How do we recreate the feeling of ‘home’ when we move halfway around the world?
During my year-long contract in Malaysia, I couldn’t help but feel homesick. I was living in a different country, with a different language, and different customs. But it wasn’t long until I found the thriving Chinese community in Batu Pahat, the city closest to where I was stationed. Within a few months, they had gone out of their way to make sure I felt welcome and during February, I was inundated with tons of invitations for the upcoming Lunar New Year’s.
Back in Colorado, we would often celebrate Lunar New Year’s by gathering the whole extended family and eating a large dinner together. There was not much glitz and glam to the whole affair, but it was lovely to get everyone under the same roof. We were so often caught up with our daily lives that we would rarely see each other throughout the year, but during New Year’s, all other obligations and responsibilities would come second to family. I will never forget those moments of my childhood spent at my grandparents’ home during Lunar New Year’s. The children would run around the living room, screaming and laughing. The adults would eat and exchange gossip at the dinner table while Miss Hong Kong played softly on the television in the background. All of the colors and sounds combined to create this overwhelming feeling of warmth that you could see from the outside just by looking at the flickering lights from our open windows.
My Lunar New Year’s in Malaysia was absolutely filled with festivities. It came as a surprise to me that most Chinese Malaysians would take off up to two weeks or more from work and school to celebrate the upcoming New Year’s! This set me up for two weeks of great fun and laughter. In Colorado, Dragon and Lion Dancing are special treats that you might see a few times a year. In Malaysia, a few happen every day during the holiday season! We began our celebrations two weeks before Lunar New Year’s with a city-wide parade that spanned for almost a mile and lasted several hours.
It seemed as if the whole community had come out and taken time to create floats, decorations, and dances.
Throughout the two weeks of festivities, we spent time doing multiple house visits and eating an exorbitant amount of oranges (oranges often symbolize good luck and fortune and are exchanged between friends and family the whole duration of New Year’s). At one home, we wrote wishes on iconic lanterns and sent them off into the night sky. At another, we watched the whole neighborhood set off fireworks and firecrackers in small streets that would have likely been illegal in the United States. The whole two weeks were full of new experiences and traditions both familiar and new. From classic red packets filled with money to corny karaoke, these customs brought together the whole community.
However, the most moving part of it all was being welcomed into a family that we spent a few days and nights with. It was there that we felt at home without actually being home. From playing mah-jong to lounging around the living room after a full dinner, the whole time was spent in peaceful content. There was no forced conversation and no extravagant activities. But it was in these small moments of genuine and honest laughter, in the warm living room and soft flashing light of the television screen- that we found home 9000 miles away.