I sauntered into the grocery store, basket in one hand, shopping list in another, ready to embark on my usual therapeutic routine: shopping for my beloved groceries and jamming along to the latest Ariana Grande tune while grooving to those insane falsettos. It was then when the sirens of doom hit me. That ridiculously and blaring noise screaming through those accursed speakers; yes, I have heard them before. They are not the alluring tunes sang by mermaids to lead sailors to their doom. They are those fateful songs that play on loop to torture even the coldest of criminals, to shred them into pieces; and right now, they are definitely doing that to my eardrums.
Yes, it is that monstrosity which we are subjected to in all shopping centres during this fateful month. The jarring clash of the gongs, coupled with the pitchy voices which scream the same chorus over and over again, serve to manifest only one simple fact: It’s Chinese New Year, yet again.
I glared at my watch in disbelief and it only seemed to smile back at me mockingly with the title FEBRUARY emblazoned boldly across the screen. I stole a glance at my surroundings, only to realise how ridiculously packed the store was. Flamboyant red banners streamed across the storefront with the same old seasonal greetings – probably recycled from the previous year, albeit for a Zodiac change.
All around me, trolleys were filled to the brim with the enticing Chinese New Year goodies, beckoning to every single cell in my body. Those luscious pineapple tarts, the all-so intricately rolled love letters, and who could ever forget those perfectly crispy bak kwa? A fleeting sensation of paradise, before I live to regret every single decision and every calorie I would have gained over the week. Just thinking of the ridiculous amount of crunches and rounds to run in order to burn off those excess fat… it’s downright depressing. They say that Chinese New Year is a season of celebrating, I guess that with each impeding Chinese New Year, it only serves to diminish my already-deflated sense of self-confidence.
Well, at the very least, there are the ang paos to look forward to – the thick wads of cash lined in a delicate and silky red wrapper. Just at this moment, I felt so relieved to be celebrating my Chinese New Year in Singapore, as opposed to Malaysia, where my earnings for the month would have to be factored down by 3. Absolutely painful.
But wait; with these ang paos come their connotations. Receiving the ang paos means that we have to sit in for those awkward reunion dinners, and yes, with CNY reunion dinners, there also comes that inordinate amount of perfectly good time squandered on resolutely awkward socialising with distant cousins whom we have probably lost contact with over the years; or perhaps meeting overly zealous relatives who are fastidiously concerned with every single aspect of our lives, ranging from our all-so nondescript love lives (all singles: here’s our uniting call) or to how we should present ourselves etc.
Just thinking of my reunion dinner with my extended family was nothing but flat-out torture. I am so done with answering their continuous barrage of questions. The grilling session every year resembled a classic courtroom scene, where I am unceremoniously dragged to the witness stand to be mercilessly flogged and interrogated for some fallacious crime.
The classics of “are you attached” to “how are you doing at school/work”, or even the simple nit picking off say the colour of my highlighted hair are, simple to say, the tip of the iceberg on what they would potentially ask. And as usual, just like I’ve done every year, I have framed my perfect resting bitch face with a scathing response to these repetitive questions.
Reply 1: “No, I do not have a girlfriend. Why are you still asking me if she’s pretty or not? I have already told you that I am single. No, I am not shy. NO, I AM NOT LYING. OH MY GOD, WHY DO YOU FIND IT SO DIFFICULT TO BELIEVE THAT I’M TELLING YOU THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH.”
Reply 2: “I’m doing fine at school, just the usual, doing well enough to scrape by with each passing day, nowhere near the top of my class, but sufficiently far away from the bottom as well. Oh, my cousin has managed to ace and top his class again, for goodness knows what subject? Oh brilliant, I simply could not care less. Oh, my other cousin represented the school in a competition and achieved the top position? Oh, congratulations I guess?” (And right at that moment, I turn to see the scathing looks of comparison which my parents have thrown my way, and I am sufficiently sure that my ears are bound to endure an endless torment on the dreary ride home later.)
Reply 3: My hair, oh I probably dyed it last month I guess. I really wanted to go for a refreshing new look to welcome the New Year with a new colour and all. What, dying my hair is a sign of rebellion? Wow, what age are you living in to hold such obsolete and judgemental thoughts?
That’s my picture-perfect template to shrug off all naysayers this Chinese New Year, which I naively believe will work. Or at least, I think they will. And now that it’s Chinese New Year, here comes all those ridiculous customs which we have to adhere to, such as spring cleaning and the buying of new clothes to wear which is going to cause a severe burn on my wallet. Speaking of which, that’s something I should really tie down after grocery shopping.
After waiting for what seemed like eternity and getting my head all cluttered from those tunes which the supermarkets are propagating (I wonder how these poor cashiers endure such torture everyday), I decided to get started on my clothes shopping for the new year, and that was when I had to prevent myself from gaping at horror at those “new” selections which the boutiques were evidently selling at significantly marked-up prices.
Feeding upon the desperation of shoppers to adhere to all these traditional customs (yours truly included), I joined in the fanatical hunt to pull together a few decent outfits for this CNY. Quite obviously, this was proving to be a significant challenge.
All around me were clothes which were resplendently found in their usual flashy colours of red and orange, ladled with out-of-the-season floral prints or even adorned with tangibly weird and contrived pictorial representations of our Zodiac for the year. (Yes, a monkey) Definitely, with their commercial and vested interests in mind, the prices for these clothes were ridiculously expensive – a significantly smart tactic to take advantage of our feeble minds, lost to the jaws of consumerism. A simple plain shirt which would otherwise cost 15 dollars on a non-festive period was retailing at a, I repeat, “special” price of just 30 dollars. Needless to say, the ostentatiously lavish pants with their CNY inspired patterned prints (a tacky advertisement for recycling prints from the past season) amounted to 50 dollars at least. A simple and quick calculation would yield me approximately 100 dollars for an entire set of new outfit picked out, in a rather desperate attempt to look decent in a set of fresh new clothes which I will probably never ever re-wear again, due mainly to their incipient tackiness and utter lack of functional usage (who wears shirts with monkeys on them?) on otherwise normal days.
From a distance came a sharp slap on the table, followed by a rather awkward moment of momentary silence. Here I paused.
“Well, how was it?” I sheepishly asked.
“THIS IS UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE. WAS THIS REALLY THE BEST PLOT YOU COULD COME UP WITH FOR OUR CHINESE NEW YEAR SPECIAL? In case if you’re still living in your dreamland, we are tasked with coming up with a program to help to improve the public’s perception of Chinese New Year, not demonise it as some hideous period!”, my boss barked.
“It was meant as a satire. You know, to poke fun at Chinese New Year to appeal to our audience in a different manner? I thought it was a refreshing take, as opposed to the usual repository ideas which we pluck out from our otherwise boring routine, showing prehistoric movies which have outlasted their run.” I replied meekly.
“YOU’RE RE-DOING THIS ALL OVER AGAIN. MY TABLE, 5PM TODAY.” My boss replied as he showed me the door. “REMEMBER, WE WANT CNY SHOWN THROUGH BUTTERFLIES, RAINBOWS, UNICORNS, AND HAPPY THOUGHTS, INSTEAD OF VIEWING IT LIKE A DEPRESSED MINX.”
I sighed as I sauntered out of the office, staring wistfully at my watch.
Looks like I am going to be in for a long night, and with that, there goes my reunion dinner. Alas, the ironies of asking me to think of happy thoughts while writing this wretched script, when it is precisely this script that is going to cost me my time with my family this CNY.
Header Image: Daniel Dionne under Creative Commons