taboos and dos-and-dont’s multiply in huge volume at the approach of New Year. Anything that has an allure to death or sickness has to be avoided. For thousands of years, the culture indulges in all kinds of divining and sacrificial practices to shun away evil, death, and contrive to gain longevity. Even with a death sentence hanging over the head, one tries to remain low-key and make less of the situation by hosting festivities. It certainly lives up to the newly coined phrase “look forward to future, look froward to money”, which in Chinese sound exactly the same except for a slight change in tone.

All gamblers are superstitious, to some degree. We learned from elders and also from experience not to do certain things when gambling. For example, we were not supposed to touch anyone’s shoulders, or show or touch anyone with a book, which in Cantonese sounds exactly like losing. There were so many taboos you might as well not be there.  (p.113 from Diamond Hill by Chi-shun Feng.)

I have been the worst perpetrator of this taboo! Is that why Chinese people have dodged me today? I can’t ask anything better than to be left alone. I’m not aa gambler, nor am I superstitious. If this has been true, then all my readings in life must have rubbed off any luck that I might be entitled to. I broke another traditional taboo by reading about death:

My aunt was asleep from the morphine, and when she woke up she was surprised to see all of us standing around her bed. ‘All of you are here because I am going to die,’ she said. She told us that she had been dreaming of Grandpa. ‘We were playing mahjong together, and I was two tiles away from winning.’ All of us looked at my grandfather, who seemed bewildered. He didn’t understand what she was saying, ‘I was dreaming, and I felt no pain,’ my aunt said to him in Chinese. ‘No pain. It’s nice to dream like that.’ She closed her eyes to go back to sleep. ‘I don’t mind dying,’ she said, ‘if death is like a dream.’ (p.86 from Transparency by Francis Hwang)

Which transports me back the my mother’s hospital room, where she said almost the same thing. Whether it’s bad luck or not, I will keep these to myself and speak only auspicious words during this time of the year. Death as it is, I count it a blessing to be reminded of my mother on New Year’s Day. To joy, happiness, health, and prosperity in the new year!

10 Responses

  1. A simply beautiful post. I thought this was lovely:

    ‘I don’t mind dying,’ she said, ‘if death is like a dream.’

    Happy New Year to you!

  2. Gong xi fa cai! Xin nian kuai le! (In Mandarin, I hope you understand…from my sister.) Beautiful post.

  3. I loved reading this..here’s to a wonderful year of the Rabbit!

  4. Happy New Year. All the prosperity you need be yours

  5. Beautiful. I wish you a Happy New Year!

  6. A beautiful post… Happy New Year!

  7. I wish I lived in a city (San Francisco, perhaps?!?!) where Chinese New Year was actually celebrated. And really, is there anything better than starting the new year off with a good book?

    Transparency sounds amazing! I can’t wait to hear more thoughts on it!

  8. Lovely post Matt! Wishing you a very happy and beautiful New Year!

  9. Happy New Year Matt! Hope you enjoy all of the celebrations.

  10. Happy new year!! I just completed my third cycle with the tiger last year, lol.

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