Year of the Sad Water Buffalo

This is the 11th Chinese New Year since we moved to the States.  I realized that the more I grow up, the more it strikes me as a saddening holiday.  Perhaps it’s because I’m in New York?  Back in Virginia, sometimes it was hard to remember there were any cultures outside the White/Christian norm; but in NYC the big melting pot, it’s a lot easier to be reminded of my own roots – and everybody else’s.  And the fact that not everyone’s is equal.

Half of New York stays home on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah.  The consultants are out of pocket, the jewelers put away their diamonds, and the Kosher restaurants stop serving food.  On top of that people respect the Jewish population to take 52 half Fridays off every year to observe the Sabbath.  The Chinese?  We work.  We work as if we forgot to check the calendar.  We don’t take the day off to celebrate because our moms and dads and friends all have to go to work, too.  People don’t expect you to celebrate until the following Sunday.  Those who cut school or work are lazy asses.  We despise them.

Last month, an article on New York Times discussed how the Jewish dine at Chinese restaurants over Christmas – because we are the two largest minority groups who don’t celebrate Christmas.  We have no urge to spend the time home with family, so we eat out or keep the business running.  Guess what?  Chinese restaurants open also on Chinese New Year (and the following Sunday)!

When Rockefeller Center lights its Christmas tree, my commute home becomes a nightmare.  When Catholic schools and military units take St. Patrick’s Day off to parade on 5th Avenue, it becomes impossible to grab lunch around my office.  People who drink on Cinco de Mayo and dress up on Halloween also celebrate the right holiday on the right holiday.  They don’t care about screwing over other people’s regular work day – and we Chinese work work work according to everyone else’s schedule.  We want to be team players.  We want to look good.  We want to make money.  And somehow our very own culture goes to the bottom of the priority list, and we gather for a meal on Sunday if everyone else is free.

But Chinese New Year is supposed to be about family!  Clean the house before the Eve, gather for a big family meal around the stove, play games all night waiting for the New Year to come, give and receive red envelopes, eat more big family meals, run around the streets while the businesses closed for at least 3-5 days…

And what did I do on the Eve?  Last year I ate pizza by myself in a foreign town, on a business trip.  This year I feasted on Cheetos while trying to fix the RAM in my computer, and trying to call my parents for four hours without success.

And what did I do on New Year’s Day?  Last year I interviewed 14 students who drained my energy and voice like nothing else.  This year I put on my red shirt, rode on the crappy morning Subway, had conference calls all day, pissed off a senior colleague, and had dinner with coworkers before returning to my desk for more late-night work.  So exciting and festive.

I miss the sound of firecrackers at midnight and the cheesy happy new year songs from the TV.  I miss the smell of red envelopes and the plates of hot food on a big round table.  I miss the sight of empty streets and the burden of saying silly lucky words.  Chinese New Year sucks without them.  It sucks when nobody, not even myself, is doing anything about it.