Audio Version Available
I hate visiting relatives during Chinese New Year – and I know I’m not alone.
It hits differently for people in different stages of life:
Older relatives might be counting the cost of giving out hongbao (it can’t be too small or they might lose face), especially those who are suffering financially thanks to the pandemic.
Newlyweds worry about older folks pushing them to have babies; singletons like me dread listening to lectures on getting married and settling down.
Before the pandemic, some of us would plan our vacations during the festive season and get out of the country for a breather. But times have changed, VTLs notwithstanding, most of us just can’t up sticks and flee from this year’s visits.
Personally, my dislike for CNY visits started way before the pandemic hit. It boils down to the interrogation session I always had to suffer through, not knowing what appropriate answers to give for those awkward questions fired at me from all directions. Like:
“Ah girl ah, when are you getting a boyfriend ah?”
“Wa, you worked for a few years. Going to be 30 already, how much are you earning now ah?”
“Now you working liao, got help your parents out by giving them monthly allowance or not?
These are just some of the annoying questions I get over the years.
As much as I love my relatives and the warm vibes I get from seeing family during this period, these nosy questions instantly kill my mood.
I can’t give a rude retort. I can’t express my anger. I have to put on a strained smile and give the most politically correct answers that I can come up with on the spot.
As much as I would like to answer these questions sarcastically, I’ve got to keep my cool every single time.
It’s an annual exercise that leaves me questioning myself how on earth did I get myself into such an awkward position. Again!
I’m sure many of us have experienced this over the years. The tons of memes, not to mention tips and tricks, on social media addressing the frustration from these nosy questions from our dear uncles and aunties is proof of that!
But how about turning the tables around?
Why not let’s understand why these kaypoh uncles and aunties keep pestering and peppering us with these questions, and in doing so, maybe find the best way of answering them.
And perhaps shutting those questions up for good!
1. They just want to start a conversation
No doubt there is always that competitive auntie or uncle who wants to compare you with your cousins or their children.
But I’d like to think that the majority just want to strike up a conversation with you.
These relatives might be the closest “strangers” in your life — those that you would see once or twice a year. In fact, I’m willing to bet you’re closer to your colleagues than to them.
And let’s face it, some of our relatives (especially those from the older generation) are bad conversationalists. The way they phrase their questions might throw us off and come across as intrusive and rude.
The key is to accept that that’s who they are — we can’t change that. Plus, they probably don’t know what’s actually happening in your life right now, which is why they tend to fall back to what they know about you to kickstart the conversation.
Over the years, I’ve learnt how to ease myself into such awkward conversations.
These days, I turn the tables around, and if I happen to lock eyes with an auntie lurking at the snack corner or an uncle tucking into his food at the dinner table, I give them a cheery “Auntie! So how have you been!”, or “Uncle! Wah, life has been good to you hor!”
Think about it. If I’m talking to someone who I don’t know much about, how should I get the conversation going? Go on the “offensive”! Get off a preemptive strike and start the conversation on your terms, then that way, you get to choose what to talk about.
2. They are just being curious
These aunties and uncles are kaypoh for the same reason why we click on pictures of baby pandas and get clickbaited by tabloid-y online headlines.
Because we are human! Remember, curiosity may have killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. We are naturally inquisitive creatures and so as Taylor would say if she were Singaporean, kaypohs gonna kaypoh.
The infrequent meetups with the extended fam brings out the kaypoh in our relatives. Cousins may be more empathetic, seeing as they are probably suffering the same interrogation from your mum, but older relatives don’t often draw the line.
You may think that it’s rude of them to step over the line. But see it from their perspective. There are only a few facts they know about you. So having a chat with you during CNY is like a “software update” for them — upgrading themselves with more new information about you and maintaining the family bond.
So give them the update. And don’t get annoyed by them. Most of them are coming from a genuinely interested place. Perhaps giving them a peek (call it a 2MB download) into your life might lead to fewer awkward questions you have to deal with the next time you meet.
Other stories you might like
3. They are genuinely concerned about you
Aside from that one auntie and uncle (everybody has one, you know who they are) who just wants to feel good by comparing you with their children, most of our relatives do hope that we are doing well in life. Okay, their definition of “doing well” may not be the same as ours, but they aren’t being deliberately mean.
Most of what they know about us is based on what they can get on the family grapevine. Some information may get lost along the way and they might not get the full picture.
So seeing you in real life after a long period (especially during these Covid years) probably has them all excited, which may result in a lot of questions, some of which can get awkward.
I get that a lot from my aunties, and I know deep inside that they do mean well.
So for the upcoming visits for this CNY, try to be empathetic towards our kaypoh aunties and uncles and show some kindness by seeing things from their perspective. You’ll definitely appreciate them more in the roaring new year!
If not, you can always fall back to my tried and tested method — stuff my face with bak kwa and mumble something unintelligible before wandering off to a safer, secluded spot!