It's been a few years since I last spent Chinese New Year back in Malaysia, where my family is based. Commitments to medical school rotations and, later, work, had dictated that I would spend most Chinese New Years having reunion dinners with my fellow friends. Sad bunch of doctors we are.
This Chinese New Year, the wedding of one of my closest friends brought me back to the shores of the Peninsula. I'll admit I was a little grumpy about going home at this time of the year. Flights are always fully-booked many months in advance despite the sky high airfares, and navigating through the airport-- from the check-in counters to Customs and Immigration-- is almost always a nightmare. Then, there is the reluctance of actually going home, because of the way things are in Malaysia which I shall refrain from ranting or else this would turn out to be another long-winded post about how the country is going to the dogs.
During the initial few days of arriving in KL, I was still moody. Of course, the ever hot and humid weather did not help. In fact, it must be a sign that I'm allergic to Malaysia now because I broke out in an eczematous rash from all that sweating. FML. There's now even a valid, medical reason why I cannot stay in Malaysia for long.
I slept a lot. And I mean, A LOT. I got 8-10 hours of sleep during the night, and even napped for at least 3 hours during the day. I hung out with family and friends during my waking hours, but if I wasn't engaged in any social activities, I slept. I don't know whether it's fatigue catching up on me, or if I was just really lethargic in this weather. I think I even slept through most days of Chinese New Year.
I didn't feel like eating as well. I did not crave anything specific. There was a tin of kuih kapit (one of my favourite Chinese New Year snacks) sitting in the kitchenette that went for almost a week without being opened. We had reunion dinner at my aunt's place and I think I only ate 2 prawns, some fish, a piece of chopped steamed chicken, and some vegetables. And my aunt's a terrific cook. Same with my mom. I wasn't eating as much as I'd expected when presented with homecooked dishes. I felt nauseated the whole time. I ordered my favourite ice-cold Ipoh White Coffee on my first day back, and almost wanted to throw up after the first few sips. It was so thick and rich and sweet that it had become unpalatable.
Had my tastebuds changed? Even if they hadn't, I felt a change in me. I was spending more time with my family in the short span of 10 days, and although I was confronted with the intense displeasure at how I was reacting to every experience in Malaysia, I was also comforted by the presence of my family. It's been awhile since I went home, and I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to be a niece, a cousin, and a daughter, instead of someone else's doctor. I'd forgotten how my parents can be both liberal and protective at the same time, and it felt good just being with them. I'd forgotten how contented I can be just hanging out with my cousins, aunts and uncles, where there's always a good dose of food and laughter going round. I don't know how to be an aunt because I never spent enough time with my nephews, but I do know that every child likes a good play and a cuddle.
I never really thought about the actual meaning of Chinese New Year until this year. As I used to see my relatives on a regular basis, Chinese New Year meant additional food, red packets, and firecrackers. I didn't appreciate the significance of reunion dinners until now. And I don't think I've loved my family more strongly than before.
Happy Chap Goh Mei!!!