Love Letter: Homesick for a Vancouver Lunar New Year

I was around five years old when I decided I didn’t like the annual Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown. 

The extravagant showcase of lion dancing, the firecrackers, the God of Wealth handing out lai see (lucky red envelopes)—all decidedly a crowd favourite. But I hated the loud noises, the crowded streets and—as clearly evidenced by my grimace in most of the photos over the years (sorry, mom)—my mother asking me to smile for the camera.

But my extended family and I were there every year, rain or shine. As early immigrants from Hong Kong, they didn’t have many cultural events in the city, and just once a year the ritual of watching brightly coloured lions dance to the beat of the drums and cymbals as we all munched on some nutty sesame fritters—well, they could feel a little closer to home.  

We stopped going to the Chinese New Year parade after my grandparents passed away in the early 2000s. As a grumpy 12-year-old kid, I was happy to no longer have to head to Chinatown in the winter, huddling with my sister to stay warm as we waited for a glimpse of the festivities on the streets. But I recently moved to Singapore, and the distance has had me longing for everything I did love about our Lunar New Year celebrations. Like how we’d visit each of our relatives’ homes to bai leen (give greetings and best wishes) for a prosperous start to the new year. In turn, we’d receive those lucky red envelopes from family members, monetary gifts to wish us good luck for the coming year. 

If we didn’t make reservations at Kirin at Starlight Casino to take advantage of its attentive service and incredible egg custard tarts, then my mom would be cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Her elaborate family feasts could easily feed 10—with each dish and ingredient being auspicious to bring good fortune. There was always dried sea moss, or fat choi, because it sounds similar to “gaining wealth” in Cantonese. Abalone, whole fish and chicken were central, symbolizing a surplus of wealth, abundance and family togetherness. 

And while we’ve never been a particularly religious family, we’d visit the International Buddhist Temple to pray for a prosperous year ahead. There, the expansive flower market was a gorgeous sea of red, decked out with lanterns, Lunar New Year windmills and calligraphy banners alongside potted orchids and lucky bamboo. 

This February, for the first time in many years, I’m not going to be in Vancouver to celebrate Lunar New Year. And while I expect my new home in Singapore is surely going to ring in the Year of the Tiger on a grand scale, my family won’t be with me. I won’t be there to inhale the freshly made New Year’s rice cakes my mom makes—sweet, piping-hot perfection on a cold winter morning. I won’t catch up on life and laugh with cousins I only see twice a year. And I won’t get to count all the lucky red envelopes my sister and I receive from our relatives. 

I’ll be homesick for my Vancouver New Year traditions—even the loud and obnoxious Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown. Next time I’m back to watch it, I’ll be happily huddling for warmth with my sister, enjoying every last moment.

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