Staying connected away from home
Overseas Chinese make do with local events to celebrate
As their most significant holiday of the year, Spring Festival is always a time for family reunions by Chinese people across the globe.
But many Chinese students studying abroad will not be able to enjoy the traditional meal with their extended family, accompanied with warm conversation and laughter, and watching the annual Spring Festival TV gala.
“The class schedule is so tight that there is not really much time for us to even think of Chinese New Year’s Eve rituals,” said Jin Yankun, 25, who left Shanghai three years ago to Los Angeles for further education.
Jin said it is not easy to feel the Chinese New Year mood in LA even with the holiday close.
“However, I miss the Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner,” he said. “So I discussed a dinner plan about two weeks ago with my friends, asked my mom about her recipes on WeChat, and went to Chinese groceries for ingredients.”
Last year, Jin and his friends also hosted a dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year.
Many overseas Chinese students may not have followed Spring Festival customs while they were still in China. But feeling homesick might spur them to revisit these practices abroad. Eating Chinese food together also offers a perfect opportunity to know more about local customs and cultures around China. Lin said he learned how to make dumplings from a classmate from North China.
“We don’t really have dumplings during Spring Festival in the south, so it is a wonderful experience of the customs in the north,” he said.
“When all the dishes we prepared are served on the table, there is a sense of familiarity with the strangeness.”
“The dishes and food are almost the same with what we have at home. But we had to watch the Spring Festival gala on the laptop, not on the TV as we did back at home,” he said.
For Gao Hanmo, a student with UC Berkeley who has stayed in San Francisco since 2010, Chinese New Year in the city can be even more traditional than how it is in China, thanks to all sorts of celebrations.
“There is a big Chinese New Year Parade every year. I went there once, it was quite lively. They have all the Chinese elements, including lanterns, dragon and lion dances,” Gao said. “But it is still quite different, so I feel somehow disconnected.”
Raymond Ip, a 32-year-old who migrated to Canada from Hong Kong, feels similar. Ip came to Canada with his family 15 years ago and lives in Edmonton, capital of Alberta, while his parents live in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“First and foremost, I think there are a lot fewer people actually celebrating, so the atmosphere feels very different from that in Hong Kong,” he said.
This year’s Spring Festival is officially on Feb 19, a Thursday, and there is no legal holiday in Canada for the day. Some Chinese in Canada still plan to have a celebratory dinner with their families. More people might opt to have dinner on the weekend instead, Ip said.
“We would always go out to Chinese restaurants or get together and prepare a traditional Chinese New Year meal with all the dumplings and rice cakes,” he said. “And the Lunar New Year is pretty much over then.”
A lot of local Chinese people in town actually do not take part in its Chinese New Year events and those who frequently go are local Canadians, he said.
“They are Chinese culture and food fans for the most part,” he said.
“Especially since these events take place in public areas, local people are drawn in to see what the buzz is all about.” Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
A young couple