The Chinese Man who Never Celebrated Chinese New Year

On the first day of CNY last two Mondays ago, I came to work to take photos of the celebration in the hotel. Coming to work on a public holiday is a common thing in the hotel industry, in fact we are the busiest during public holidays for well, obvious reasons. When you're on a break, we will serve you instead :)

So as I was walking up towards the lift I saw one of my Chinese Chef, walking towards the lift like the usual blank canvas that he is. If he were a colour, he would be blue. Calm, serene and humble. I was a little surprised for a veteran like him to be there on the first day of CNY, why doesn't he get the CNY off? Or why doesn't he take offs on CNY? Doesn't he celebrate Chinese New Year?

I had so many questions in my head. And we walked into the lift together. We had an awkward moment for the first 10 seconds. I broke the ice, and asked him. Aren't you suppose to be celebrating Chinese New Year? 

He looked at me, emotionless. It was as if I was just some noise at the background. Looked at me, as if he was looking at a white wall.

No. I don't.


How come? I braved another question.

For 31 years that I have been working, I have always spent my Chinese New Year working.

What came out next, I guess was something unexpected of him from me. Because I continued, with a simple Why like little kids curious on things surrounding them, on the bird, on the dog, things like that. He looked at me after the question, still. Nothing written on his face. Not a crinkle, not an eyebrow raise, not a smile.

And finally said, because I simply never did.

I must admit despite his cold hard answer, I continued regardless. Why not? 

I have not been celebrating Chinese New Year since I started working, and it has been for 31 years now. It has been my tradition. Maybe I will stop when I'm 55.

There were so many things to argue about on his tradition. I'm so much of a lover that I find this way of celebration refutable and just plain lonely. I bit my tongue, trying hard not to say anything that might be offensive or argumentative. It is Chinese New Year after all. I knew arguing with him on however one celebrates Chinese New Year was a struggle cause. And neither would I want to. So I told him my opinion. I think you should celebrate when you go back home. Don't wait till 55. 

He looked at me. Blinked twice, nodded, and walked out of the lift.

He just simply nodded.

For someone who has so many questions bottled up inside of me, and so many things to argue about on him not celebrating Chinese New Year, a nod is like a tease. What does that mean? Does he hate my guts now? Will he recognise me? Does he think I'm trying too hard to be friends with him?

I have never seen him smiled to anyone before. He is the kinda guy who would sit early for lunch usually around 11.30 am as opposed to 12.30pm, with the familiar plastic bottle, and alone. He would stare at the TV like it meant something to him, like he was following any of the shows. Quite frankly, I don't think he does. He would walk up and leave immediately after his last spoon, he would never lean back on his chair, stay for a couple more minutes to chat, he seemed like he never had relaxed luncheons.

Before this I knew not of his existence.

Ever since my talk with him, he has greeted me numerous of times. He has shown a little of emotion. He has smiled a lot to me, but most importantly he acknowledged me. I don't know whether I will ever get to have my questions answered on whether did he ever came home and "celebrated" CNY that day, but I was glad I talked to him. I am glad I approached him :)

If it didn't matter to him, I think it mattered to me.

Jacqueline Rowena @ Jacqkie.


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