The Moon Is Made of Eggs and Flour
My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is from Taiwan. I am, however, California-born — I have never seen the moon. This Lunar New Year, I have no memories of dragon dances, or bustling festivals, or street vendors selling bāozi — no wellspring of mementos from my childhood to hold in my hand. Where these thoughts should be, only fog remains. I have lost my glasses; I have merely a lantern.
With this lantern, the fog gives way in places. I am eating mooncakes, which are so dense and sweet and sticky that, if I am not careful, I will choke. My family is giving me red packets, and I think the money inside is just paper. When I reach a clearing in the fog, I am wishing my extended family a happy Lunar New Year on WhatsApp and WeChat.
But these small spots of time are of a much greater painting that I have never seen, and will likely never see, in full.
I have never canvassed the canvas of my native culture — I was never interested. Why? Perhaps because my dad never really knew how to. This is strange to consider because sometimes he sighs, reminding me that Chinese culture is a rich thing. His childhood memories are boyish and fond, and of a time when people left their doors unlocked all day and all night because they knew and trusted each other; the children would run in and out of the neighborhood houses because they were children, and it was a joy to be alive. And he says it is a shame that I have never experienced any of this.
He is no longer a child but my “old man,” he tells me with a chuckle — partly amused, partly terrified, partly cynical — and no one is there to set up the fireworks for him. He has no objection to participating in festivities but rarely initiates them himself. Such is his defining virtue and flaw: his lack of apparent concern for anything emotional, which the holidays are wont to bring out in people. Perhaps that is why I have ended up like him in this regard.
But that was true only when, as a slightly less stupid and younger child than I am now — for adults are merely taller children whose red packets are their paychecks — I had little control over what I did in my daily life. My reluctance in recent years to celebrate Chinese festivities partially comes from what people associate most with Chinese culture: China.
But this culture is ours. It goes beyond politics, beyond the hands of a select few in power.
In 2021, when the government in China cracked down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, my dad sighed and shook his head. “It’s sad,” he said, over and over. He had long grown jaded about politics, but this matter seemed to touch a piece of his heart. I could only imagine what he felt seeing that piece turn into something so different so quickly, into a place where people have long kept their doors locked.
It was then that I asked him if it was possible to celebrate Chinese culture even if you’re not proud of the originator of that culture.
“Of course,” he said.
My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is from Taiwan. I, California-born, am yet of the moon. But this culture is ours. It goes beyond politics, beyond the hands of a select few in power. It rests in our own hands, and we, with our own power, mold it into our own meaning. Our mooncakes, our red packets and our exchanges across the digital sea are that meaning: the small but sure ways we become a family.
We find togetherness in these spots of time as we paint our own splotch on this painting — at times grand, at times grotesque, at times beautiful. That is what matters: the eggs and the flour, not the bowl.
Yiu-On Li wishes mooncakes weren’t so expensive.
Red Packets and Loved Ones
Lunar New Year is one of the most celebrated holidays in Asian cultures, signifying the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar. It also indicates a transition of zodiac signs in the Chinese zodiac: 2022 marks the Year of the Tiger. Since the Chinese calendar is based on moon cycles, the new year is on a different date each year. This year, Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 1.
Families around the world gather for the celebrations. Streets are filled with parades, fireworks and other festivities like lion dancing. Preparations for the new year begin days, if not weeks, before and last until Lunar New Year’s Eve.
Growing up in America, I’ve never really had the chance to experience Lunar New Year — not in the traditional sense, anyway. So, much of what I knew about it came from the stories my mother told me.
Each year, her family would start preparing for the new year weeks in advance. They would clean the house (my mother hated the annual cleaning), buy a ton of gifts and decorate the house with bright, red banners to welcome good luck and prosperity. It was a symbol to a fresh start. The food was also a big part of the celebrations. My mother had a huge extended family, so they needed to cook enough to feed at least 30 people. According to her, my grandpa made the best soup dumplings.
The streets would be lined with parades, live performances and firework displays that lasted until 1 or 2 a.m. in the morning. Children would receive new clothes, new shoes and red packets to bring good luck to the new year. Celebrations would continue for nearly two weeks, ending with the Lantern Festival.
But, above all else, Lunar New Year was a time for family. It was a time to be with loved ones, rejoice in the new year and enjoy delicious food together. My mother always anticipated the new year because her entire family would take a week off work to celebrate with each other.
Growing up in Silicon Valley, things were different. Lunar New Year wasn’t celebrated by too many people we knew. We’d maybe see a few red banners in the neighborhood, and sometimes not even that. My mother didn’t mind though. Since most of her family was back in China, she didn’t see a reason to celebrate. If she wasn’t working, we’d just order some Chinese takeout and call it a night.
