Jessica Uyen Nguyen, Grade 12, St Columbas College -
Excellence Award in the 'Poetry & Short Story Writing Competition 2020' competition
Your eyes are closed. It is a cacophony of sound, right from the sizzle of the satay chicken skewers from the food cart, to the cheering at the darts booth. The air is thick with the smoke emanating from the grills which present an array of hearty dumplings, from the fluffy pork buns to the steamed har-gow. It’s a joyous occasion. The red lanterns produce a warming glow that permeate the rest of the festival, a myriad of red and gold and drums and dancing. It’s the Lunar New Year festival. Usually, it’s your favourite event, but somehow this year feels a bit more melancholy. You stand alone, your parents are talking to their childhood friend, and in a few moments, you will be asked to say hello with the proper acknowledgements. You think, ‘Okay. It’s bow, and then hello. Wait, what’s the proper greeting?’ You silently kick yourself for forgetting about the most simple basics of language school.
You open your eyes.
You are assaulted with the brightness of the fireworks and sparklers, all in celebration of the new lunar year. There is the troupe of dancers in the background, complete with the dancing dragon. Your grandmother had made you join the youth group when you were younger, but you had quit as you grew older, took less interest in your culture. That should have been you dancing. That should have been you, in those long, delicate red dresses, moving gracefully like swans gliding through a glistening lake. The more upbeat male troupe will be next. You wonder if your perfect cousin will be performing. You close your eyes again.
You remind yourself that you love this holiday, for the community it brings together. The lemon tea drink you hold in your hand is your personal favourite, however for some reason you feel you don’t really deserve it. To call this culture your own. You know that your language school friends are here. Will they even remember you? You had quit in your second year. Your father was so disappointed, but at least it meant more time to practice your piano pieces. You cringe, as you remember you had decided to quit piano this year.
It’s bittersweet. After all these years of rejecting your culture. Here you are, wistfully lusting over the thought of how you could’ve been fluent in your mother’s native language. Been exposed to the more intricate details. Perhaps even visit your native country. But you grew up here. Still, there’s time to learn. You hear your mother shout your name. She sounds a mile away, yet her presence is so near.
For a fleeting moment, you are thankful. That you were blessed with such an enriching culture, with a community so fulfilling and unique. You have pushed it away all these years, but here you are. Standing in the radiant glow of the fortune lanterns, it’s warmth wrapping soothing arms around you.
You release a breath and rush into the foray.