Chinese New Year

Thursday, January 26, 2012

This and all photos below are from the Xinyi District of Taipei

So it seems that the Chinese New Year festivities here in Taipei are over. I still have several days of "vacation" left, but the non-stop eating has ceased. I have already decided that I will never again spend another Lunar New Year in Asia.

A recap: it began on Sunday, when I traveled to a suburb of Taipei to have dinner at my Second Uncle's house. (That's how we call them; I don't really even know his full name ... he's my mother's brother.) It took over an hour to get to the place, and my Second Uncle's wife was there, as was my "Little Uncle" (my mother's youngest brother). We chatted for a bit, I looked at photos of my uncle's granddaughters (my nieces), and then we sat down to eat. Although I don't like Chinese food much in general, I definitely have my preferred "lesser of evils," and I can tell you right now that everything I ate during Chinese New Year OUTSIDE of the aunt's house I currently live in tasted heavenly. (Was that mean?) There was fish, hot pot, sticky rice, peas, shrimp, ginseng chicken soup, and at least another 4 or 5 dishes.

Dinner conversation devolved (or evolved, depending on how you look at it), as is the case whenever Little Uncle is around, into a discussion about politics, education in Taiwan, the real estate industry and environmental engineering. How I was even able to understand what they were talking about, I have no idea. Maybe my grasp of Mandarin is a lot better than I assumed it was. After 5 hours of eating and chatting and traveling, I finally arrived home and crashed. Only to wake up bright and early the next morning (Monday) to prepare to travel another 1.5 hours to another aunt's place for lunch.

Now I had no idea (because in the U.S., Chinese New Year is a one-day, one-meal affair), but there are customs attached to the first 3+ days of the Chinese New Year. On the eve of the actual day of the new year, you are supposed to have a massive family dinner to kick start the holiday, I guess. This is what I did on Sunday night, with my mother's side of the family (since my father is actually not Taiwanese at all, none of his family is here ... this will become important later on in my explanation of what goes on during Chinese New Year).

I think, traditionally, the first day of the New Year (Monday) is supposed to be dedicated not just to eating, but to religious aspects (here in Taiwan, mostly visiting temples and burning incense and offering fruits and food and the like) of the holiday. I have discovered, especially during Chinese New Year, just how superstitious the Taiwanese are. And here I thought I was superstitious when I had all these silly limitations on what I could and could not wear and when during high school so I could maximize my concentration levels before and during tests!

For example, red. You're supposed to wear red or a dark/bright shade of pink for as long as you can during the Chinese New Year festivities, because it's their lucky color, etc. Then there's the foods you HAVE to eat, or at least cook for show: fish (after the proverb "年年有餘," which means "may you have abundance year after year" ... the word for "fish" sounds identical to the sound for "abundance"), long-life veggies (I think it's the actual name of a vegetable here), noodles (the length of the noodles are supposed to represent a long life), tangerines (not sure why, but they must have the leaves still attached), chicken (not sure why) ... I'm sure there are others I don't know about. Oh, I could give you non-Chinese New Year-related examples of their superstitiousness, but this entry would never be completed. I'll dedicate another entry to that later.

Lunch at my Big Auntie's house (she's the oldest daughter on my mom's side of the family) was much more rowdy. Her two sons (cousins I'd last seen in 1987 or thereabouts), their wives and children (now grown and many of them taller than I), and my Little Uncle showed up. The food was amazing, in comparison to what I eat at "home" here. My aunt cooked everything on her own ... plum-sauce chicken, rice vermicelli, shrimp, drunken chicken, hot pot, fried fish, pork, etc. After I ate lunch, my cousins introduced me to their wives (who were sitting with the children at another table), and I ate snacks and chatted with them for a while while watching TV. And then they went to nap (without telling me, so I thought I was so dull that I had pushed them away) ... and then later there was a birthday cake (it was one of my cousin's birthdays), and another round of soup before I was finally allowed to leave.

The entire lunch "trip" took over 8 hours, and when I arrived home (exhausted, having fallen asleep on the subway back), I was surprised to find that my cousin's cousins (to whom I am not related by blood) were over for dinner. All I wanted was to take a nap. I told my aunt that I had eaten a second lunch just before returning home, but I was still asked to join the dinner ... during which time I basically sat silent, nursing a bowl of soup.

The next day, Tuesday, my mother's side of the family came over for lunch. According to my research, this second day of the festivities is the day the daughter returns to her family (assuming she has married). The aunt I live with is actually the youngest daughter on my mom's side of the family, so I don't think they were really keeping with tradition or anything. This meal, I thought, was the most disappointing of all, though there were some special American items, like pumpkin-cheese soup and garlic bread. But unlike the meals I'd had at various relatives' houses, the dishes were fairly one-noted: a lot of seafood and meat. I swear after this meal, I could smell myself, and I smelled like a farm animal.

Lunch lasted for nearly 4 hours, and when it was over, I napped for a bit and then woke up and ate a couple of nougat pieces I'd bought at DiHua Street a couple weeks ago. Regretful, because between that and the "normal" dinner that followed, I felt like I didn't just have a food baby, but a stone baby growing inside of me.

Wednesday was the first day life resumed as usual. I met up with a classmate to do some shopping (sales are good during Chinese New Year). I got my family a modern twist on a traditional Chinese tea set, and an army green anorak-parka without a hood for myself. It was a little pricer than I would've liked, but I've been wanting one of these for a long time. And then, as if I didn't feel guilty enough, when I got home from my shopping trip, I ordered another $60's worth of things from American Eagle Outfitters.

So I'm officially on clothing and accessories lockdown until, like, August, and I'm on meat lockdown for a week. I'm through smelling like a cow! It's not going to be easy, though. I don't think the Chinese or Taiwanese take kindly to vegetarianism ...

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