You Still Have Two Days to Get Married!

February 6, 2005

This article from the L.A. Times makes exactly that point with regard to the upcoming "widow year", i.e. the year of the rooster in the Chinese lunar calendar, a year inauspicious for weddings. Whether or not young Chinese Americans are avoiding a 2005 wedding date depends upon a number of factors converging to form each individual's ethnic identity: sense of ethnic self, familial duty, joy in traditions, practicality, threshold for embarrassment, etc.

I'd never heard of the widow year before today, nor would my mother ever have mentioned it to me, much less expected me to abide by its dictates in setting a wedding date (to be honest, my mom would be glad to hear I'd eloped to Las Vegas, provided it meant that I'd married.) We never celebrated Chinese New Year; until I moved to San Francisco I never ate the traditional food, nor even knew what it was. Holidays, superstitions, medicines, so many touchstones of ethnic usage and ethnic identity my mother dismissed or avoided when it came to raising us. As a result, when I first got involved in the Asian American community in San Francisco, I felt like such a fake. There were so many things I didn't know that everyone else seemed to take for granted. I'll never forget the time I poured a drink for a Chinese American friend and he rapped the table with his knuckles and then had to explain to me that it was a mini-kowtow, a brief "thank you." A short time later, I saw my mom do it for some Chinese friends. Why hadn't she taught me this when I was a kid?

On the other hand, I had to unlearn serving other people at meals because I kept getting such funny looks and even rude comments. This is not least because those of us going to dinner as a group would always include a pan-Asian plethora: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, etc. I also forced myself to start taking the last piece of things if I wanted to -- everyone else did. My mom had drilled us in table manners and politeness to guests in part as a recognition of the fact that we would be called upon, in life, to attend a lot of strangers' dining tables in a lot of different cultures and would need to not offend them. But I suspect that it was also probably in part to prove to her Chinese friends and family that her mixed children wouldn't necessarily be crasser than their full blood ones. *Sigh* Sorry, Mom!

Anyway, for those of you still wrangling identity points, you have two days to hit Las Vegas before the widow year starts. If it was me, I'd be taking my red-silk-clad ass to the Elvis Chapel.




Claire, this is an interesting post (I hope you don't mind me calling you by name); the issue of culture versus, or in parallel with (in a Superman Bizzaro-world type way), ethnicity.Maybe you are not fully vested in Chinese culture because you are not Chinese - culturally that is; fully as it were. You are more - and less - and the same - but different. If you were raised here why wouldn't you be American? Or maybe you are Chinese but you've transformed it by taking bits and pieces of the things you carried and the things you've found. Like Cantonese and Mandarin and Taiwanese and Hokkien are all Chinese - the same, but different. Like Spanish in Mexico and Puerto Rico.The immigration or transformation of culture (traditions, customs, myths and even language) is about individuals just as the origination of that culture is\was about individuals. Somewhere at sometime somebody rapped their knuckles on a table in an expression of thanks for a drink. I'll bet that the Chinese aren't the only people that do that (or some version of that) because theChinese aren't the only people with knuckles or tables or a liking for drinking. But they are the only ones that do it the 'Chinese' way. I think I've seen Russians do it too. Maybe they both learned it from a Polish guy who got it from Mongolian dude that was on tour but got lost and couldn't figure out how to say "give me another drink here" in whatever language of wherever he was, so ...the birth of the 'drink rap'.There are 'things we carry with us' because they have some symbolism that is at the core of our being.Why can't Chinese (or the more inclusive 'Lunar') New Year become a part of the American tradition? It seems to be one now (Hell, they got it on a stamp!!!) Not in a 'cultural hegemony' sort of way, but to inform or transform the culture. When it is called 'Chinese New Year' is that to keep it outside of this place? To make it the 'other' new year? Never really a part of us - like its supporters or practitioners. Elbow yourself in. (transit riders in China are good at that)The moon shines in the western sky as well. (Weren't the Druids on the Lunar Cycle tip? Is it Druid New Year? Should we say it in Gaelic too?) Is the 'Chinese-ness' of it dependent upon the location or the spirit, the meaning? Is your 'Chinese-ness' a function of DNA or social constructs? In some respects, (I think anyway that) it is essential that these traditions, customs, 'the little things' transform. translate and transport themselves across geographies and metamorphasize past language. (as I just did) Let the good things - celebration of family, drinking, a good meal - become part of the mosaic (how cliched) of American culture. Now matter how it is 'absorbed' it will never be the same as that done in China or Taiwan or Hong Kong - and you wouldn't want it to be. Did you know that Briar Rabbit and Briar Fox of Uncle Remus fame (from the South and its famous 'Song of the...') came from stories of Aunt Nancy which came from a misunderstanidg of the protagonist, Anasi (the spider) via the Caribbean who orignially hailed from the Asanti...of Ghana and the name means "Spiderman"). So Walt Disney (and Stan Lee) was saying 'big-up' to the West Africans - and a culture transmorgrified (thanks Calvin & Hobbes) across oceans and islands and land and language - but the story stayed true.So rap your knuckles in appreciation of a drink AND serve others before yourself and don't take the last piece (but don't let it go to waste!!). They can all be good things. Make them yours and they will become American - it is your America too. And don't forget to call your Mother!! (you never call anymore - and you're getting so thin! bubee you! oy vey!)
mmm... I wouldn't worry so much because really, even in different parts of the Chinese populated world, there are many different manners, etc. My parents are from Taiwan and I lived for a few years as well, but I have never seen any of my family rapping a table before - and they are pretty traditional. It's like my parents going to Hong Kong or a restuarant in Chinatown in the U.S. with lots of Catonese people. They feel that there are many things that Cantonese do that they don't do themselves or have never even seen before. So, in a way, those of us of Chinese descent living in foreign lands are just an extension of the diaspora (can't believe I am using that word) of Chinese people around the world. Thus, even though mainland China has a like a billion plus population, there are by no way the complete authority of what it means to be Chinese or of any so-called "Chinese experience." It took many years to realize and be comfortable in this fact.
THAT'S THE POINT!!! there is no 'set' way to 'be' Chinese. habits and behaviour differ even in China and you are no more a part of the Chinese 'diaspora' than any British descendant in the US, Canada or elsewhere is part of some 'British diaspora' that maintains some 900 number psychic link to England. You are what you choose to be. Nuture trumps nature.