Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dragons and boats

In New Zealand, Christmas is the only festival that really pulls people together. But in China, almost every festival is a time of family and rituals; and with government designation as a national celebration, there are always days off to get back to the hometown and celebrate with a meal, let off fireworks, play mahjong and sit around getting eaten by mosquitoes.
Dragon Boat festival was on Saturday and again we returned for two days, one night to Qingyuan. The government designation is all the difference here: Dragon Boat festival was only designated a holiday in 2008. In the south of China, Winter Solstice is traditionally a bigger festival than Spring Festival but without the support of national holidays, it is a struggle to celebrate it. Short holidays have their own perils because the government does more than just designate holidays: it instructs all companies how to rearrange weekends to make sure that employees have consecutive days off. And they make sure the majority of people in the cities are having off the same days, and will be piling into intercity transportation at the same time etc.
But the traffic struggles are all fine because soon you'll be home eating, drinking and playing mahjong. There is one problem in my adopted home: only one person knows how to play mahjong (and like bridge, mahjong is a four person game). Fortunately, card game genes are strong in the blood of all Chinese people, but the first game that has been played at the last couple of festivals has been Chinese chess. I'd brought my chess set during Chinese New Year, and got the challenge I'd wanted. I won some, lost some and in long protraced struggles even drew some. I hadn't had much of a challenge over the board prior.
This time it wasn't I who brought a chess set but Ah-Wing. He's an interesting fellow. Being my sister-in-law's fiance, he is my future loukam (men who marry sisters - Chinese is great for being specific with relationship names). He has George Clooney's jaw and one of the few Chinese people to have hairier legs than me. It is a testament to the man to have brought the set because he was the only person I was undefeated against - and he challenged me directly. In the past he'd come close but could never get more than a draw. This time was to be his time to enjoy - three straight long wins in the afternoon - I'd missed chances to win in two games. Brother Hou is my only current loukam, and he is the strongest player among us; he came over later in the evening and played for most of his stay. Ah-Wing and I had been winless against him so we combined forces and surprisingly won two straight times. (I say surprisingly because you'd think that based on the past record he'd superior technique than both of us put together: we were winless against him.) It was late and Ah-Wing went for a shower and, perhaps unnerved by being destroyed twice, Brother Hou yielded easily to me in the next game. My first win against him.
Earlier, once my three game series in the afternoon with Ah-Wing, the girls got us onto cards, the main one being Cho Daai D. It is a card game similar to President/Asshole. We'd started and noticed her mother on the fringe. Her mother's hands get itchy when others play cards, and with a hand in hand, she squints at her cards for quite some time before winning one devastating trick after another.

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