While most ended up going to comedy bars and exciting rap contests, I found myself on a seat in one of the tables of my dad’s 60th birthday Chinese lauriat celebration. It’s not everyday my dad turns 60; it was a big cornerstone in his life (and I guess my life too) rightfully honored with a huge dinner at the Anapolis Seafood House last April 20, 2012. If you’re Chinese like I am, we’re probably still in the same line. If you’re not, chances are you’d be asking yourself what a “lauriat” is. Heck, even I didn’t know what it meant till a few weeks ago. Apparently, “lauriat” is what the Chinese call their 7-10 course banquet where they invite their families and friends to celebrate a huge event such as my dad’s eligibility for Senior Citizen discount. It occured to me that not only did I not speak Foukien fluently, I also don’t know much about my Chinese heritage. What a shame I was for my parents’ guest while assisting them to their seats when they asked me some stuff in Chinese and I did not know what to reply but a smile.
Enough sentiments about my culturally poor self, and more about the grand event. It was pretty much the same celebration most Chinese would have, only I was sort of new to the hosting part. As hosts, I had to be there hours before the start of the event, assign the guests to their seats, fix the video presentation we made for my dad, leaving me with so little time to munch on the food. Everyone was in red, a popular Chinese tradition when celebrating happy events. Most of the guests were baby boomers, roughly the around the same age as my dad. From the suppliers to the Xavier High friends of my dad, they were all… OLD. Their humor was different and they found entertainment in some not so famous singer serenading them with songs from decades ago. You can’t blame my mom riding the bandwagon and hiring these singers. It’s the “in thing” as far as my parents’ friends are concerned. Good thing she didn’t push through with hiring a Chinese-speaking host, yet another practice made popular among the Chinoy community. I guess, back then, they didn’t have much technology to entertain themselves and these songs and this kind of entertainment were pretty much all they had. After the event, I swear I noticed a wrinkle or two more on my forehead.
If there was anything that kept me from boredom and old age that day, it were my friends. Good thing, parents allowed me to bring some of them over. I didn’t have much time to talk to them since I was pretty busy entertaining my aunts and uncles from different tables, but whenever I dropped by theirs, they’d usually talk about the food. Though, like I said, I didn’t have much time to eat, I got to try out the food and boy was it delicious. We didn’t order the mainstream and stereotypical Chinese food like Sweet N’ Sour Pork or the Lemon Glazed Chicken; instead, we ordered unique dishes such as Patatim with Fried Wantons, Abalone with Mushrooms and Chinese Cabbage, Chinese Seafood Paella and my favorite of them all the Steamed Yellowtail (or Hamachi, as they call it in Japan). When I asked my mom why she ordered an odd-looking Almond soup instead of a possible mango sago or Chinese pudding, she told me that it was to cater to the old people. This pretty much applied to all the dishes served. The smiles on their faces after each meal were enough testimonies to my mom’s words. I’d even hear some of the guests saying, “Bwe pai cha” (which literally translates to “not bad eat”). I don’t know but try making a Filipino eat Abalone or the Black Chicken soup that was served – I don’t think they’d appreciate it as much as Chinese people, like my very satisfied grandmother, do. My Filipino friend, whom I brought over to the celebration, didn’t understand why the Abalone was served in a gruesome looking way. If you don’t know how to eat Mantou (a Chinese-style bun usually served after the Patatim), you probably wouldn’t ask the waiter for some condensed milk to compliment the bread. I also realized that maybe taste changes as you get older. From sweet, you’d probably want something more bitter. Something I’ve noticed from my dad’s sudden preference from his once sweet tooth to anything with red beans.
To cap the event off, my dad’s friends from the Rotary Club handed him over a huge gold-plated dragon figurine, in line with his being “Year of the Dragon”. A few days after, I had dinner with my dad and he mentioned the figurine that was given to him. He told me it was a Chinese custom to give the celebrant a figurine of his Chinese Zodiac sign. According to him, in Ancient China, they’d offer pure but smaller gold figurines. What lacked in size made up for its value. It was a token of congratulations for a life well lived. Reaching certain ages are milestones for Chinese. Its practices like these that show you how respectful Chinese people are and how much they value life.
Life well lived indeed. 60 years of age, 7 well-educated children, a loving wife. There’s only more to come after having Misua served as the noodle choice for the lauriat (it is said that Misua promotes long life). While Chinoys like me in my generation have been bleeding out the remains of our Chinese blood, it was a blessing to be a witness to not only of the more culturally-rich Chinese practices, but also to see my dad look more his age especially with that all-white hair he sports. (That line was meant to be funny since my dad had white hair ever since he was 40 – a curse I’m bound to have once I grow that old huhu)
Mark Ngo Dee, 102716