The Lunar New Year
When I was little we used to load up the station wagon and drive the 12+ hours to Boston to visit my Grandparents.
I have so many memories linked to those visits.
Looking for the Citgo sign to know we were almost there.
The specific smell of my grandparents apartment which featured my grandmother’s cigarettes and perfume everywhere.
And our visit to a nearby Chinese restaurant.
Those visits were special. I would go along with my parents, my grandmother, and often my aunt. My brother and sister would stay with my grandfather who wouldn’t eat out as it wasn’t kosher.
It would be years before I’d learn that this wasn’t really Chinese food. The lack of Chinese people eating in the restaurant should have tipped me off - but I was a little kid.
Each meal began with us finding our year on the paper placement and figuring out which animal we were.
There was no nuance.
My parents were born the same calendar year but my dad’s birthday is in mid January so it’s unlikely that he and my mom were the same sign of the zodiac. His birthday likely fell before the Chinese new year that year - we called it Chinese new year in those days - and so his animal was from the year before.
It didn’t matter. The placemat said he and my mom were both roosters, there was no point arguing that he was a monkey.
The person in the corner looks up from their newspaper and rolls their eyes.
“Really?” they ask, “are you going to put that much stock in when someone is born?”
“You’re an Aries, right?” they ask.
I shake my head.
“But your birthday is April first.”
It isn’t. That’s just something I told Facebook. My birthday is at the end of September.
“Libra,” they say smugly, “I knew it.”
And my dad’s a monkey.
When Peggy was pregnant she looked at her due date and hoped the baby would be on time or a little late.
Just not early.
She was hoping the baby would be born in the year of the dog.
I can’t remember what the characteristics were that she was hoping for. I think she was a dog and was hoping for the same for her baby but I could be misremembering.
The point is that the various years are seen to have traits in the same way that our zodiac signs are seen to by some.
I couldn’t tell you what you can know about me given that I’m a boar anymore than I could tell you what you can say about me given that I’m a Libra.
I would argue that neither tells you anything - but that’s no fun. Perhaps if you know I’m a boar and a Libra you could predict that I’m no fun.
Also, there’s always an out. Those two are both Virgos and they’re so different.
The person in the corner looks up from their newspaper shaking their head. “You just don’t get it,” they say. “Of course they’re different, this one has Uranus rising in their second house.”
Obviously don’t quote me on that. It was the twelve year old inside of me who giggles at this imaginary person and thinks, ‘they said your anus is rising.’
Some weeks I worry about myself. Probably cause I’m a Libra with - nah. Probably not.
The Year of the Rabbit
I was just in Singapore a couple of weeks ahead of the new year and already there were rabbits everywhere.
There was a display at the zoo at the entrance that I took a selfie in front of.
The Apple store was selling special rabbit cases for iPhones.
There were giant rabbits throughout Chinatown.
When Maggie was in Kindergarten one of her good friends was a little girl visiting for the year from Japan. Kim was quite close with Misa, the mom.
One day Misa and the kids were over at our house around the Lunar New Year and Misa told Kim that she was a rat.
Kim beamed. Kim was a rat too. It was something else they had in common. And then Kim’s face fell - just for a moment.
After Misa left I asked Kim about it. She said she knew Misa was younger but it wasn’t until then that she realized Misa was twelve years younger.
That’s the way the Chinese Zodiac works. We group people not in twelve signs a year, but in signs that repeat every twelve years.
This is the year of the rabbit.
Elena was a rabbit.
That was a reminder to me that she would have been twenty-four this year.
I mentioned this to Kim’s mom and she said, “I’m a rabbit too.” I knew she was twenty when she had Kim but hadn’t stopped to work this out.
Huh, I thought, my brother must be a rabbit too.
More than just something to look up on a menu at that sort of Chinese restaurant, it’s a nice way for thoughts about one person to lead you to thoughts of another.
The twelve year old inside of me giggled again.
‘Your dad’s a monkey,” it said.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 148. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe