Chinese New Year — an event that was invented to get busy adult Chinese sons and daughters to visit their parents at least once a year.
You’ll meet all kinds of relatives during the 2-day ang pow pilgrimage: From the chatty younger aunties to the stern older uncle who nods and says nothing, to your snazzy older cousin working in Sales.
But from all of them, you’ll hear pretty much the same questions fired out year after year.
Here are the 8 most common ones (and how to respond to them):
1.“What did you get for your results?”
As a kid, the line of questioning starts early. You feel the weight of familial expectation coming from the first time from people other than your parents.
Should you answer with anything less than straight A’s, you’ll find yourself being compared to every single one of your siblings, your cousins, and even your own parents (“Your dad had straight A’s, how come you don’t?”).
If you aren’t the straight A’s type, try to bring up your accomplishments outside of academia. Otherwise, try changing the subject by complimenting your aunty’s New Year outfit.
2.“When are you going to find a job?”
Once you’ve graduated, you might think the annual CNY interrogation session no longer applies to you.
Boy are you wrong.
Without batting an eyelid, your relatives will send a barrage of questions about which company you applied to, what your first drawn salary is, whether you’ll be promoted to management in two years (Ha!), and so on.
To deflect such questions, say: “I’m taking a gap year to travel.” — even if all the travelling you’ll do is between the sofa to the fridge while binge-watching another Netflix show.
3.“When are you going to find a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
Growing up, there were always some aunties and uncles who told you to be completely celibate throughout your entire student life.
And now, these same kepoh ji’s are pressuring you for the answer to this infamous line.
Did you say you are single? Too bad, you’ve fallen into their trap.
You’ve just given them the perfect ammunition to recommend every single eligible son or daughter of so-and-so that have come into brief contact with them within the past 6 months.
Just tell them you are seeing someone briefly, but leave it at that.
4.“When are you going to get married?”
Once you’ve entered a long-term relationship though, being partnered up seems to be free real estate for your relatives to come out with this other infamous line.
Resist the urge to fire back with this zinger: “If I were to ever get married, you wouldn’t be invited anyway,” and instead say:
“We’re saving money for the wedding.”
5.“When are you buying a house?”
You’ve found a job you love and you are finally on track to living your adult life. You start feeling like you could save up for some rest and relaxation, perhaps a trip to Taiwan or Seoul.
So what’s the big deal about property?
Truth is, being part of the conversation might help you discover information about landing your first home you may need to know in future. So don’t tune out.
Just say, “I’m open to learn more,” even if a discussion about REITs and rental income bores you to tears.
6.“When are you going to have a baby?”
The implication behind this innocent question is that couples without plans for having kids are somehow not a real couple. Not every married couple needs to have kids to be happy, Karen.
“When will I have a grandson to bounce on my lap?” is every parent’s dream, because when you get a grandkid, you get to spoil them without any real consequences.
But since most Malaysians can’t afford to raise a child in this economy, just say that you are planning to adopt a kitten or puppy instead.
7.“Which nursery/school/tuition are you sending your child to?”
By the time your kid is schooling age, the aunties and uncles will now switch the focus to your child. Just as everyone loves being the backseat driver, everyone loves to have a say about how to raise a kid.
Even if (and most infuriatingly so) when they themselves do not have kids!
At this point in your life, be prepared to justify your parenting decisions at every step of the conversation — but try to avoid unloading the same judgement onto your cousin’s and sibling’s parenting choices. You’re better than that.
8. “Ah boy, how are your exam results?”
And so the cycle is complete. What your relatives said to you, they will say to your son.
What a lot of us don’t realise is that relatives are often simply curious about your lives. They wouldn’t ask if they weren’t interested in your life. So update them!
In any case, the younger generation of adults do not do this anymore. It’s always one or two older uncles or aunts who like to kepoh the lives of their relatives.
All that said, asking about someone’s life isn’t a crime.
It’s only when it becomes a soapbox for that one uncle or aunty to have a rant that it gets tiring. Saying stuff like: “Young kids aren’t hard working like us. Back in my day ..” is when it becomes very difficult not to roll your eyes…
What is the symbolism of Chinese New Year?
For me, going back home for Chinese New Year always felt like a thing you did out of duty. If you don’t come home for CNY, you are a “bad son”.
In recent years, it’s become more personal; a chance to show gratitude to the people who paved the way forward for me.
Reunion is a form of recalibration. It resets your baseline, reminds you of who you are, in relation to others bonded to you by blood.
Every single one of you and your siblings, cousins and future relatives are a product of the generations that came before them.
Who knows? When you are older, you may find yourself saying these things to your nephews, nieces, and grandkids. Just make sure you do not make them feel discouraged or not worth your approval.
Break the cycle of comparing your kids to others or disregarding their opinions. You’ll have a much more harmonious Chinese New Year.
At the end of the day, catching up at Chinese New Year is a tradition as old as the first man going home to see his mother.
Embrace it, and your life will be enriched.
Do your relatives say these 8 things during Chinese New Year? Let us know in the comments!
For more articles like this, read: I’m a Chinese Girl Raised in a Traditional Chinese Family. Here’s My Story