A tradition of togetherness

It is time to reflect on our family lives as the Year of the Goat approaches

Originally published in the Bangsar Boy column at www.thestar.com.my on February 18, 2015.

WE FOUND the goat. It has remained elusive for weeks, and dad kept bringing it up.

Although I was born in the Year of the Goat — yes, this is “my” year — the truth is I was a bit nonplussed about it.

Dad, however, wasn’t letting up. And as Chinese New Year descends upon us tomorrow, there was a deadline to meet.

So the search happened, and today, we found the goat hidden in a box under the staircase.

The goat is a small statuette of the animal — part of a set of 12 that my parents have had for decades although we have not actually put it on display in a long time.

Last year was dad’s year so he dug out the horse and had it magnificently displayed as the centrepiece on his display table filled with photos of the family — from wedding shots to many graduation photographs.

My goat is now sitting on the mantlepiece, atop a large cabinet now lined with a bright red runner — also in time for the new year.

There are many other things in the house to indicate this time of the year of course, including the two pineapple-shaped lanterns at the front and other very red decorations lining other parts of the house.

Growing up, I always thought that this was mum’s doing.

After all, between my parents, she was definitely the most conservative one owing to her upbringing.

Dad, on the other hand, was the more Western-minded liberal one who barely spoke Chinese.

In recent years, however, it became clear that these traditions, symbols and practice are equally important to both of them.

At the same time, my sisters and I were raised in a fairly liberal and open-minded setting.

While mum tried as much as she could to enforce eating dinner together at the same time, it always came with a price — much arguing and heated conversations.

We were not the type to eat our dinner quietly with only the head of the house talking.

Still, growing up, some of these customs and traditions were not easy to follow.

Now that my sisters and I are more than grown up, it’s even more difficult.

But as I have also learned over the years, I sometimes do not see the lessons my parents are trying to impart.

That said, not all lessons are difficult. One in particular has always been fun; my parents brought us up to celebrate many different occasions marked in this country.

Each — whether intentionally or not — came with its set of routines and traditions.

Over the years, I just put this down to my parents wanting to let us enjoy ourselves and have an excuse to party.

I also thought it was a way to remind us about the beauty of diversity.

Of course, it was all that but it was only when I grew up, moved away from home and started travelling a lot did I realise the biggest lesson — that these days were reminders of the beautiful times my family shared together and how important it was for us to always return to each other’s side.

It is not until you have busy lives and families of your own, I think, do you realise how important it is to make time for each other. And we do.

No matter what we get up to, I know my sisters and I always make an effort to be home together for special moments.

And if we really cannot, we use the power of technology to help us (Skype!).

Now that the hunting is over and the goat has found its “new” home for the next 12 months, I started wondering why it was so important to dad that he found it.

There are a few obvious lessons to be learnt, I think.

Searching high and low for something you deem important is a good way of reminding ourselves that the good things in life are worth the hunt.

Another is that we must always keep with the times.

It is a celebration of the goat in the family — this is after all, my year — but that it sits on the table surrounded by photos marking the milestones in our lives also speaks of the pride and love we have for each other.

I don’t know if that is what’s going on in dad’s head.

Maybe when I have grown up a little bit more, the real lesson would have finally sunk in.

In the mean time, I am just grateful that I have people in my life who care enough to make the effort.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone. May the Year of the Goat bring us all great joy, love and peace.

Niki is trying out a new fortnightly newsletter project to engage more with you. Sign up at www.tinyletter.com/nikicheong.

Like what you read? Give Niki Cheong a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.