Benjamin Law’s memories of Chinese New Year probably aren’t like other people’s. While he recalls the traditional Lai See red envelopes of money, firecrackers and Lion Dances, there’s a more unique family tradition that comes to mind.
“Growing up, we’d go over to grandma’s place to celebrate and – this sounds really weird – she really valued our urine,” he revealed in his chat with Kinderling Conversation. “She’d keep a bucket next to the toilet because apparently in a lot of Chinese people’s minds, urine is really good fertiliser, especially from kids. So that’s a festive memory we can all share.”
Buckets and well-watered plants aside, the author (whose excellent book The Family Law, about growing up in a Chinese-Australian family in Queensland is now an excellent TV show on SBS) reflects fondly on the multi-day festivities and the endless eating it usually inspires. For the uninitiated, he likens it to Thanksgiving Dinner in the United States.
“It’s about coming together with your folks,” says. “It’s a very family orientated event. In China, people will catch trains or flights to get back home to celebrate with their family with big meals, the ones that have so many courses that it leaves you immobile for 48 hours. That’s very much the Chinese New Year vibe.”
Listen to our interview with Benjamin:
“Then there’s Lai See, which is people giving lucky red packets that represent good fortune and prosperity for the rest of the year to young people who are unmarried.”
Today ushers in the Year Of The Monkey, but Ben himself, a child of 1982, was born in the Year Of The Dog. With a laugh, he says he lives up to both sides of his zodiac sign, good and bad.
“Dogs stand for justice and loyalty and standing up for what’s right, which sounds really great and I’d like to think of myself as the person,” he says. “On the con side of things, they tend to be self-righteous, which I think nails me too.”
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