Covid, Chinese New Year and a certified “banana”

by Alina Chen

After years of cultural assimilation, I wasn’t sure I would have much to write about for Chinese New Year. The childish years of pining for the eve of cheer, chaos and extravagant fireworks have long faded into the background since my family’s move to the UK, along with my ability to have a deep conversation in Mandarin without sounding like Google Translate. 

Dad likes to tease me for being more and more like a “banana”. For those who don’t know, it is a derogatory term for someone who’s yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Okay, he’s not wrong; much of my uni experience has been getting drunk and ending up rolling around in my bed giggling.

In my white gaze-infected mind, CNY has gradually become more of a forced and diluted ritual, a cause for a family reunion rather than the special day of celebration that it used to be when I was a kid. Having to head back home after two consecutive econ classes just for a “nice” dinner that we have on every other occasion anyway, secretly felt like a massive hassle. As the title suggests, even that did not exactly go to plan.

I fell sick on Sunday with an insanely high temperature. Wrapped around in my duvet, I felt like a human radiator. With a slightly comical yet unnerving sense that I no longer knew how to operate the suddenly heavy brick of a mobile phone in my hands, I somehow managed to call my parents. Much to my embarrassment, eventually my dad came to the rescue. At this point, I was so close to passing out that I had no idea what was happening.

When I finally got home and into bed again, the last thing I remember before falling asleep was my parents realising with much irritation that my 10-year-old brother changed the setting of the one and only thermometer at home into Fahrenheit at some point, for god knows what reason. That night, a lot was learned about converting from Fahrenheit into Celsius. Too bad we didn’t have an American in the room.

Thankfully, when I woke up the next day I was feeling more or less like a human again, suffering an ever-increasing craving for dumplings, which my dad declined to satisfy. Nevertheless, in the evening, ready to welcome the arrival of the Year of the Tiger, I sat down with a delicious plate of food in my room and Facetimed my family downstairs. “Cheers!” – I found myself bizarrely raising on request my bowl of Yangzhiganlu (a traditional Chinese dessert that’s of liquid form) to the camera, smiling and genuinely feeling happy on the inside. 

illustrated by Vaneeza Jawad

I’m not gonna sugar-coat it. It was grim. But at least I made it back home, with my dad holding my hand the whole way. I had my family with me, through something quite so scary. For that, I feel so incredibly privileged. 新年快乐 and happy new year to everyone celebrating! I hope you had a wonderful time. 

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