Spending CNY Away From Family Made Me Appreciate Them More

I haven’t seen my parents in more than a year.

The last time I saw them was Chinese New Year 2020. I bade them farewell in my hometown in Ipoh, Malaysia, right before I boarded the plane that would take me back to the city that carries my aspirations and dreams — Singapore.

CNY 2020 with my fam

A year on, I’m still here, gruellingly carving out the path of my career as I look forward to the time when I can see them again.

Judging by the Covid-19 situation in Malaysia now, the answer looks like it’s never-o’clock — at least for now.

So, it’s official. This will be my first Chinese New Year spent in Singapore, and away from almost everyone I hold dear back home.

First CNY without family

As with most people in the community, Chinese New Year has always been a family affair to me. This year, things won’t be the same. Working in the Lion City, I’m at least 800km away from my parents.

I won’t be sitting at the round table with them on the eve of CNY, tucking into my mum and aunts’ irreplaceable homecooked food.

A typical CNY feast at home in the pre-Covid era

I won’t be kneeling before my parents on chu yi morning, pouring them each a cup of tea while expressing my new year wishes for them.

I won’t be accompanying them to pray at 3 temples on the first day in 33°C heat and hoping my makeup doesn’t melt in mandatory #OOTD pictures.

I also won’t be catching up with my cousins, playing card games or simply talking about life with them.

Instead, I will be here, discovering what the bustling metropolis of Singapore will have in store for me this CNY.

Crying at 1am after looking at Instagram stories

Even when I’m not actively thinking about how much I’ll be missing out this year, I have Instagram to remind me.

I chanced upon the memory archive of my Instagram stories in the last week of Jan that reminded me how this time last year, I was back home with my parents.

I caught glimpses of a pre-Covid era, where everyone was free to mingle without masks, plan reunion dinners with ease, and visit one another without restrictions.

More CNY feasts at home in Ipoh 

The flashbacks hit me like a punch in the gut, and my entire being was flooded with intense longing for the warmth of my parents’ embrace. It was 1am, and I was breaking down.

In my mind, I still see myself having heart-to-heart talks at night with my mum in her room before she sleeps, and kissing my dad on his cheek as he sits in the living room to bid him goodnight.

CNY 2019 with my beautiful parents

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would not be able to see my parents for over a year.

CNY this year with my extended family & beau

Despite my feelings of homesickness, I count myself as one of the luckier Malaysians in Singapore, as I’m blessed with the chance to plan for a different kind of Chinese New Year in 2021.

My sister works here too, and I have a Singaporean boyfriend. They are both the closest thing I have to a family in this foreign land.

My sister and I after having brunch at a café in Lavender

I count my lucky stars every day, as I wouldn’t know how I would be surviving the pandemic on my own if it weren’t for them.

My beau & pillar of support 

I also have an extended family who are born and bred on this little red dot — my dad’s cousin brother in Yishun, and my mum’s cousin sister in Whampoa.

Source

So instead of having a CNY reunion dinner with my family in Ipoh tonight (11 Feb), I will be having them with my Singaporean relatives.

We’ll make do with video calls with my parents during the feast. But hey, on the bright side, my dad gets to catch up with his side of the family here too — something that has never been done before during Chinese New Year.

Quarantine & Covid-19 tests make returning home difficult

Even if I had no family here, I’m not alone in this, for sure. The media has been spotlighting the plights of my fellow compatriots, most of whom will be spending their first CNY in Singapore away from family too.

I feel for the ones who come from Johor Bahru, as they have to live every day knowing that they’re merely separated from their family by a 1km bridge called the Causeway.

Busy traffic on the Causeway every CNY before Covid-19 happened
Source

The distance is short, yet going home has now been made an insurmountable task no thanks to the pandemic.

If you’re wondering why we can’t choose to brave the obstacles and simply return home for the holidays, it’s not that easy.

Lots of time and money would be involved. We’d have to settle our own quarantine costs and mandatory Covid-19 tests on BOTH sides of the Causeway. If we were to truly adhere to 14 days of quarantine on both sides, that’s essentially almost a month of being in isolation.

With the dreaded Movement Control Order (MCO) in place, Malaysians are technically barred from leaving the country too.

Soldier on, my fellow Malaysians

We can’t just up and leave, as we’re worried our rice bowls here may be affected as well. There’s no guarantee we’ll be allowed to reenter Singapore, given the terrifying circumstances of the outbreak in Malaysia now.

To my fellow compatriots here, stay strong, keep busy, don’t stop calling your loved ones, do your best to keep each other company even if it’s a mere virtual presence.

Do what you have to do to pull through these difficult times.

I won’t pretend to understand each and everyone’s situation 100%, but I believe in looking on the bright side. The distance and time spent apart – no matter how emotionally draining they may be – will only strengthen the appreciation for familial relationships in our lives.

Will treat my parents to feasts when I see them again

Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful to stay in Singapore, especially in the Covid era, when the island nation is dubbed the 2nd safest country to be in.

But as a daughter living on her own without her parents, I miss them immensely, and am envious of those who get to spend CNY with their mum and dad.

For now, we’ll just have to keep on living with the hope that by this time next year, it will be safe for us to travel and see each other again.

I’m not huge on expensive food, but when I see my parents again, I’m going to treat them to decadent meals to make up for the time we lost this Chinese New Year.

So Covid-19, please be over by the end of this year.

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Featured image by MS News. All pictures are courtesy of the writer unless stated otherwise.