Gung Hey Fat Choi (Happy Chinese New Year) by Peter Tse

 

Gung Hey Fat Choi (Happy Chinese New Year) by Peter Tse

 

(Undergraduate student reading English Literature with Study Abroad)

 

Winner of 2nd Prize in the Paddon Award 2016

 

Celebration brings people together. Every year, as dictated by the lunar calendar, Chinese people celebrate Chinese New Year. A time for family, friends and all loved ones to come together. For the Chinese, it is simply New Year, for the rest of the world it must be distinguished as Chinese New Year. It is the funny New Year celebration which happens at some random time at the end of January and the start of February. As with time, there is an unquestioned Western monopoly over the calendar. It’s “just the way it is”. My poem uses Chinese New Year celebrations to explore issues of racism, racial identity and growing up. It attempts to be a celebration of coming to terms with a conflicted diasporic childhood and finding a sense of what it means to be born to Chinese parents in England. It is intended to be a piece of Spoken Word. Also to explain the title – it is an anglicized pronunciation of how one would say “Happy Chinese New Year” in Cantonese.

 

 

 

 

Gung Hey Fat Choi (Happy Chinese New Year)

 

In Year 8 RE I gave a special presentation

My teacher asked me to share my colourful celebration

With my white, suburban classmates -

To broaden their cultural imaginations

To showcase our multicultural society.

These were the learning objectives,

Written clearly on the white board

Underlined twice in black board marker -

Right at the top for the bored Ofsted inspector

Marking ticks on his clipboard at the back of the class

As I stood there at the front and objectified myself -

A mouthpiece for 1.85 billion people, my invisible people.

 

If it didn’t broaden their cultural knowledge,

It certainly broadened mine

Up late the night before on Wikipedia

To find out about lion and dragon dances,

I told them we clean the house to sweep away bad luck

And make way for good luck

The whole house would be decorated red

Used to scare away the child-eating beast – Nian.

Who would run away from the sight of it.  

We celebrate in February because our calendar is lunar -

It’s to do with the moon, yes it’s like we’re from another planet.

Celebrations last for 15 days, a bunch of proper loonies.

My dad was away this New Year

He works late at the takeaway -

Cos it’s busy season, with customers finding reason

To share our holiday with duck and pancakes,

Chow mein, prawn crackers, chips and curry sauce.

I could have told them in China

We have Jackie Chan movie marathons

Eating tofu and dogs, while chanting

The everybody’s-kung-fu-fighting tune.

And slant eyed monks in a mystical mountain temple

Would be force fed babies, as sacrifice for the year’s wrongs.

That would have got their attention -

I’m not even from China, I’m from Hong Kong.

 

That didn’t stop them

From calling me a chinky chinaman

After the presentation, on my way to lunch

With my little rice box that always got funny looks.

It makes a change from pulling their eyes to slant

And shout random ting-tong, ching chong words and all the rest

Or asking me if I had got 100%  once again in my Maths test.

Yellow chinky chinaman, teacher’s pet.

I’m not even from China, I’m from Hong Kong.

 

This is the presentation I should have given

 

Slide 1

Yellow people are not really yellow

Like a lemon, or an egg yolk or butter.

White people are not really white

Because they’d all be stone cold dead.

Black people are not really black

Because they’d be some nightmarish manifestation of subconsciously entrenched colonial anxiety.

Brown people are not really brown

Because brown is not even a colour.

But on the other hand

Smurfs and Avatars are actually blue

Because they are made up characters, to amuse children.

 

Slide 2

What would you have said, if I asked you -  

What is traditional British New Year celebration?

What unites 64.1 million people in the same way that

1.85 billion people are united by Chinese New Year?

Can I see it in a Facebook album or Snapchat story

Of you and you mates in some dark alley

Knocking back VKs and popping MDMA.

Or perhaps watching Jools Hollands Hootenanny,

Or are you at some shit house party

Ogling at wasted underage girls

Hoping for a bit of midnight action.

 

Slide 3

Ting tong, ping pong, ching chong.

These are not my words

They are your words

And you can keep them.

I didn’t learn English until I was 6

And I’ve been catching up since

And even though I now speak English,

Better English than you do -

Even though I read English, I’ve lived, learned, laughed

in English. I’ve loved in English, I dream in English, but I’m not English.

They say if you repeat something enough times it will become true

I’ve been saying these words for 15 years and I’m not sure they do,

Does it then make it a lie?

Are these all white, ghostly Caucasian lies?

No no, not the lies I was telling you about Chinese New Year -

These aren’t lies like one about going home

Or the lies of multiculturalism and cultural integration, harmony and respect.

These are the lies you tell a 12 year old Chinese boy

So he can fall asleep each night

As he dreams his English dreams.

I’m not from China, I’m from Hong Kong.

 

Slide 4

And what if I am better than you at Maths.

Let me keep this easy for you -

3 minus 2 is 1. Simple subtraction.

Yes my tradition, as you call it, doesn’t add up

With yours, but does it have to make a difference.

1 divided by 2 is 0.5, a half. Simple division.

Just because I am divided between two cultures

With one foot in England and one planted

In the memory of a made up culture

An imaginary homeland where I’ve stashed

Loss, exile and displacement -

Deep down where you cannot revile it.

But what does it mean, what is meant

When you say I’m different?

Hear me out, please let me tell you.

I’m not from China, I’m from Hong Kong

And that doesn’t mean I can’t be English too.

 

 
Reproduced with kind permission of Peter Tse
Copyright ©Peter Tse