I’ve been trying to write at least once a month, and by golly March snuck up on me thanks to February’s lack of a 29th and 30th! I scanned my memories and naturally, February makes me think of Valentine’s Day. Junwen and I don’t do anything huge for the day, but we do usually get each other cards and get dinner at All India Cafe, a restaurant just a few blocks away from our apartment. How did this tradition begin? Pretty randomly, but it’s become a meaningful place all because of the owners. (He may not be the owner, but I call him that because he is always there whenever we go, and seems in charge over everyone else.)
The first time we ate there was our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. Junwen saw it nearby and suggested it…I believe I bused there straight from work. He gave me a single red rose along with a card, in which he wrote some beautiful love note as is his wont. The food was delicious. The wait staff were clearly interested in us, perhaps because we were a mixed couple, perhaps because they saw the rose and the card and thought it was sweet. We lingered for awhile before going home. After getting back, however, I realized I had forgotten my card at the restaurant! I called them to find out if they had it, and phew! they did! When I went back to retrieve it, they all broke out into big smiles. As they handed it to me, they told me they were glad I came back for it because it was such a precious gift. They must have read it…but my silly forgetfulness seems to have set up our relationship with these guys for years to come.
It didn’t seem to matter how much time passed before we returned to eat there, the owner always recognized us. He brought up the card again the first few times…I think it made him really respect and like Junwen. Later, another of the wait staff said I looked like Jodi Foster, and started calling me that from then on. It’s not the first time I’ve been told that, and I take the nick name on with a smile. 🙂
Now when we visit, you would think we were good friends with the owner. His face always lights up when we walk in, he takes Junwen’s hand to shake it, and looks after us personally. He has given us desserts or drinks on the house on several occasions. We even ran into him on the street once, and his face lit up then as well! I’m sure the fact that our faces lit up to see him helped. ^_^
These are the people and the things that make life precious. Living in a big city like Los Angeles, it can be hard to sense community or ownership in a neighborhood. It’s why Junwen and I really cherish places like All India Cafe…Businesses full of people who recognize you and build relationship with you. It makes a big city feel a little smaller. It makes you feel a little bit more that you have a place in your neighborhood. Won’t YOU be my neighbor?
How About You?
Can you relate? Do you enjoy feeling known by your local businesses? Have you developed relationships with any of the local employees (or customers)?
新年快乐! Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! Happy Lunar/Chinese New Year to everyone, as we wave farewell to the year of the monkey and greet the year of the rooster. I will admit that with everything going on in American politics, I have felt a weird form of “survivor’s guilt”. I feel bad posting about normal every-day life, because it feels like doing so makes my (personal) posts on social media disingenuous. I even felt a little bad escaping the political scene for awhile by going for a two-hour hike on Sunday to help clear my mind. But Chinese New Year is Singapore’s biggest holiday—think on the scale of Christmas here in the West, or even bigger—so we took the time to celebrate this weekend with some good friends. It was a good reminder of the beautiful people who live in our city, the lovely talent present here, and the warmth that comes from traditions, family, and friends during the holidays.
In past years, we have tried traveling to East Los Angeles where a lot of the Chinese New Year festivities are held. It’s pretty crazy, and super packed! This year, we decided to check out a local festival happening at the Santa Monica Place, and we were so glad we did! We enjoyed a beautiful music duo, a Korean Fan Dance, and a Lion Dance.
Zither and Keyboard duo
Korean Fan Dance
Korean Fan Dance
Korean Fan Dance
Korean Fan Dance
There were even stilt-walkers, which Junwen informed us were not traditional. The man is definitely dressed like a rooster. We think the lady is just dressed as a lady, but we slightly wondered if they tried to give her a costume that had hints of a chicken.
Stilt walkers at the Santa Monica Place
It was neat and exciting when the Lion Dance began, because the drums and cymbals sounded just like what we’ve heard in Singapore. The Lion Dance is performed not just at Chinese New Year, but also whenever something good happens that you want to celebrate and wish luck for. For example, when a business opens. The below movie is a segment of the dance when the yellow lion took a solo while the red lion greeted the crowd.
Boys playing drums and cymbals for the Lion Dance
It seemed like the lions were fighting in this portion of the dance.
This little boy was funny. Junwen said that he is used to seeing this character in Singapore help the lions perform tricks. For example, the boy will throw “candy” into the lion’s mouth, and then the lion will spit out something beautiful that the person inside has transformed it into. This little boy just walked around waving his fan at the lions’ butts and faces.
Boy in Lion Dance
This part was a little neat, when the lions opened scrolls to wish us new year blessings and to tell us they loved us.
After the performance, we went to take our pictures by the photo-op area.
Happy New Year from the Lins!
We met up with our good friends Steve and Demyan, who got into the festive spirit and wore red with us!
After enjoying our time at the Santa Monica Place, we went back home with our friends to enjoy delicious hot pot, or steamboat as they call it in Singapore. If you haven’t heard of hot pot, all you need to imagine is a big bowl of broth heated by a hot plate in the middle of a table with TONS of fixings that you and your family and friends can enjoy. We usually put in different vegetables, meats (like pork belly and beef strips), fish cakes, mushrooms, and noodles. Everyone sits around the table and it’s a continuous process of putting more food in, taking it out, eating it, and putting more food in again. It’s actually super healthy, both because the items that you cook are healthy AND because you have the chance to wait between portions as the new batch is cooked. Meanwhile, all the flavors from the fixings seep into the broth, creating a delicious soup that is perfect for a cold day!
Hot pot and fixings for Chinese New Year
Mushrooms are perhaps my favorite item for the hot pot!
All of these fun events took place on Chinese New Year day. On Chinese New Year Eve, we skyped with our family in Singapore and presented our parents with two oranges. This is a tradition that Junwen grew up doing. You take two oranges, begin the blessing with “Papa” or “Mummy”, and then give them blessings and well-wishes for the new year. If we were physically together, we would give each of them two oranges. Because we are speaking via skype, we hold them up to the camera as we speak our blessings and well-wishes. Part of the trick is that these blessings and well-wishes are given in Chinese, so every year I practice the blessings I want to give before we call…and almost every year I get nervous and slip up. They were so kind, however, and told both of us that our Chinese was improving. 😉 Afterwards, Junwen’s younger brother did the same for us. (He can give the well-wishes in English, though. 😉 ) I asked if he would no longer have to do it once he got married. Like a lot of these traditions, the answer was, “We don’t know, we’re just making it up as we go along!” ^_^
Even my parents like to participate in the holiday. My sweet mom has always been interested in learning about different cultures and passing that education on to her daughters. I still remember reading books at nap time that taught me about different cultures and traditions. (For example, the story of the Three Little Pigs as told in Hawai’i, in which the big bad wolf was a shark instead. Or the African Folk tale called, The Vingananee and the Tree Toad…of which I can still recite some text!) It has come at no surprise, therefore, that she would immerse herself in her son-in-law’s culture and send us red packets each year. Red packets are like Christmas gifts for Chinese New Year, and are envelopes filled with money that are given by the adults to the children. (Usually, you only get them when you are single, but we will still gladly receive them! ^_^)
Chinese New Year red packets from my mom. (Sorry for the poor phone camera quality!)
As always, the holidays remind us just how much we love our family and friends. Hope your year is full of health, happiness, and love!
Did you do anything to celebrate Chinese New Year?
Funny how seemingly small, inconsequential events can lead to our unpacking of deeper issues. A comment I made to Junwen about our friend’s kid who bawled his head off when his grandparents left started me down a meandering path that led to my own waterworks…The child’s tears that surprised me found their way to my own cheeks.
“I’m still thinking about how Jimmy* was crying so hard when he had to say goodbye to his grandparents the other night. I mean, I grew up partly raised by my grandparents, too, but I don’t ever remember crying when we had to say goodbye…Did you?” I don’t know why it was so curious to me, but I was interested to hear Junwen’s memories.
“Well, I cried when we moved out of Ah Ma‘s house.”
“Oh. What were the reasons for your tears?” I wondered if he cried because he moved from a big house to a small apartment, or if it was because he missed Ah Ma.
Young Junwen at Ah Ma’s house.
“I cried because I missed her. I grew up in her house. But, I would still go and have sleepovers after we moved. You had sleepovers at your grandparents’ house too, right?”
“Yes! They were so much fun. We’d sleep on cots down in the basement. Grandpa slept down there, too, and he snored so loudly…”
“I can still remember so clearly what Ah Ma would cook for us…Did your grandma do most of the cooking?”
“Yeah, I guess…but…I mostly remember going out to eat with her and grandpa to special restaurants.”
This conversation flooded my mind with memories of going over to Grandpa and Grandma’s. I dawdled there for awhile, but as so often, such thoughts also reminded me of Grandma’s passing from lymphoma when I was around 12-13 years old. I’ve always carried some guilt with me for not being with her more during her sickness. It was bothering me, as we sat over the dinner table last night, that I couldn’t remember much about her illness at all. I got up from the table to fetch my diaries to see if I had written anything down to record my feelings and experiences.
