I think I may have had my most meaningful Chinese New Year yet.
10pm and the band was still belting out tunes from the 1950s and 1960s. Couples in their 60s and 70s, in their swishy skirts and crisp tuxedoes, skimmed across the wooden dance floor like happy flamingos. The chatter of 800 people filled the cavernous ballroom like a roaring ocean.
I was standing amongst it all, in this Chinese New Year Ball, looking up at the sparkling tree. I thought that the glowing lanterns looked like Chinese UFOs with alien octopus-tentacles rising up into a star-system worm-hole thing. I wished my kids were here to see it. They would make sound effects for it, invent a story and act it out, and I would laugh with all my heart.
The night before this ball, we had a big Chinese banquet with my entire Mum’s side of the family. Dinner with the Wongs. And it’s always the same. Same Aunty’s house. Same roast duck. Same fried prawns. Same steamed fish. Same table cloth. Same pink rice cooker. Same blue esky for the extra cool drinks. Same faces. Same jokes. Same stories. Same smells. Same sounds.
When I was a kid, and a teenager, I used to get bored with the same-ness. I used to roll my eyes and crave for something new. Something different.
But this year, I liked that things were the same. In the way you retrospectively like a banal object after you discover you’ve lost it. The table full of Chinese cookies. The Asian-style hot water dispenser. The plastic tea cups. I poured myself some Chinese tea, moving around my Aunty’s kitchen with ease and familiarity. I used to live in this house when I was a kid. Now look at me. Look how much I’ve grown up. Look at how much my kids have grown. I touched the kitchen bench top and smiled, wishing that things would never change.
Because I know that soon, maybe next year, some things will change. Someone might be gone. Things might be different. We’ll start to have people-shaped holes in our lives. We’ve been on a good run here. 10 years of same-ness. We have been blessed. But things will start to be different soon.
Back at the Chinese New Year Ball, without my kids, the band stopped playing. The MC announced, with a heavy Chinese accent, that a new band was going to come on stage and play “music from the 80s”. I looked up with delight. While my formative years were in the 1990s, my husband is very much a 1980s kind of guy. This will be fun. I want to dance. It’s been a while since I let loose on a dance floor.
I looked for my husband and saw him afar, talking and laughing to someone. I caught his eye, smiled, then pointed to the dance floor. I wriggled my arms like a twisting chicken, in the universal sign language that said – LET’S DANCE!!
We walked towards each other, eyes locked and grinning, weaving between chairs and people and the ocean of noise. My dear husband. Ten years ago, he had emergency surgery to save his life, and the surgery threatened the mobility of his legs. He could have been in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Thankfully, both his life and his legs were spared… and now we dance, because we can. That’s our motto.
But just before we were about to step onto the dance floor, the new band started to play. Beautiful, soothing and heart-aching music filled the air. But it wasn’t Madonna.
It was in fact “music from the Andes”, not “music from the 80s”. As in, bamboo pan pipe playing folk music from the Andes mountains, in South America.
We laughed uncontrollably. Holding hands. Holding each other steady, to suppress our laughter. So that others wouldn’t think we were laughing AT the band.
By 11pm, we were done. We drove home, still holding hands, past all the glittery lights of the city and towards our warm bed and a new day of children cuddles, school lunches, bike rides and glorious sameness.