“On festive occasions, more than ever, one thinks of loved ones far away.”
When I recited ancient Chinese poetry as a child, I always found these types of expressions difficult to understand. Now I know: no matter how the centuries have changed, the emotions that people feel are—more or less—the same.
This is my sixth year in the United States and the sixth year that I am celebrating the Lunar New Year with schoolwork and exams. When I watch my friends at home take photos with their families, I feel so lost. I rarely mention these feelings to my family, as I don’t want to worry them. At the other end of the world, they are already thinking of me in their own ways. My mother loves paper flowers so, come the new year, the walls of our home are decorated in blossoms. She sends me photos of the flowers, and there is no need for words. No characters could convey the feelings in our hearts.
In 2015, at the age of seventeen, I boarded a plane from Shanghai to Dallas, waiting with anticipation and anxiety to begin college in the United States. I would never have imagined that for the next six years and beyond, Lunar New Year would be nothing more than a memory. This year, I am once again unable to celebrate the new year with my family, and at twenty-two years old, I feel more lost than when I first left home at seventeen. Fortunately, other international students can empathize with my feelings, and we make time to celebrate together. After all, a hot pot doesn’t eat itself! Each year, we tune in to watch the Spring Festival Gala on TV. When the emcees send blessings to all the Chinese people living abroad, we exclaim ecstatically from our seats. We make comments about how the Gala is less beautiful than before, but our eyes never once look away from the screen.
Thousands of miles away, the simplest things have become the most cherished.
But, even if I don’t want to think about it, the simple things can only bring me so much comfort. In these past six years, I’ve tried hard not to complain about a reality that I cannot change. Studying abroad was a choice that I made for myself, and spending the new year in a faraway land is merely the consequence of that choice. Unfortunately, no matter how I attempt to rationalize it, on the evening of the Spring Festival, I still imagine myself gathering with my family. For other international students and me, a hot pot can make us feel warmer—together—in a foreign land, but it can't replace the depth of the flavors of our hometowns and of our love for our families. Receiving photos of 妈妈's paper flowers will never be as comforting as going home and smelling the real flowers in our yard. These regrets, I cannot change, but I have learned to accept regretful realities.
Great changes have taken place over the whole world, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody could come together this time last year. Finally, after the countless sacrifices of 2020, some families overseas can reunite for 2021. This year's festivities will be more meaningful than ever, and I'm very happy for everyone in China. I find myself willing to believe, more than ever, that the waiting I endure in the present day is only paving the way for a sweeter reunion. For all this hard work and sacrifice, the joy that awaits me will surely be worth it.
I wish you all good health and good fortune for the new year. Though far apart, we can share in the beauty of the moon together. May we all be blessed with longevity.