Though I’ve only ever known Lunar New Year through my mother’s stories, it holds significance to me as a symbol for new beginnings and as my mother’s favorite holiday.
Yet, when February rolls around each year, I can’t help but wonder what it must’ve felt like to experience Lunar New Year the way my mom did: the cooking, the cleaning, the food, the celebrations — all of it. It must’ve been exhilarating to see the lion dancers up close. It also must’ve been really nice to take time off from school or work to spend time with family and simply enjoy each other’s company. And, instead of a single New Year’s Eve countdown, you’re surrounded by optimism and festivities for an entire two weeks. What better way is there to mark the start of the new year?
Though I’ve only ever known Lunar New Year through my mother’s stories, it holds significance to me as a symbol for new beginnings and as my mother’s favorite holiday. I find the rituals meaningful because they prioritize togetherness, and the festivities are extremely unique. And, of course, I always look forward to the red packets that my aunt gives me.
Alice Zhang wishes all those who celebrate a happy Lunar New Year.
Ever since I can remember, the moon has always been just out of reach.
This Lunar New Year, I recall my childhood through a hazy decade of insecurity and assimilation. Scenes pass by, not in a rosy-hued montage, but in the awkward glitches of rewinding a buffering video.
A grassy hill, dotted with telescopes pointed at the elusive, imperfect sphere looming in the sky … Even perched upon my father’s shoulders, I couldn’t touch it … Surrounded by classmates, I huddled over a repurposed cardboard box, watching a blurry circle move across a pinprick of light … I was told that my Chinese name meant “peaceful moon,” but I kept forgetting — and failing to find — the characters that matched the supposed meaning.
The transracial nature of my adoption meant I lacked direct, generational Chinese cultural learning. Because I never had a biological connection to my culture, my parents encouraged me to immerse myself in Chinese culture, often bringing me to classes and public events. But, going out of my way to learn my culture became a chore and moved the target — whatever it was — farther and farther away.
Unlike many of my other Asian American friends, I don’t have memories of steaming dumplings or pressing mooncakes into molds or large, multigenerational banquets. Instead, I have memories of public classrooms decked out with red and gold lanterns, coloring pages with the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e and her rabbit companion strewn across cheap carpets, whose gray-brown nubs disguised wayward stains and a paralyzing sense of otherness. I have memories of an itchy white dress with blue sleeves I can’t describe but would recognize in a heartbeat. Spinning around to traditional Chinese flute music in a park full of white suburban families, my dance became a cry to the audience, to myself and the homeland I left behind saying, “I’m trying. Don’t forget me.”
Since I didn’t learn or practice Chinese traditions regularly at home, any celebration inherently felt — and continues to feel — like a mask, a performance of my culture to gain acceptance from a community and a life I never knew.
Since I didn’t learn or practice Chinese traditions regularly at home, any celebration inherently felt — and continues to feel — like a mask, a performance of my culture to gain acceptance from a community and a life I never knew. The boundary between my personal and public identities was nonexistent. The only way I could learn was to practice around — and for — others.
Having swallowed the elixir of immortality, Chang’e fled — or, was arguably brought — to the moon for refuge, hoping for a better life. Every Lunar New Year, I faced a galaxy of expectant eyes. Had I drawn them into my orbit, or had they brought me into theirs?
This year, my roommates invited me to our friend’s small Lunar New Year dinner, where they planned to make their own dumplings and roasted red bean balls. And there it was, an all-too-familiar hollow heaviness in my chest — the same, weighted nothingness that crashed over me as I sat in poorly decorated classrooms, listened to the few Asian childhood friends I had chatter about their Lunar New Year celebrations or heard the just-unfamiliar melodies of Mandarin as I walked through San Francisco’s Chinatown.
I’ve tried to put words to this sensation my whole life. Anger, sadness, jealousy, maybe nostalgia. But, how can I miss something I never had in the first place?
I turned down the Lunar New Year dinner. I had to study for midterms.
But, between problem sets three and four, I made sure to go outside and look up into the night sky, searching for that lump of rock that has meant so much and so little to me over the years. Glancing up at just the right angle, I could spot the shadowy hint of a hare, trailed by a woman who just wanted to touch the moon. And perhaps, the moon was a little closer than ever before.
Toni Shindler-Ruberg believes cultural celebrations can be as public or as private as you’d like them to be, even if that means standing in the street in the middle of the night to stare at the sky.