I came back to the table and started paging through the puppy and kitty covered journal. I laughed at some of the passages—so much angst in a 12 year old’s life! Oh, here’s an entry about Grandma…Hmm, it’s just about her buying me contacts…but the date seems like it must be close…I was disappointed to page through the entire year of her illness and not find anything at all…It was mostly junior high drama, family drama, what I was doing in school…I looked up at Junwen. “You know, the only thing I clearly remember about Grandma’s illness is one visit to the hospital…I remember the whole family was in there, but she was in a lot of pain and was crying out. I couldn’t bear it so I ran outside of the room to cry. I remember my Auntie Anne followed me out and hugged me, sharing in my tears. She said something to me, I can’t remember, maybe about it being so hard.”
I did find one entry on December 29, 1998, that read as follows:
Grandma Gabes is really tired. The doctors are treating her for lymphoma, and she’s recovering from a fall that broke her backbone. She’s really tiring out [my aunt], but she’s lonely, I think. I’m going to her house sometime this week to “write her tax sheets out.” She is unable to write, but I think it’s just an excuse to get one of her granddaughters over. We’re praying. =)
I never did go do her taxes…In fact I don’t know that I actually went over at all after that. I felt so guilty, and still do, although realizing that I was only 12 at the time makes me feel like I should give myself a little bit of slack.
It was months after her passing that I finally recorded something about it. I found the entry and read it aloud to Junwen, surprising myself with the tears that started to fall.
Thanksgiving is one of America’s biggest holidays. In fact, unless you work in retail or a service industry (e.g., restaurants, hospitals, law enforcement, etc.), it promises the longest chunk of days off (four-day weekend, w00t!) The story behind Thanksgiving that we all grow up learning (and often enacting in kindergarten plays) is that of the Pilgrims who sailed across the Atlantic to seek religious freedom. They were not prepared for the weather or the different land, and about half of them perished during the harsh winter. In the Spring, the Native American Squanto (who has an amazing story) taught the Pilgrims how to harvest corn, catch fish, and survive in their new home. When the corn was harvested in autumn, the Pilgrims organized a feast of Thanksgiving and invited their new Native American allies. Days of Thanksgiving weren’t uncommon among the religious settlers who desired to thank God for their blessings and provision. The early presidents issued Days of Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday that it was celebrated on an annual basis across America. For more details, see The History Channel’s summary of the history of American Thanksgiving: History Channel’s Thanksgiving History
Thanksgiving Growing Up in the Midwest
There were four main holidays that my family celebrated throughout my childhood: Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July (Independence Day), and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was probably the least exciting of the four, and varied the most as far as traditions went, but it was still a fun time of getting together with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins over a big meal. I tend to place most of my sentimentality on traditions that were repeated throughout the years…For us that included watching T.V. shows like “Mouse on the Mayflower“, making Thanksgiving-themed crafts with Mom (like hand turkeys or turkeys made out of toilet paper rolls). It was a feel-good holiday that began with church in the morning followed by big meals with family and sharing what we were thankful for. In the 6th grade, our science teacher asked us to try to sit through Thanksgiving dinner without complaining about anything ONCE…instead to sit back and listen to others. We were commissioned to come up with lists of things we were thankful for, a tradition that I think is very healthy for anyone to do (at any time of the year, for that matter).
The Transition to Friendsgiving
Since moving away from home for college, grad school, and now my job, I have only gone home for Thanksgiving twice (both times were paid by others). The unfortunate fact about Thanksgiving travel is that plane ticket prices soar, and it was a trip I could never afford. As a college student living in Florida, the four-day weekend wasn’t long enough to drive (it takes 22 non-stop hours to drive to Wisconsin from my university on the central coast). When I moved out to California for grad school, the distance was even longer. So, instead, I would stay put for Thanksgiving and save up my money to fly home for the longer Christmas break. The $8/hour (or was it $6?) work study I did during the school year gave me the ability to do that, at least. In fact, whenever I made decisions about purchases (such as the rare dinner out to TGIFs with friends), I would compare the price with the cost of a plane ticket and ask myself, “Is this dinner worth an hour of my time? Is it worth taking money away from a future flight home?”
Of course, I missed being with family for Thanksgiving…But economics meant that I had to form new traditions: namely, “Friendsgiving”. [Read more…]