The two big red circles highlighting everyone’s calendar this month are Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year. For girls like me, the conventional belief is February 14 will always be more stressful and worrying.
In school, we wonder if we’ll ever be anyone’s Valentine. A few years ago, I got upset if the guy didn’t book the right table at the right restaurant.
But as a grown-up, I’ve learned the Lunar New Year holidays can be truly traumatic. In Hong Kong, the familial rituals of the new year are far more demanding than planning a romantic dinner when every other couple in town is doing the same.
You know the adage about being able to choose your friends but not your family? Further to that, most people only have one love interest to share Valentine’s Day with, whereas for Lunar New Year, there’s an entire family tree of relatives to pay respects and go on dutiful visits.
In our status-conscious city, the filial is often political too. It is always a headache sorting out the logistics of a visit schedule on the Lunar calendar’s first few days. Who you pay respects to and in what order denotes their importance and priority in the hierarchy. And the bigger your family name, the more complicated it is.
If you’re single, things are simple. Not only do you gain some nice pocket money from all the lai sees tipped in your direction after an obligatory “kung hei fat choi”, the itinerary is very clear – you just have to go and greet your one and only set of parents. In Hong Kong, most likely you are living with them.
If you’re dating or married, then it’s a more contentious juggling of the inlaws as each side believes they should take precedence. Given how gossip and rumours plaque certain echelons of society families, it is an especially delicate balance to avoid offending any old-school elders. It only takes one nosy aunt to upset your future mother-in- law and turn your relationship into a living hell of passive aggressive guilt trips and evil eyes.
Innocently running into an exboyfriend at the country club cafe can turn into a scandalous rumour of a secret dinner with your old flame. That’s what an embittered aunt is telling everyone. The same aunt you didn’t visit because you were too full and sleepy after number one uncle’s new year’s Grand Hyatt buffet lunch. Suddenly, new year is not auspicious.
Better summon all your energy, put on a brave smile with that new red Valentino jacket, and kowtow to every elder who wants their ego stroked on Lunar New Year.
After all, you might find yourself rewarded with the lai see from the inside pocket – the larger ones that hold the larger bills.