a few days into the new year it is my mother-in-law's turn to provide a buffet dinner for the extended family. it is a tradition to hold this gathering and a few family members take turns to host it.
on the day of the buffet some men arrive with a blue marquee and erect it outside the house, covering half the road. they deliver trestle tables and round ply tops, red plastic chairs and bainmaries.
as the day progresses crates of carlsberg, ice and food arrive. people bring fans and gifts of food. there is a long procession of visitors before the actual dinner and with each new arrival we are summoned from our activities: school work or movies or reading, to be presented to these people. it is an odd feeling, one i am familiar with after numerous visits. we are inspected and physical attributes: height or hair texture or whiteness of skin are noted, sometimes in cantonese and sometimes english. the kids look bored and resent being curiosities and i strain to catch a word i might understand or to read body language.
the time for the buffet arrives. i try to look friendly as people mill about and lucky red envelopes (ang pau) are exchanged. tradition dictates that they be given to anybody younger than ones self.
on this night i see a small act of kindness that cheers my evening. an uncle i have alwys liked based solely on the look of his face approaches the family black sheep and briefly massages his shoulders to be rewarded with a broad grin, the pure pleasure of an affirmed child.
everybody eats and many go home but the inner circle stay late playing cards, talking, watching movies and setting off fireworks.