Photos by Vania Sampereru

Enlightenment from my Chinese Friends

Photos by Vania Sampereru

I have been living here for a while now, but I realised that I am totally ignorant about the Chinese New Year celebrations. Except good food, some red lanterns hanging everywhere and a special animal per year, this is basically my only knowledge. Thank God we have BlackBerry so I broadcasted a message to 38 of my Chinese friends.

My question was simple:

What represents Chinese New Year for you? After a few minutes, my BB started to blink like a Christmas tree and here were the answers:

B: “Seb, as I am not married yet, I will receive many red envelopes from all of my family.” This means if you are Chinese, it’s better that you marry as late as you can because apparently as soon as you get married, uang habis (you run out of money)!

S: “Food, food, food and pulang kampung.” Which means, that the Chinese New year is basically the same story as Idul Fitri (in one sentence, I’ve lost already 50% of my Chinese friends and 50% of my Muslim friends).

J: “Holiday with family and the red envelope.” Second time I heard about this magic envelope.

P: “Dragon power!” Knowing this guy, it’s something to do with girls! The Chinese always have some powerful medicine made of dragon claws, or maybe this is only in the Jackie Chan movies.

B: “I look Chinese but my blood is American.” Very strange answer from Mr. B… This means that the Yankees should get scared! The Chinese are now vampires!

M: “I don’t celebrate CNY as we don’t speak Chinese anymore.” So you have to speak Mandarin to celebrate? That means there will be ten people in the streets this year in Jakarta – what a party!

P: “Raise the red lantern, it brings luck.” As most of my friends are quite successful, I will ask my satpam (security guard) to buy hundreds of red Chinese lanterns. And as I am the only foreigner in my Muslim street, then I will make new friends!

W: “Red envelope, Seb.” This is the third time I heard about this fantastic envelope.

P: “Same as the normal new year.” Well, I never spend New Year surrounded by red lanterns, red dragons and red envelopes. Not sure this one is a real Chinese ya.

S: “Such good memories before I got married.” Now I know, no more envelopes?

L: “Five kilos gained in three days.” Ah, finally a common point with my Western New Year.

V: “It’s something very special and beautiful. We are finally all together, all over the world with our common roots, our traditions, our beliefs. We enjoy every minute with fantastic food and we pray together.” OK this one is living on planet Walt Disney! She confuses Christmas at the church with the Chinese New Year. And poor her, she didn’t mention any red envelopes despite not being married! There’s something wrong with V.

So, basically I learned a lot from all those friends. First, you have to speak Chinese to celebrate, you have to get married very late, you need to buy this medicine named “Chinese dragon powder claws”, you have to hang hundred of lanterns if you want a new car this year, you will be fatter after the celebration, you can have American blood and still you can celebrate CNY. But the most important is this red envelope (Ang Pow). I received many envelopes from my family when I was a kid, mostly empty or with a post card inside. Our parents were in panic with the “red” because it was the colour of communism. Once again my parents lied to me and once again it was western capitalism propaganda!

The very good news is that I am a Rat in the Chinese horoscope. Rats are not compatible at all with the Rabbit of 2011 and I deeply felt it, but it seems very compatible with the Dragon of 2012. Don’t ask me why. Please also note that I am not married yet and that I am totally OK to be adopted by one of you, my Chinese friends. I just hope that Pak Santo who owns the toko listrik (electricity shop) next door won’t be my next father, I still prefer to be adopted by Mister Djarum or Mister Ciputra to receive a BIG red envelope!

Happy New Year to all my Chinese friends!

Sebastian Wijaya Lee

(I look like European but my blood is Chinese, just like Mr. B)

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Sebastien is a French antiques dealer living in Jogjakarta. To rant and rave at him, email sebastienlaurent@hotmail.com