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February 9, 2011 / Katie

Memories of Chinese New Years Past


Growing up hapa meant celebrating the Lunar New Year with my Chinese side of the family each winter. My mom would pull out silk cheongsams and mandarin-collared coats she kept in a cedar chest that smelled of mothballs and must–opening it up was like peering into a long lost past.

Once dressed in our festive outfits, we’d pile into the family’s red Aerostar van, drive downtown on the winding 110 Pasadena Freeway, taking the off ramp that exits directly onto Hill Street, and park in the cool concrete structure beneath our destination: Empress Pavillion, the largest, most cacophonous dim sum hall you’re ever likely to see.

There we’d meet up with the Gee clan–Grandpa wearing his favorite trucker hat, Grandma in her finest red sweatshirt, and the rest of my many aunts and uncles–and together we’d wait patiently for the hostess to call our paper number over the loud speaker, first in Chinese, then in English. Grandma Gee would greet my brother and I with lucky red envelopes or hongbao stuffed with $20 bills (these and the special Chinese New Year candies we got were some of the many reasons I looked forward to the holiday).

on the far right, my childhood friend Emily looks like she came straight out of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon

As a little girl I accepted these festivities as par for the course, not quite realizing that most American families did not celebrate Chinese New Year. As an adult, and as someone who has many Chinese and Chinese American friends, I’ve made the tradition a conscious and well cemented part of my life. Besides, I never miss an occasion for gathering friends and family around a table filled with good food.

This year was no exception. A few good friends and I rang in the Year of the Rabbit with a banquet-sized feast at Jing Star (formerly Sunrise 27), followed by multiple rounds of mahjong late into the night. And yes, I finally learned the rules of the game, although it didn’t seem to help much; by 2 am I still had not won a single round. If you’re looking for a new vice–and detailed instructions on how to play this addictive game–check out Scott Nicholson’s how-to video. He may be a board game nerd with womanly hands, but he sure knows how to play a mean game of mahjong.

From the dim sum banquets of my youth, to the late night mahjong games of my future, here’s wishing you a prosperous and happy Year of the Rabbit, no matter how you may celebrate it. 恭喜发财!

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