While studying in Melbourne, this is what I do for Chinese New Year (CNY) celebration. The first year, my Chinese friends and I dutifully went through the eve of CNY in the following order: we called home, we cooked lunch and we wore new clothes. In the evening, we went to a forgettable CNY gathering organised by a prententious student council which somehow deigned to provide us, international students, free food.
My friends and I spent that night carrying awkward conversations with random strangers from our home country. We hardly spoke about CNY except for some who boasted about the sort of girls they could get on CNY’s eve at the Asian clubs.
Later we took a walk around Melbourne’s CBD. There were some pop-up stalls selling variety of Chinese food in Chinatown. There were performers on the streets, giving their best renditions of any song that sounded remotely Chinese. But most of all, the streets were packed with young Chinese students in small groups. They were smiling, marveling at the festive atmosphere in the city. I guessed some of us missed home.
I simply did not feel much of anything.
The next year, I decided I will pull myself away from the crowd. Perhaps, I have gotten accustomed to life in Melbourne; its quirks, its laneways and its humour. Perhaps also, the memories of my childhood celebrating CNY with my family are fading. I spent my second CNY abroad in a hotel bar quietly, away from the fireworks, away from the student gatherings.
But most of all, I just did not want to deal with the whole affair.
As a young student living overseas, I find CNY a terribly confusing occasion. For the first time in my life, I have no one to tell me what to do for CNY. Forget the traditions. Forget the taboos. No more uncomfortable questions to answer either.
Yet everywhere you look in a city where there is a huge Chinese population like Melbourne, you see the shadow of CNY at every corner in Melbourne’s CBD. There is Chinatown with its fireworks and lion dances. There are the karaokes and Asian clubs with discounts. There are also the remnants of red decorations on the streets, some left behind by passerbys or distributed by retail stores.
The metropolitan, your Chinese friends overseas and the calls you get from home, they just make you feel like CNY never left you.
Except, there is no one to force traditions down your throat this time. Just subtly on the streets, there are the gentle reminders that you should be celebrating CNY, you should be joyous like everyone else and you should be somewhat traditional as expected of a Chinese person living overseas.
I drank my mojito and left the bar. That night, something crossed my mind. I never liked CNY because it was always an event dictated to me, be it by an older generation or a social setting.
As I walked home that night, I thought to myself, from this year on, I will live CNY the way I want to.
Just in case you get lonely in Melbourne and I’ve destroyed your mood, here’s some places you can go to for CNY: