I stare at the clock, then back at my red shoes, and back at the clock again. How I wish time would pass quickly.
The waiter walks pass me, swiftly pouring tea into our cups that would not last one mouthful. My mother is on my left, busy speaking to her sister.
I could hear them talking about their cousin’s family and their good fortune of getting a new bungalow.
It is customary for my family and most Chinese families to have a reunion dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year. We used to have our gathering at my grandfather’s house until he passed away last year. Now, we go to the Chinese restaurant with the best photoshopped posters.
At the reunion dinner, my other aunt and uncle sit opposite me. I know they are staring at me because I have not had my turn for the day yet. All my other cousins, six of them, have gone through their mandatory Chinese New Year interview.
I brace for my turn.
Within seconds, it comes.
“What did you score for your finals, ah girl?”
“Nothing I want to talk about.”
“Did you know your cousin got into Cambridge University?”
“You put it on the billboard, I saw.”
“He is going to do medicine. What are you doing again?”
She smiles and mumbles something to another aunt, expressing her concern that writing would not be a lucrative job. A minute later she switches back to talking about her son.
I glance at my cousin, the boy who is destined for Cambridge. I feel bad for the guy, really. No one ever asks him how he feels about going to Cambridge. No one asks him about his hobbies, his dreams or what he loves about life.
“You have gone fat.”
I jump. That, I did not see coming.
My eldest uncle stares at me. His leans back on his chair, crosses his arms and smiles at me.
I glare back. what happened to the rule that if you have nothing nice to say, keep your mouth shut?.
I thought to myself, sure I did put on some weight during my university finals but I am not about to tell him that. Maybe I find him too full of himself for me to feel comfortable talking about the size of my hips.
At that moment, it strikes me. I do not hate my family for their dreadful lack of conversational topics.
We simply do not understand another.
My parents’ generation grew up poor. They were children who played with dirt and saved hard to buy a home and a car.
They could not stop telling me about how my mother and her three siblings had to share a packet of wanton mee for lunch.
They grew up with Chinese traditions and customs, which my grandmother lovingly taught them. They grew up with values that I, today, consider as outlandish as my red shoes.
Then another thought strikes me. What if in 20 years to come, I would be as tactless as my aunts and uncles are today? My values, deeply rooted in individualism and painted by the Western world, may some day be seen as obsure and illogical as my parents’ to me today.
That is when I decide that I could never put myself in their shoes. I will never understand why it is so important to have a dinner of mockery and exchange of gossip. I will never understand why material wealth and Confucius values are sacred.
But I could understand one day, I will be them. One day, my values will be impractical and unacceptable. One day, I will fail to speak the language of youth, the modern and the cool. My children, if they will still spare me a minute of their day, may describe me as a royal-pain-in-the-backside.
So I grab my chopsticks, stuff a piece of stewed pork in my mouth and say to my uncle, “I suppose I could lose some weight.”
He seemed happy to be right.