« xin nian quai le | Main | Golden oldies »

February 10, 2005

hong bao na lai

20050209a.jpg tuesday night was chinese new year's eve. (warning: this is a long entry)

when we were growing up chinese new year's was just another day. sometimes my mom's friends would come over and give us red envelopes (which was pretty cool until someone's else who has children came over and my mom would take our new shiny envelopes to give to that person), but mostly it was just another day.

then one morning when i was in high school, i woke up and the front door was wide open and there were all these red chinese marks everywhere. i think my mom was welcoming the good luck and spirits. at the time we didn't understand and thought she'd gone crazy. apparently the doors were open all night long.

soon after that chinese new year became a big deal and she started dragging us to a billion banquets, celebrations and temple. this year was no different, but don't tell her, i actually like the banquets and i'm pretty fond of temple too...

on tuesday night i headed over to my mom's house to accompany her to a chinese new year banquet in elk grove. on my way over i called samshrew. i wanted to stop and get flowers and wanted a second opinion as to whether or not it was a good idea (my mom's pretty notorious for not liking any gifts, no matter how thoughtful). samshrew told me to go ahead and get them, she said that i could always bring them to temple the next day if my mom didn't want them.

***see, samshrew IS the smart one.***

so i swung by the store and picked up a safeway special occassion (chinese new year even) grouping of flowers. i also grabbed a pineapple. when i arrived at my mom's house i presented my offerings and said "gong xi fa cai, hong bao na lai!" roughly translated it means "happy new year! give me a red envelope!" -- it's something that only really little kids can get away with saying, but i was trying to be cute.

my mom just looked at me in fake disgust and said, "huh. how'd you know to bring a pineapple?" (sidenote: the fake disgust is one of my favorite faces of hers. she doesn't know that we've learned to tell when it's fake, but the corner of her lips are turned upwards completely stifling a smile. it's a dead giveaway.)

then we got in the car and headed to elk grove.
i drove.

on our way there my mom told me that she need to go to "LOIS" (as in lois lane) to pick something up. i asked her where that was, she said it was a few blocks before bruceville (the street we needed to turn on). my mom is a real estate broker and always references her properties by their streetnames. i assumed that "LOIS" was a streetname. so i kept my eyes peeled, but i didn't see anything. then suddenly my mom said "where are you going, i told you i need to go to LOIS." at this point we were in front of a large shopping center. i was pretty confused until i saw what was inside the shopping center.

"OH. do you mean LOWES?"
"yes. LOIS. i need to pick something up."
"it's lowes mom. LOWES, like highs and lows. LOWES"
"LOIS. whatever i have pick up something."

after her excursion to LOIS (which was fruitless, they didn't have what she needed) we headed to a mostly decent, but not amazing restaurant. we were there for a banquet and the place was packed, but i immediately felt out of place. everyone there was at least 10 years older than me or at least 15 years younger than me. i realized i was the only one in my age range to have been roped into going to the banquet. our seats were assigned and luckily we were sat with people i know. chinese banquet

however 99% of the conversation was in chinese, so i had a hard time following along. although i did catch the part where they were debating over victoria principal's age. my mom thought she was 60 but rungfong aiyi thought she was only 50. i ended up calling samshrew in order to settle the debate. she looked it up and turns out, victoria is 59. so i guess my mom won that one.

the banquet went on for quite some time, we had a million courses and ate a lot of food. including fish. it's especially important to eat fish on new year's eve. "nian nian you ri" (my pinyin is awful), but it translates to "all year have fish" but the clever part is that the word for fish and the word for bountiful (or at least i think it's bountiful, it could be something to do with fortune, i can't remember). are similar...pretty much it's eat fish on new year's eve and you'll have enough food for the rest of the year.

after the banquet i drove back to my mom's house where i spent the night. we were headed to temple early the next day and it's much closer to her house than mine.

temple temple is kind of a neat place. like i said earlier, i didn't start going until high school. and i'm not a religious person, and i couldn't even tell you the names of the different gods and goddesses at the temple, or the meaning of all the traditions, but i do know that i like going. it's a really nice experience and no one is preaching at you telling you what to think. right now i only go once or twice a year, but i always feel like i should go more often.

when you arrive at temple you remove your shoes, give your offerings to one of the helpers/monks (at chinese new year there are a lot of helpers), wash your hands in blessed water and then are given incense. then you head to the front of the shrine to pray.

i'm not sure i know how to pray. i just kind of make it up as i go along. when you're done i think you bow three times, but like i mentioned earlier, i'm mostly ignorant when it comes to the traditions. when you've finished the guy takes the incense from you and places it in the main shrine, then someone else gives you trays full of the stuff you brought (they take it to the back room and prepare it for you). you offer it up and again something about three times.

pretty much i just use the time to say thanks to whoever and ask that they look over me and my family and friends. and you know, if they're not too busy can they help out anyway they can? the goddess we bow to is lady quanyin, the goddess of mercy. but i'm not sure i'm thinking of her the whole time. i'm not exactly sure who i'm praying to, but it makes me feel calm and peaceful and i guess that's what matters.

afterwards you can then ask a question. (i just asked "how is this year going to be?") then you take this can of sticks and you bow down and pray with your eyes closed, concentrating on your question. you stop as soon as 1 stick falls out. then you toss these two halfmoon shaped stones. if they land 1 face up and 1 face down, then the stick you received is correct. if not start over.

once you get the correct stick, you give it to the monk who gives you a slip of paper with some proverbs written on it. mine was #48. apparently that's one of the most lucky slips you can receive. my mom seemed a little jealous.

i can't actually read chinese (i mean i can barely speak), so the monk had to interpret it for me. he said that it's about a little bird who, in the fall, grows to become larger than any other bird in the sky. and also something about a flower who blooms in the fall. the monk then told me not to worry about anything. and to look forward to the fall. good things are coming.

i'm going to get what i deserve.
thanks lady quanyin.

written: feb 21, 2005 9:45pm

Posted by pocketpig at February 10, 2005 01:32 PM