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The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

Personal Column: My year doesn’t start without red

Red+Chinese+lanterns%2C+often+hung+up+as+decorations+during+Lunar+New+Years
California Academy of Sciences
Red Chinese lanterns, often hung up as decorations during Lunar New Years

“Happy New Year,” I whispered to no one.

A dulled paint job and an empty house. Silence reared its deafening fangs in a manner that was all too harsh — it clamped down on the nightstand, then clung to the walls and finally stung at my snugly tucked toes. It wouldn’t have felt so silent if everyone else hadn’t been so loud. Outside the neighbor’s laughter seemed to roar despite the tall man in the little brick house, just at the end of our block. Maybe as our neighborhood watch, he’d gotten used to all the rule-breaking. Still, the fireworks blazing in and out of existence seemed to cackle in his face, just as they cackled in mine.

There have been times when I celebrated the new year surrounded by friendly faces. But most years I watched the clock change times alone. New Year’s Day could’ve been every day as far as my family cared. We didn’t celebrate like some of my other friends did — hosting elaborate parties or stockpiling fireworks. From the other side of our window, we’d watch the street ignite in spells of brightness and then my parents would fall asleep, following the trance. Clockwork. In the morning my teachers would sometimes ask me how I spent my New Year’s. 

“Watching,” I’d say.

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Feb. 10 promised the rebirth of our home. Red banners cascaded down the kitchen walls, gruelly black-eyed peas fell to the floor of the pressure cooker, and my house gleamed as the final product of what my mom likes to call a “fresh new start.” It was the same house as it was two months ago, but nothing about it was the same at all. Round balls of energy could hardly confine themselves within our walls. They polished the floors with a finish so reflective the echoes of red sometimes spotted my feet. The familiar hum of my household, somehow also seemed tuned to a higher pitch and all my family members were equally changed.

My mom’s face took on a new glow. Her smile managed to radiate past her — like somehow she wasn’t just happy within herself. It wasn’t just in her eyes or firmly planted in her dimpled cheeks, it was how you could feel happy all around her. My grandma stood beside her like an aged reflection. Same dimpled cheeks and broad stretching smile. On Lunar New Year, I could sometimes see what life promised me, well beyond my teenage years.

We sat across from each other at the dining table that morning. My grandma was to the left of me and my mom was to the right. A glass bowl sat on a clear countertop — that day it felt like that was all there needed to be. It was what was in the bowl that counted anyway. My grandma gave each of us three heaping spoonfuls of black-eyed peas. They’d spent the night coagulating on the bed of our pressure cooker until the firmed beans became mush.

“Eat up,” said my grandma, promising fortune in a finished bowl.

Good health, prosperity and longevity melted down the sides of my spoon. I paused, watching. My grandma and my mom fell into a harmonic rhythm across the table from me. First, it was the silver spoon, then the sweep of the hand, and then the swallow. In times they moved in unison; sometimes I wondered when I’d fall into their rhythm too. With large mouthfuls of beans married with bits of bacon, our stomachs filled as our stresses shrunk. 

What my grandma’s black-eyed peas normally look like

The day’s festivities followed. Dragon dancing was beckoned in by drums and cymbals at lunch. I’d first feel the rhythm in my ears, slowly it’d begin to reach my hands and suddenly it was at my feet. I watched as their brilliantly colored costumes painted waves across the streets, sweeping passersby off the ground, and flying into the afternoon air. I watched as the rhythm spread to them too, first in their ears, then in their hands and suddenly in their feet.

Some of the dragon dancers in Chinatown we saw after eating lunch. (Ella Pham)

The band of dragon dancers felt something like a tornado in a small town. Everyone spiraled in its presence and was left speechless when it was gone.

Our house shortly welcomed the rest of our family, when we returned home.  Aunts and uncles. Nephews and nieces. Cousins and close family friends. They all flocked from distant neighborhoods, sometimes even visiting from outside of town. The walls waned and the air warmed with the presence of so many bodies under one roof. 

Red envelopes slowly began to make their rounds among the clustered room. Grease stains encased the tops of the envelopes, as they were accepted by dirtied hands. It was always around this time that the rounds of plates started circulating too. Mine was stacked high with xoi gac, fried rice and spring rolls. Other plates were mounted with banh chung and egg rolls, sometimes eaten by my aunts. Other times by my uncles. Their smiles stretched big across their faces, offsetting their usually small nature. Hands full of red envelopes, we all cautiously made our way to the dining table. Everything was bigger this time of year. 

Chúc mừng năm mới,” I heard scattered voices say as I sat down. Happy Lunar New Year was all around.

Their energy was not fleeting. As the day died with the sun, and my family members found their way back to their cars, I could still feel the noise permeating my skin. The objects in my house were still big and loud, my nightstand, my walls, all the way down to the tips of my toes nestled firmly into my bedroom blanket — loud

It was a tornado in a small town. It came blazing, and in a flash, it was gone. Leaving the room in astonished silence. 

The next day at school, none of my teachers spoke of Lunar New Year. It was as if the day had slipped under their noses, the smell of it just faintly there but not enough to warrant recognition. Regardless, I didn’t care much. 

I smiled at my computer screen like I knew something they didn’t.

“Happy Lunar New Year” I whispered to no one.



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About the Contributor
Ella Pham, Copy Editor
Ella Pham is a junior at CVHS. She is part of Carnegie’s Competitive Dance Team and has been dancing since 6th grade; her favorite type of dance is contemporary. She enjoys playing guitar and hanging out with her friends in her freetime. Ella loves the movie Rio and also has a pet parrot (she can talk!). She is also double jointed and can pop her arm out its socket. At home, she likes to play Guess Who with her two younger siblings, Cameron and Riley.

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