Good Things Are Around the Corner

‘Good things are around the corner,’ says my sister via zoom.

‘Hmmm, which corner, right or left? The way things have been, I hope they come at breaking speed. This world certainly deserves some positivity,’ was my sassy reply.

My sister and I grew up in a melting pot of cultures. No surprise considering our forefathers came from the four corners of the planet. In fact, across the generations, we have benefited immensely. We have been given the opportunity to learn and adapt different cultures, traditions, and languages.

Today we are celebrating Chinese New Year, also known as ‘Spring Festival’. It marks the beginning of the new lunar year. It is not a religious celebration. It is a time when we pay respect to our parents and grandparents and a great opportunity for family gathering and to indulge in delicious cooking and sweet delicacies.

When we were young, one of our duties was to decorate all doors and windows with red paper strips. Red being the symbol of luck, joy, and happiness. But first we had to vacuum and sweep the past, saying goodbye to the old year. Then we would light incense and welcome wealth and prosperity.

In the same way as we would do at Christmas, we would leave sweets, water, and beans to Zào Jūn, the Kitchen God. He would visit the mortal world before reporting back to the Jade Emperor about the situation of each family. But unlike Christmas, the Jade Emperor delivered good or bad fortune not only to children but also to adults.

Long gone are the days when I followed strict tradition. Maybe I have become lazy. Or maybe it is no longer a necessity now that our branches are spread throughout the world. Whatever it is, I still delight myself in the joy of eating. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen, I find it easier to pick something from the shops.

Last year I spent the day in China Town. The news of a pandemic had not yet reached us. We were fearless and in high spirits. The streets were alive with noisy parades of lion and dragon dances. Fireworks were set off to scare away any evil spirits for the coming months. Incense and offerings adorned the entrance of every shops. Performers, tourists, and locals all came together to be part of the soul and tradition of the Chinese community.  

A year on, a lot has changed. Restaurants and small shops are closed. China Town is deserted. Not a soul around, not even a stray cat. No fireworks to leave my ears ringing, no lantern lit. Gongs are silent, lions do not dance to the sound of the drums. It is quiet. Far too quiet.

Nothing will frighten away monsters. The evil spirit will hang around in the coming months.

This is the start of the year of the Ox. The rest of the year does not look promising. Are we are doomed?

I settle down to a quiet evening, looking forward to scrolling through social media and catching up with the other side of my world. While nothing is happening here, somewhere else must be busy. I can celebrate with some spring rolls and noodles.

20.00. The oven timer goes off at the same time as the dinner gong. For the past hour, a delicious aroma has been emanating from the kitchen, saucepans have been banging and the oven whooshing. My young chef has put a lot of thoughts and care in this sumptuous culinary feast: sweet and sour chicken, sticky chicken wings, fried fish, steamed bao buns, nems, red bean mochi, nian gao . . .

“Wait! Let me take a food selfie!”

“Come on, let’s eat!”

Time to say goodbye to the past. Prosperity, happiness, and good fortune are around the corner.

新年快乐 . . . Xīnnián kuàilè . . . Happy New Year!

Knowledge of Languages Is the Doorway to Wisdom

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, it is stated that without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry or savour their songs. We are not different people with separate languages; we are one people, with different tongues.

Most of the world population speaks more than one language but being multilingual is not all it is cut out to be. Is learning a new language easy? How difficult can it be? Can I speak another language in a week? Anyone can do it, right? Wrong! In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”– Ludwig Wittgenstein

My love of languages began somewhere in my teens, along with an obsessive desire to travel the world. It was during those long summer holidays when I was neither a child nor an adult – when going out with friends needed parental permission. I was bored. I thought it would be fun to learn another language, to escape in a world that only existed in books, magazines, and films. I was young, eager, and naïve.

As tempting as it was to be taught by a professional, unfortunately I could not afford the fee. My next best action was to borrow books from the library, and apply myself to learn German, Italian, and Spanish. Bizarrely, I did not appreciate that I was already fluent in three other languages. Yes, I was lucky growing up surrounded by more than half a dozen languages. But I was determined that three more would open my horizon. Ah, how the youth can be so ignorant!

I must have fried my brain or hit a plateau. Or maybe those early Latin lessons killed my enthusiasm because, it took me many decades to get anywhere close to perfection. Even now, there are times when I do not have a clue what word is coming out of my mouth. I admit I cannot make it pass the basic conversation, to the point of making a fool of myself in front of an audience.

“French is the language that turns dirt in romance.” – Stephen King

When my first child was born, I was dissuaded to introduce another language for fear she might be confused and mix up languages. I moved to a trilingual country and solved the problem for both her and her siblings; from birth, their brains have been wired to adjust to being bilingual. Although they are fluent in both languages, we have adopted ‘Frenglish’ or ‘Franglais’ at home. We use more English in our sentence structure when speaking in French.

“A different language is a different vision of life.” – Federico Fellini

I have features that could pass for a local, depending in which country I am travelling. One can see it as hilarious but to my children (language police), it is pathetic whenever someone speak to me in their foreign language and I reply with ‘yah’. It does not matter if they are speaking Russian, Korean or Arabic. To tell the truth I do not even know why I do it. Maybe I am too scared to check into my shallow list of vocabulary. Or maybe when in deep Russia, where no one speaks any other language, ‘Yah’ is forcibly acceptable.

Some years ago, on arrival at Orlando International, a security officer spoke to me in Spanish. Having spent nine hours on a flight, my brain did not register the language. I looked at her, shrugged, and out came ‘yah’. She must have thought I was stupid for she did not press on. I am lucky I did not get detained for further questioning.

“To learn a new language is to open another window from which to see the world.” – Chinese proverb

The brain, as any muscle, likes to exercise, so being fluent in two or more languages keeps the brain healthy and active. Studies have proven that it helps to delay symptoms of alzeimer’s disease. Our ability to multi-task and our concentration increase. Our memory improves and we become good at problem-solving.

I am aware I am not good at everything and I know some people are perfectly able to craft a very well-constructed sentence in whatever language they put their mind to. But there are other ways I can make myself understood. I am open-minded, empathetic and have good listening skills – I can easily connect to other cultures of the world. Using creative-skills, with mimes and key words, I stretch my vocabulary two thousandfold. I wing it. Happy days.