Learning to Cherish My Fortunes in the Year of the Ox

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by Sherry Toh |

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It is my yearly Chinese New Year tradition to complain about Chinese New Year.

As with all honored traditions, this one goes back to my earliest memories of the holiday: My mum’s footsteps echoing throughout our house as she cooked breakfast before the sun rose. The smell from the kitchen of seafood porridge or leftover steamboat soup would make me lose my appetite, but I had to eat anyway.

I’d beg my parents to let me sleep for five more minutes and end up sleeping for 20, much to their frustration. The three of us would leave the house at what I thought was an unreasonably early hour so we could visit our relatives on time. Then there were the seemingly endless stairs we had to ascend to arrive at my paternal grandmother’s. And the extended family members I would feel awkward about seeing due to our language barrier. (I was mainly brought up with English, while they spoke Mandarin, Teochew, or Hokkien.) 

Ever since I could verbalize my feelings, I would whine about all of that, and more. If something happened on Chinese New Year, be it another tradition or a casual incident, my poor parents were forced to hear me go on and on about my list of grievances. They would coax, cajole, and explain to me that the holiday was about paying respect to our family, to no avail. I even got my brothers to join me after they were born.

I never claimed I was a good daughter.

(OK, maybe I have claimed that, but only because family and friends praised me first!)

There were things I didn’t complain about, of course. Things I enjoyed, and still do, like lion dances, wolfing down pineapple tarts, and the family gathering at my maternal grandaunt’s. But in my mind, the bad of Chinese New Year outnumbered the good.

That view slowly shifted as time brought change and I grew older. I learned to converse in the Chinese dialects. My paternal grandmother eventually moved to a place with an elevator. My mum and the caregivers we hired started to feed me breakfast I found edible. And when my chronic neuropathy began, I was excused from early mornings and visiting our relatives if I didn’t feel up to it. Suddenly, Chinese New Year wasn’t a date I dreaded, but rather a day I could handle.

I didn’t stop griping, though, if only because I’m Singaporean, and complaining happens to be our national pastime

“The weather is too hot to go visiting,” I grumbled one year. “I don’t see why we need to buy new clothes every year,” I sighed at my mum another year.

Then COVID-19 hit and the world changed. We had to reckon with the fact that we had taken so many things for granted. For me, Chinese New Year is one of those things. 

In the lead-up to the holiday, my parents and I discussed if I would be involved in the celebrations this year. We are, after all, in the middle of a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus. It’s one of the worst nightmares for every single person with SMA, a disability that weakens our lungs.

Although Singapore has had few cases in recent months, and although my relatives are law-abiding citizens who would be willing to accommodate me, my parents and I expected the mood to be hampered by new safety measures and an uptick in COVID-19 infections regardless of them. 

My mum ultimately left the decision up to me. Did I want to see my relatives this year? Did I want to increase my risk of catching the virus?

No, I decided. I didn’t. Not because I don’t love or respect them, but because I want to spend many more holidays with them in the future.

I’m writing this column on Feb. 12, the first day of the Year of the Ox. I should be with my family at my maternal grandaunt’s right now, laughing with a house full of relatives and playing cards. Instead, I’m sitting at home in a coral T-shirt I bought for the occasion, wondering if I should eat a pineapple tart, and airing my grievances to you, dear reader.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop complaining about Chinese New Year. And if there’s another thing COVID-19 has made me realize, it’s that my elders were right: We should carry on the traditions we have for as long as we can. But I will learn to cherish the little things and the people around me a lot more. We never know when they’ll be taken away.

So, I may eat that pineapple tart after all. Or three.

I wish you all a prosperous new year.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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