When Chinese New Year becomes like a slasher movie

Updated: 2012-01-17 09:47

By Dinah Chong Watkins (China Daily)

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When Chinese New Year becomes like a slasher movie

To anyone else, the blob of greenish white putty with bits of dirt and a couple of loose hairs poking out looked like a prime candidate for the dust bin. To me, it was as essential to our family reunions as the dry roast turkey with glutinous rice stuffing my aunt always served.

My cousin's pre-war home had the dimly lit alcoves and creaky wood floors that directors of cheap slasher films drool over. All the more fitting for what was to come.

As the adults were down in the living room playing mahjong, my sister, cousin and I locked ourselves in the bedroom. Carefully taking the blob from its plastic egg-shaped case, I spread it over the bedside lamp. A large shadow was cast over the room as we waited for the edges of the blob to bubble up.

The blob was passed between us like a hot potato, and then inevitably my elder sister would take charge and mold it into a shape of a little body.

"Who should it be?" she cackled, quite convincingly for a 10-year-old. I quickly shouted out names of classmates, TV stars and absent family members in an act of self-preservation.

After turning off the light, the blob glowed luminously in the dark. Mumbling made-up incantations, we gleefully jabbed the voodoo doll with needles from my aunt's sewing kit. As the years went on, this annual rite would stay the same, but the names would be changed to school rivals, teachers and finally, ex-boyfriends.

More than Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Western world, Chinese New Year means a family reunion and the sweet and sour complexity of it all. It's the only time when grandma's juicy dumplings pale in comparison to auntie's juicer gossip about the second cousin's Botox treatments.

Currently, the largest human migration in the world is testing the country's transportation system like never before. An estimated more than 2 billion passenger trips are to be taken by road, rail and air. The overwhelming majority are migrant workers, who rush back home carrying gifts and fat packets of cash to distribute among family members.

For many of them, this will be their only opportunity to see children, spouses and parents this year.

Meanwhile, in the city, construction comes to a halt, factories are closed down and laundry piles up until housekeepers return. The exodus has some benefits, as traffic drops to pre-Olympic levels and "blue-sky" days become a reality.

Reunions include unsolicited and often dubious advice passed out by well-intentioned relatives. Lack of restraint can be counted on by the elderly, as expressed by my 90-year-old-plus granny who, in lieu of congratulations, instead once advised a brother-in-law to get a vasectomy upon the birth of his fourth child.

For foreigners accompanying their Chinese friends, know that, "You're so fat", "How much money do you make?" and "26? Why aren't you married yet?" are common forms of greeting.

Besides, family reunions are the ultimate source of networking, as more than 70 percent of companies in China are family-owned.

It's annoying I know, to hear the 41st rendition of the time when your uncle won a lucky draw at a restaurant that bagged him a free meal only to have his wallet stolen while dining there. But take my advice and get to know as many relatives as possible. Even go so far as to record their names and addresses in order to check up on their well-being.

After all, you may see second cousin on your mother's side, but I see future kidney donor. Happy New Year!