It's Good To Be A Social Pariah

Tram interior Lunar New Year consists of many customs and rituals Westerners find strange and unusual.

Among these is the handing out of Lai See (pronounced 'lie see'), which is a small red packet containing money. The amount varies, and it's given by older people to unmarried, younger relatives. If you have tons of nieces and nephews, be prepared to fork over a lot of cash, buster.

Another custom is to visit all of our aunts and uncles, to eat traditional New Year food, and present them with a gift wrapped in red paper (the colour of good fortune). The gift can be anything, but often it's candy or chocolates; a popular choice is Ferro Rocher. We gave everyone chocolate-covered Hawaiian macadamia nuts.

"... be prepared to fork over a lot of cash, buster."

I learned how to play Mah Jong, which is stupefying to figure out by watching alone. Ah! Ancient Chinese secret! Now that it has been explained to me, isn't too difficult. However, it is a gambling game; given my lack of experience, I don't think I'll attempt it. I won't play Mabel's mother or any of her aunts, because they're too good and will take me for everything I own.

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The city put on a spectacular fireworks display that put anything I've ever seen in Canada to utter shame. The show was over Victoria Harbour and lasted 23 minutes, as opposed to the squatty 10 minutes I'm used to. They had innovative ideas, including fireworks attached to mini parachutes. The sound of the explosions bounced off the skyscrapers, giving a double-rumble effect.

"... sometimes it's good to be a social pariah."

As we travelled about the city, I discovered that sometimes it's good to be a social pariah. People often don't want to sit beside me, if they can help it. Do I smell bad? I checked my armpits: nope, that wasn't it. Oh well, more room for me.

They're might be afraid. I've offered the free seat to many people, but most declined. They must think there's no room (sometimes that's true; the seats on some buses are so small I nearly take up the whole space).

I've discovered people open up when I speak in Cantonese. My Cantonese is improving little by little, and I'm trying to learn new stuff each day. I must be getting better, because I said a few words to a cabby and he started babbling as though I'd been born here. I could barely understand what he was saying. He figured I was fluent; I must have a good accent.

Other than the cabby, will people ever accept me as a local? Only time will tell.

We'll see what happens next Lunar New Year.

March 16, 1999

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