A New Year Away From Home

Along with all the Firsts I’d had for the past few months, this year is also the first year I spent Chinese New Year away from home and my family.

The past weekend was a pretty busy one because I had two seminars to prepare for the next week but I’d somehow managed to hype myself up enough for CNY celebrations with my friends so I didn’t have the capacity to think about anything else, like the fact that I wasn’t at home to celebrate CNY with my parents, for instance.

On Saturday night, about 30 of us Malaysians had a reunion dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown complete with 11 meal courses and full-on karaoke-ing throughout the whole night. We also had the entire floor to ourselves and our waitress was so friendly and sporting that we (and by we it was mostly a firsthand effort by Faris himself) even got her to karaoke a few songs for us. The food was really good too, exceptionally so after months of depriving myself of luxurious food for the sake of the £££. I wasn’t as sociable as I would’ve liked to be that night (then again, when have I ever lived up to my expectations of extroversion) but the night ended on a high note (literally, we were asked to stop singing because the restaurant was closing) and despite my internal grief of being away from home during the biggest festive season of the year, it was a pretty good reunion dinner to compensate for my absence from home.

And then after, a few of us came to Weston and we stayed up till 4AM playing games in my hall’s common room.

Sa Chap Meh (30th night) (and day as well) was spent lazing around my room the whole day watching anime despite my impending assignments glaring at me from a side the entire time because I was adamant about my excuse of “It’s Chinese New Year! Live a little!” even though the only living I was doing was staring at my laptop screen for prolonged periods of time. And then on the first day of Chinese New Year, I celebrated by going to classes and finally relenting into starting on my assignments.

Some of my friends came over the next day for a steamboat dinner though, so that was also very nice.

Last year’s CNY was filled with exclamations from my relatives that “It’s your last CNY in Malaysia, Michelle!” and my stomach fell with each repetition that it was a wonder my gut was still intact by the end of the day. But I never did, never could experience nor understand the full implication of that realisation until I actually came here and was forced to contend with that reified fact, with the absence of CNY songs blasting from any and all available speakers indoors and outdoors, with the missing feeling of waking up all excited as I greeted my parents before changing into new clothes to visit my relatives, with the lack of angpaos from family members and endless good food from morning until night that there was no point trying to discern which meals were for breakfast, lunch or dinner because you could just carry on eating the entire time, with being unable to catch up with my cousins and gamble into the night accompanied by peals of laughter everytime someone (usually my dad) loses; even the awkwardness of having to make small talk and listen to my aunties and uncles talk over one another (like the Teohs do best) — I miss all of it. And this year, the only homely CNY experience I could get was through the pixels of photos sent in the family Whatsapp group and of an hour-long Skype session when my parents were over at Si Pek’s house on Cheh Sa.

But in spite of all of that, I count myself fortunate for the things I do have, and that is the friends I’ve made here and being able to celebrate Chinese New Year with them. My immense gratitude, to be able to feel warm during the coldest Chinese New Year I’ve ever experienced, both inside and out.


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Michelle Teoh

26-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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