By Shermaine Lim
Chinese New Year gatherings can often be a stressful event – as you subject yourself to intense scrutiny and fight off unwarranted questions from relatives. You’re just sitting there stuffing your face full of pineapple tarts and Aunty Karen starts bragging about her son’s new prestigious job. Or maybe your cousin starts boasting about her new boyfriend, and all you’re holding in your hand is some bak kua.
So how do we manoeuvre our way around these unavoidable questions and uncomfortable situations?
1. Speak in a different language
Perhaps you’ve just came back from exchange, or took a language module last semester. This is the perfect situation to apply what you’ve learnt. When discomfort presents itself, weaponise your new vocabulary. Your uncle wants to know your GPA? Je ne sais pas. (I don’t know) Your aunt wants to know your partner’s name? Shirimasen. (I don’t know)
2. Show up via Skype
In this age of technology, spatial distance doesn’t have to be a factor for reunion. If you show up at the dinner table as a disembodied floating head on somebody’s phone, that technically still counts as showing up. Of course, the cons are that you don’t get to taste that glistening roast duck as you stare through the mirror of the phone. However, the pros are pretty worth it. The probability of spending most of the time attempting to reconnect to the internet and asking your relatives repeatedly “Can you hear me?” outweighs any possibility of being interrogated by nosy aunties.
3. Hire an actor
It’s time to place our trust in our rapidly developing arts scene. Take a page out of the American sitcom The Office. Employ a willing and talented friend, train them to fit your inner psyche, and have them go under disguise in your place to take the fire of your relatives. If all this goes over well, you have a peaceful weekend, a well-paid friend, and a small group of relatives who will probably spend more time being confused than pointing out your “chicken arms” next year.
4. Communicate with your relatives
No matter how many strange methods we concoct to evade the familial pressure every year, we know that the best method is always communication. Chinese New Year is an opportunity for reunion, and in most relationships, closeness is dependent on the desire to be honest and open with the other party.
Before we resign ourselves to the yearly routine of weaving and dodging these personal issues, it is important to understand that care is often expressed in various forms. Sometimes, these personal questions can be their strange way of caring about us and knowing us even better, even if it mostly plays as insensitive.
Let your relatives know how you feel about these questions. Questions about your weight can hurt your progress in taking care of your body. Questions about current relationships can bring up painful memories of past ones. Tell them that you are appreciative that they are reaching out, but it’s just not in a way that helps either of you. Let them understand that you are working on improving yourself, and when you’re comfortable enough, you’ll tell them in your own time.
In any case, if you ever run out of topics to talk about, just stuff your mouth full with pineapple tarts.
Happy Chinese New Year to all of you!