Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

On Sunday I celebrated Chinese New Year. It is the year of the dog. I am very happy with my lot in the Chinese calender, I am a monkey which has always struck me as the most spirited of the Chinese star signs.

Our annual Chinese New Year celebrations have come to mean a lot to me. I lived in Hong Kong for several years during my 20’s, another experience which moulded me into the person I have become.

Perhaps your 20’s are always the time in which your adult self is formed, but I think there was something special about those years which will be with me for ever.

One of the reasons I left (and there were many) was the ‘ex-pat’ nature of life out there. I have experienced first hand what it feels like to be excluded from your local society. I tried, I really did, but me and my Chinese counterparts were poles apart. Of course I had Chinese friends, but the ones I felt close to had all spent time, or been educated, in the UK, US, Canada, Australia; ‘The West’ as we like to call it. The colonial nature of this division of cultures also sat uncomfortably with my principles. So I came ‘home’, back to the seamlessly integrated, multi cultural land of good old Britannia.

There was something in this feeling of alienation which threw us all together though, us ‘gweilos’. We were all hundreds of miles from home, away from friends and family. There was liberation in the feeling that you could be anyone. No-one knew your past, no-one knew your history, you were just you, here and now. You could only judge on what you saw, not on what you knew. We had all escaped from our pigeon holes, but were thrown into one huge ‘white’ one together. I met people out there who I would never have come across during my life in London. We were all different, but we shared a common bond, we had all set off into the unknown looking for adventure. I have been united with my fellow passengers from 7th July in the same way.

There is a depth to the friendships I formed out there, which will last for ever. We were all alone, floating islands with no past, we became each other’s family. I was tried and tested in that humid land. It was a time of many firsts. My first close shave with death, my friends were by my side. My mother wanted to jump on the next plane, but I told her she didn’t need to, I had my ‘family’ around me. My first arrest, hand-cuffs, strip search and all, I have dined out on that story for years, (although my mother didn’t get to hear that one). My first dead body, at a funeral, it meant so much to them that I go and say goodbye, so I did, and I have never forgotten it. And of course, the real reason why I came back home, my first love.

Some have stayed, some have come ‘home’. Others have moved on across different oceans. Once a year, the date dictated by the moon, those of us who are here, feast together and remember.

There were 13 of us this year, and 2 babies. This is it now, the babies are coming, this was the first year with sprogs. People have come and gone, but I have organized this little gathering for 9 years now and it is one of the highlights of my year.

We remembered where we started, in a basement in China Town. We have gradually climbed the ladder with the years, on Sunday we went to Hakkasan. We couldn’t afford it, but we are of an age that we should be able to, so we did it anyway. What the hell, and it was worth every penny. We talked, we laughed, we remembered, and we were together, this little family of ours, and the food just kept on coming.

Happy New Year!