We don’t know about you, but we think the only things worth looking forward to during CNY are the holidays, food and, of course, the money. And already these are fast losing their appeal. You get days off, but all the damn shops are closed. The food is the same every year and sickeningly fattening. The ang pow money you get is pathetic—and gets more paltry the older you get.
Add dodgy relatives, the even dodgier questions they ask, tedious visits you’re forced to perform, long office lunches and you get the idea. CNY is not exactly something to be wild about. Check out the essential I-S Get-Through-CNY-In-One-Piece-Guide to coast through it all with a winning grin.
How To Tackle Human Beings Unfortunately Related To You (Read: Relatives)
If you’re one of those rare people who are all chummy with your relatives and find yourself counting down the days to CNY anxiously just because you’re so eager to see them again, you can skip this bit.
This section is reserved for those of us who only see our relatives once in a blue moon and find ourselves wracking our dry-as-bone minds for things to say to them. It’s also dedicated to those of us who are unfortunate enough to have insensitive, raucous relatives firing mentally challenged questions at you the minute you start warming the couch. So without further ado…
Handling Stupid Questions
What to say when they ask:
“When are you getting married?”
Give a ridiculous, but polite answer. Maybe something like, “2017 is a good time as we heard that Mars and Venus will align. The interplanetary movements coincide with the non-linear motion of the intergalactic progression of the atmospheric pressure of the universe.” As they take a breath to fathom all that, make a quick escape.
Or, laugh and say loudly “Wah, Fifth Aunt! Every year you ask me the same question! You wanna give me a very big red packet issit?” Then watch her squirm at that uncomfortable prospect. Look sorrowful and say: “No lah, not yet. How to? I’m married to my job. No time, just no time.” Then try a choked sob—melodrama sometimes works.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
A question as shamelessly intrusive as this deserves only the stupidest of replies. Instead of mumbling an embarrassed “No…,” try this tactic. Start yammering about how great, cute, reliable, adorable and in love you are with “the man in your life” then end off with “Yeah, so all my friends say I’m really lucky to have such a great dog.” Stupid questions get stupid replies.
How To Cope With Last-Minute Visits
Some relatives are just so eager to grace your house with their wonderful presence that they don’t even bother to give you any real notice. Instead, they parachute in and expect you to be all ready for them. Some tricks to pull:
• Tidy up your living room—the most important area. Forget the bedrooms—just lock the doors.
• But be sure you haven’t got underwear hanging on your doorknobs.
• Clean up your toilet. Get rid of bits of hair, dirt—you get the idea. Make sure there’s enough toilet paper.
• Play some DVDs when they arrive, so your guests can watch something when conversation dries up.
• Hide all the photos you don’t want your guests seeing—dodgy graduation pictures, old boyfriend pictures, you in a bad haircut—and chuck them somewhere safe, like in your locked bedroom.
Receiving Red Packets
Always receive a red packet with both hands and thank your relative, no matter how odious they are. If they throw in an inane comment like, “Get married soon! So big already still haven’t give out red packets!”, just smile and say “Yeah, that’s why I don’t want to get married.” And laugh—much better than blushing furiously. Or act dumb—chirrup “Thanks ah!” loudly, then skip away.
Remember to bring some spare Mandarin oranges along—in twos (it’s for good luck). If you give out red packets, always bring spare cash and red packets in case you miscount someone’s kids.
Learn at least one or two CNY phrases in Mandarin or your dialect for the benefit of your grandparents. They’ll be over the moon—and maybe your red packet will be bigger next year.
Making Conversation During CNY Lunch
Being trapped by relatives at every angle does strange things to you. During your desperate attempts to fill up moments that scream of awkwardness with your cousins, make sure you don’t end up being a clone of The Rude Relative and start asking those same questions you’re been trying to avoid answering yourself. Here’s what you can say:
Talk about the food. Something as simple as “The yu sheng is nice, yeah?” will break the ice. If your target just gives a dead “Yeah” to your question (something likely to happen), follow up brightly with something like “Hey, did you know yu sheng was invented in Singapore?” That might help, because food is something everyone can relate to.
Make nice observations about their appearance. Maybe not, “Have you put on weight?”. Try, “Where did you get this dress?” or “Nice tie!”. Most people end up talking more when they’re flattered.
Talk about movies, music, TV shows. But current ones, not Top Gun.
If the conversation is still terrible after your noble attempts, don’t engage in time-consuming activities like shelling prawns. If you do, hawk-like relatives will swoop down on you with more tortuous questions. Instead, help yourself to all the easy-to-eat food and then get the heck away from the table.
Another option is to just eat. If the conversation is going badly, just zoom in on your favorite dish and stuff yourself silly, with mega exaggerated chewing motions so no one will ask you any questions. It’s like, hello? Can’t you see I’m busy?
Walk around and eat if you can—you’ll have more freedom to mingle with some like-minded souls (if there are any). You won’t feel so pressured to make conversation, unlike when you’re seated
at a table.
Surviving The Office Lunch & Red Packet Payout
What do you do when you’re sitting with a bunch of people you hardly know but must lo hei with? What do you say? How much do you eat? Does your boss like to make small talk? Try these tips:
Have a firm grip on your chopsticks when you’re going to lo hei (that’s the plate of ingredients that you’re supposed to toss up for good luck). You don’t want to drop them, and have all the bits landing on your hand as everyone is tossing.
In the euphoria of saying impromptu good-luck phrases as you’re tossing, make sure you don’t bellow “PAYRISE!” if your boss is sitting at your table, unless he’s a really good sport.
Be considerate and don’t leave the bony chicken bits or scraggly veggies for everyone. Get the food from the edge of the plate, not the center.
Try not to talk about work—it’s a complete bummer. Get a nice conversation going that revolves around light-hearted stuff.
What To Do When You Go Visiting
It’s easy to forget yourself when you’re in someone’s house and have had a drink or two. Keep these pointers in mind.
• Be punctual.
• Don’t scatter peanut and melon shells all over the coffee table. It’s not your house, honey.
• Don’t empty the round snack box in five minutes flat.
• Bring something nice for the host.
• If you’re bored out of your skull, take refuge in the washroom but not for so long that your host suspects you’re taking a dump. Flush properly and don’t leave a mess.
• Smile, a lot.
How To Avoid Putting On Weight
There’s loads of food during CNY. From pineapple tarts, peanut balls, bak kwa, melon seeds plus tons more rich food, you need to have a guide to keep the pounds from piling on.
Follow these rules:
• Avoid pineapple tarts and melon seeds. Melon seeds are loaded with oil and fat.
• Pineapple tarts are maddeningly sweet and just the jam alone is enough to add five pounds.
• Eat lots of preserved fruit instead (e.g. mango slices). Those are nowhere as enjoyable as pineapple tarts, but hey, it’s something.
• Avoid bak kwa. Heaty, oily, sinful. Enough said.
• Kueh lapis is also to be avoided at all costs. There’s a reason why it’s called thousand layer cake. You don’t want those thousand layers around your waist, right?
Gong xi fa cai!