Apparently he thought that I knew everything there is to know about the subject of being Chinese.
Now. This whole thing is rather funny for the people who know me.
Because… I know CLOSE TO NOTHING about Chinese New Year, except the things my family practice, which – for a long time – I have waved off as being silly, daggy, folky stuff.
I can’t even speak Chinese! Cantonese or Mandarin!
No, wait. I can say, “Ni Hao! Wo Ai Ni!” which means, “Hello! I love you!” And a few swear words of course.
So sure enough, the night before it was due, I was cutting and pasting from Wikipedia and Googling for images to finish my primary school homework! How humiliating!
To make matters worse… there are 8 kids in my son’s class who are actually ethnically Chinese, from China, Singapore and Malaysia, who probably know how to speak more Chinese than me!
And they probably also knew MORE about the traditions, customs, meanings and stories surrounding Chinese New Year.
And crap, it would be terribly embarrassing if they blew my cover.
So. I decided to take on a bit of Chinese Aunty credibility by wearing my bright red cheong sum. It was a kind of dress that said – All Hail The Chinese Woman! Don’t cross her path or she’ll whip out her invisible flying swords! That’ll teach those pesky kids with difficult questions!
Then I thought, Oh god, how embarrassing is this going to be? I’m going to walk across the school yard dressed like this, and everyone is going to think I’m the local expert on all things Chinese! They are going to invite me to school cultural dinners and other classroom talks and they are going to parade me in front of everyone and make me say things in Chinese (“Wo Ai Ni Everyone!”) and give out char siew bows (roast pork buns)! Eeeek! What am I getting myself into!?
That morning, at home, before the presentation, my 7 year old said to me,
“Mum I like your dress. But your split is so high, I think I can see your knickers.”
“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! This split is NOT HIGH! Look! You can’t see my knickers!!”
And my husband had the cheek to say “If you don’t want people to see your knickers, maybe you shouldn’t wear any?”
Despite everything, the presentation went wonderfully well.
I started by saying “Ni Hao! That’s what Chinese people say for hello!”
Oh I could barely stand the irony of it all! I sounded just like a children’s TV show host.
I brought props like Ang Pows, two oranges (my local fruit store didn’t sell mandarins), pictures of a lion dance and I even had print-outs for everyone of a Chinese Zodiac Chart with all the animals and dates – which I had to make myself in Photoshop.
The Chinese kids seemed really happy that their classmates were learning about things they already knew about.
I had one Chinese kid say, “We call them HONG BAOS not ANG POWS.” And I explained to everyone that Chinese have different dialects, and how they both mean the same thing – red packet.
And the teacher goes “Wow, are you a Chinese language teacher?”
(Oh the sweet sweet irony.)
And some other Chinese kid said, “What’s that thing that adults do… for lots of happiness? My mum told me about it. It’s all mixed up?”
I double blinked and paused… as I tried to find an answer to his question by sifting through the flashing images of “mixed-up adult behavior”… none of which was suitable for discussion in a primary school classroom.
Then I said, “UH. Maybe she told you about the fish salad??? They serve this special fish salad, and all the adults reach into the center of the table and toss it with chop sticks, and shout happy sayings?”
“Yes, that’s it!” said the kid.
Good save Karen! And I proceeded to guide the conversation away from any other possible adult things adults might do for lots of happiness.
I went on to tell the class about “Double Happiness”, which was a concept that the teacher really liked. Thank god she didn’t ask me to write the Chinese characters for it on the board, or my cover would have totally been blown!
Maybe I would have just drawn some random scribble, and hoped no one noticed.
Phew anyway, that’s the end of my story. Thank god that’s over.
So here’s me wishing you all Double Happiness and a sensational mixed fish salad!
(The cheong sum was my wedding banquet dress, hand-made by a very nice lady in Maylands.)