Subscribe to far-flung places
Sign up here
and receive email alerts when this blog is updated.

 Add to your RSS reader

Sunday, January 25, 2009

When two cultures collide at dinnertime

We had the honor of being invited to a Chinese New Year's Eve dinner at the Wu family home. The "reunion dinner" is a grand feast, usually held in the home of the senior most member of the family, but not in this case.

Photo at right, back row: Wu, Ching-wen (the middle brother) ; Wu, Jen-wen (the youngest brother); Wu, A-min (William's dad); Zheng, Su-ying (William's mother); Wu, Marci (holding Mia); Wu, Shiang-wen (William); Hu, Chi-shiang (A-min's brother-in-law); middle row: Wu, Shin-lu (Ching-wen's oldest daughter); John Parrette (Marci's father); bottom: Wu, Shing-long (Ching-wen's youngest daughter).

All of the dishes were neatly arranged around the table, having been first offered to the god Guanyin in the family's upstairs shrine (photo at right).

After each family member stood before Guanyin for a blessing, we headed to the dinner table. There were all kinds of delicious treats, including General Tsao's Chicken, leafy greens sauted in garlic, liver, soup and the special new year fish. It's important that the fish not be eaten completely as it symbolizes abundance. So, if there are leftovers, it indicates "there will be surpluses every year."

We each had our own bowl of rice to start with and we all grabbed what we wanted from the center of the table with chopsticks. There wasn't alot of conversation, but what we did talk about was routed through William or Marci, who would do the translating.

When we were finished we went into the living room for the after-dinner tea and small talk. There were sweet snacks on the coffee table, and the family opened the huge box of Malley's chocolates I had brought from home. Mia was drunk on chocolate by the end of the night.

I noticed two television sets next to each other in the room, and when I inquired about them, I found out one was used for karaoke. Soon enough, William's dad broke out the song book. Two pages of western songs were mixed in with Taiwanese and Mandarin selections.

After a practice run that didn't go to well, Marci and I sang, "The Sound of Silence" into the microphone. Then A-min, Chi-Shiang and William took turns singing a Taiwanese tune.

Even Shin-long and Mia got into the action, singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (in Mandarin) and the Miao-Miao song (a children's song about cats that I've been hearing in the car alot called,"shaio hua miao").

Su-ying came in and passed out red envelopes to the kids (see photo). The Hong-bao is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. According to Wikipedia: "The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance withChinese beliefs; for instance 88 and 168 are both lucky numbers, as odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. But there is a widespread tradition that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount, as the number itself has a similar tone to the Chinese character for "death", and it signifies bad luck for many Chinese."

After a fun-filled evening, we headed home with our bellies full!

No comments: