Chafing the Dragon

You’d think that I would know a thing or two about Chinese New Year, being a third generational Chinese Filipino. You’d think that I would know at least that it’s happening today even when it seems that everybody else is reminding me about it.

Make no mistake, I like that the Philippines has now openly embraced Chinese culture. It’s just that I think most Chinese folk are probably as confused as I am about the fact that everyone else seems to be more excited at the occasion than ourselves.

Personally, I don’t know if I should be elated or insulted.

MASS RETAIL: I know malls are excited, if only by the fact that they have conveniently replaced Christmas carols with piped-in Chinese music early this month. Shopping seasons have to be made as clear as possible for us simple-minded consumers, after all. Malls cannot simply adopt the Church timeline because there is no such thing as ‘Ordinary Time’ for big retail – every day is a special day to get you to part with your disposable income. I can’t believe that some mall employees are even made to wear cheongsams in red and gold that even grandmothers wouldn’t have worn in Chinatown in the 1950s.

Is my head falling off? Why am I playing golf? [thanks, Wikimedia]

It doesn’t get more Chinese than that, for sure… unless you wait out by a McDonald’s with a traditional Chinese value meal and catch the hourly dragon dance with your cameraphone. What about the decorations? Lanterns? Check. Red and gold? Of course – the better to match with the elevator lady’s cheongsam.

At least we can reuse all that red in time for Valentine’s Day.

MASS MEDIA: The major media outlets also cannot have enough of Chinese New Year. Expect the requisite yearly interview with Mr. Ube. That’s not so bad (he’s ok), but what about those feng shui experts with PhDs in Fortune and Prosperity? Let’s summarize: bright colors lucky, round things good, buy more charms.

Fruits are good too, along with anything shaped like balls. Balls are best. [thanks, Wikimedia]

Of course, Chinese New Year is also the most opportune time to feature ‘Chinese-inspired’ performances for variety shows. You think we feel flattered with Chinese songs? We get enough of those in wedding receptions with singing relatives, thank you very much. Seriously though, you do realize that Kim Chiu may not technically count as a Chinese cultural ambassador, don’t you? This is a once-a-year thing when mass entertainment looks toward the mainland for influences.

Preferred exploitable Oriental cultural exporter status reverts back to the Koreans next week. [thanks, Super Junior]

GOOD INTENTIONS: With the one-two punch of retail and mass media, my non-Chinese friends often ask me what my ‘grand’ plans are for Chinese New Year – and it’s the same reply year after year, “Nothing special, just dinner with the family.” “No fireworks? incense? burnt offerings? monks?”

Burning monks, you mean? Only if you listen to Rage Against the Machine. [thanks, Wikimedia]

I like to think that every family is unique in how they celebrate Chinese New Year. It’s all perfectly good. It’s one of the few days in a year where Chinese Filipinos like me can better understand our culture by observing certain traditions. That today was made a national holiday, however boggling, is appreciated. I just think that there is a certain extremeness to how a ‘traditional celebration’ is popularly portrayed. I don’t think, for example, that we all go about greeting each other with ‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’. Seriously? I don’t have the heart to tell friends who greet me in this manner that I don’t-a speak-a their language. It’s kind of like having Pinoys abroad greeting you ‘Mabuhay!’. You then think, ‘Mabuhay! Are we supposed to engage in a blood compact now? Isn’t that word something you use only for speeches and beauty pageants?

Kung Hei Fat Choi, Philippines! [thanks, Miss Philippines-Earth]

Please don’t get me wrong, I think it’s just cultural schizophrenia on my part. As a Chinese Filipino, I’m not necessarily an amalgamation of two cultures – I’m that and both at the same time. Like most Chinese Filipinos, I have Fookien forebears and studied Mandarin in school. ‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’, on the other hand, is a phonetic translation of a Cantonese expression. I suspect that ‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’ has always subconsciously confused me even when I was younger. Even a simple ‘Happy (Chinese) New Year’ from my friends often brings up complicated feelings, to the effect of: Thanks! I forgot to download a lunar calendar app. Is it 2013 already? Chinese New Year, more than a juncture in (or transition through) time, is primarily a moment for self-reflection – it feels more like a religious holiday than an anniversary for me.

So if you do greet me and I appear less than enthusiastic, it’s not that I do not appreciate the gesture, it’s only because my brain has partly frozen up.

You had me at ‘Kung Hei’… [thanks, Yahoo! Movies]

STICKY PUDDING: Being Chinese on Chinese New Year is like being a tikoy dispenser. I feel that it’s practically fruitcake, only that no one actively asks for fruitcake, whereas everyone is required by law to ask Chinese friends for tikoy during Chinese New Year.

I will not even bother posting a photo of tikoy since everyone has already seen tikoy – if not, please ask a Chinese friend for some.

I guess I’m only wondering what the big deal with tikoy is. Truth be told, I never cared much for it. This traditional delicacy, traditionally consumed during the Chinese New Year, is something that I like to traditionally ignore. I get that it’s chewy and sweet and usually fried and coated in egg, but…

Hmm… It really is chewy… and sweet… and fried… and coated in egg… [thanks, Wikimedia]

Holy pudding balls, this is awesome!

I hope no one among you is expecting tikoy from me, is all. Please don’t ask me for any. The media outlets will be quick to tell you that you can simply buy some at your nearest shopping mall. This traditional Chinese New Year’s delicacy is available all year round, for crying out loud.

Kung Hei Fat Choi, everyone!

Categories: [chinese], [culture], [metro]

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