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!

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason, and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder, treason should ever be forgot.

I was looking forward to the fifth of November, a significant date to all British. Every year on this date we celebrate Bonfire Night. Also known as Guy Fawkes Night, it is a tradition dating back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James 1.

When the gunpowder plot was unsuccessful, Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London where he was tortured. He was sentenced to death, hanged, drawn, and quartered. His body parts were sent to different parts of London for all to see and learn.

“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” – Theodore Roosevelt

We remember this tradition when young and old get together, lighting an enormous bonfire, with an impressive effigy of Guy burning on top. We put aside any disagreements we might have had with family and friends during the year and share the goodwill by setting off spectacular fireworks. Furthermore, it is a great excuse to drink litres of mulled wine and gorge on toffee apples and roasted chestnuts.

“Sometimes something catastrophic can occur in a split second that changes a person’s life forever; Other times one minor incident can lead to another and then another and another, eventually setting off just as a big a change in a body’s life.” – Jeanette Walls

But this year, all professional events are cancelled as on the same day, we enter a second lockdown. Our mood has changed from excitement to gloom as we face tougher restrictions. Despite schools and offices being open, the rest of us are only allowed to leave the house if it is indispensable.

To make it worse, people are flocking to supermarkets to stockpile once more fearing their Christmas will be ruined. I am indifferent. I am staying calm. Thinking back about how first time around everybody’s focus was on toilet rolls, flour, and cans of tomatoes, I have decided to sit through this second wave as comfortable as I can. I will neither bake bread nor stuff my face with cakes and biscuits.

While I have mild concerns about this second wave, I fear the continuation of lockdown into the new year, because some people are not taking it seriously. A month ago, my family and I spent two weeks in isolation to protect others. We boosted each other’s spirit, and our mental health was not affected. Though we have bounced back as healthy as before, I cannot imagine what isolation would do to some poor lonely souls.

 “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Life has changed drastically in 2020. Our level of distress has risen massively. We have been impacted by fear, loneliness, and anxiety. But what we should remember is that every day, is like any other day. Even though we might still be in the middle of a pandemic, we must reach out and lean in the support we get from others. Our spirits are thus lifted, and we are given the opportunity to move forward while feeling safe and secured.

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” – William Ellery Channing

So here I am, eyes fixed upwards, watching the colourful explosions in the sky. Covid-19 may have ruined the professional events, but my neighbours have blasted off sparklers, spinners, and rockets from their gardens, much to my delight. What a magical moment full of beauty for all to see! I forget the pandemic and let my heart be filled with hope and belief of a better day.