Bringing family together for the holidays is bound to produce a few awkward experiences – including when it’s your family spending Chinese New Year. Here are four I’ve had that have stayed with me over the years (making me wonder what’s in store this Chinese New Year!):
1. Family pressure to have a baby at the most important dinner of the year
As I’ve written before, being married for 10 years with no kids can be a pretty awkward situation in China. Which of course, can lead to awkward situations during the holidays, like the following.
Last year, just as we sat down to nianye fan (Chinese New Year’s eve dinner – the most important feast of the year), one of John’s brothers turned to me and said, “Next year, we’ll have a new person around the table, right?” The meaning wasn’t lost on me – that, obviously, he expected us to get pregnant and have a baby in the year of the horse.
Not exactly the kind of thing you like to hear when you know that’s not going to happen. (We just can’t have kids right now for personal reasons.)
My face completely flushed red as everyone around the table looked at me, and I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. It was one of those moments where time nearly ground to a halt – an incredibly awkward one, to say the least.
Fortunately, everyone soon started eating. Thank god Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner was so distracting! (And delicious!)
2. Seeing a relative so drunk he was practically unconscious and covered in vomit
This wasn’t just awkward – it was dangerous.
On the second day of the Chinese New Year, our family invited over some relatives for a loud and raucous lunch where the alcohol flowed quite freely. A little too freely, in fact.
The main culprits were a mob of older male relatives in the dining room pressuring the younger guys to drink as a sign of respect to them. It became a neverending request, where one shot glass of high proof baijiu led to another and another and another.
I never cared for boisterous and drunken family meals, so I had positioned myself on a chair outside, chatting with some of the women in the family.
An hour or so later, my husband discovered one of his cousins had gotten so sloppy drunk that he hid himself in the shed behind the family’s beehive. When John finally carried him out of the shed and plunked him into a bamboo chair, he looked almost unconscious – and then puked all over his shirt.
I swear, the baijiu on his breath mingled with the stench of vomit has forever been etched into my memory. (And, I will never, ever, sit in that bamboo chair.)
Later, family members sent him to the hospital, where they pumped his stomach and revived him. Fortunately, he didn’t consume enough to threaten his life.
But those moments when his almost comatose self, reeking of alcohol and puke, were seated right across from me rank as some of the most awkward and frightening ones I’ve experienced during the holidays.
3. Using a chamber pot in the bedroom while having my period
Well, it’s one thing to manage your “monthly gift” when you’re in your own apartment – and another thing entirely to deal with it in a home where the only flush toilet is downstairs and too far from your bedroom to use at night.
Enter in the family’s chamber pot (it resembled a bucket, complete with its own lid). Yes, folks, that’s what I had to use one year when nature called and it was late at night. I’ll spare you all of the really gross details, but suffice to say it felt awkward trying to squat over a bucket AND manage the messy side of being “on the rag” at the same time.
(Thank goodness our suite at the family home now has a modern bathroom with a real flush toilet!)
4. Calling John’s parents to tell them we were stuck on a mountain after dark
Last year, we had an unseasonably warm start to the year of the horse – so much so that the glorious sunshine on the second day of the new year beckoned John and I outside for a walk. We didn’t actually intend to climb the mountain but the beautiful weather spurred us on – and besides, we had always wanted to make it to the top. We lucked out on finding a path that brought us close to the summit and couldn’t resist clawing our way through the brush and bushes until we made it. Woo-hoo!
Well, that euphoria lasted right up until the path we chose down the mountain petered out until we were trapped in a minefield of thorny vines as the sun was just disappearing behind the mountains. There we were, trapped on a mountain at dark with no idea exactly how to make it down and not a flashlight in sight.
We did, however, have our mobile phone – thus came the awkward call sometime around 6:30pm or so, announcing what was surely my mother-in-law’s worst nightmare. (She never did care for us gallivanting around the mountains in the village).
Fortunately, we did eventually make it down the mountain – slowly and step-by-step as we held hands the entire way for safety. It was one of the craziest things we’ve ever done and we suffered some nasty looks from John’s family (including his eldest brother, who gave us the silent treatment as proof of his extreme anger at us for getting lost). Not fun.
What awkward experiences have you had during the holidays?