Chinese New Year in Afghanistan (Video)

It’s Chinese New Year (CNY) in 4 days’ time. While this is not my first CNY experienced outside Singapore, the absence of a Chinatown here in Kabul — at least in my limited knowledge of its geography — somehow makes the festive mood literally dead. I had spent 2 Christmases, 2 birthdays, and 1 New Year (1st January) in Kabul so far, and I’ve come to realise that the special days that I used to celebrate are non-existent here. They are normal days. Mundane work days. Days which I pretend are not important, so I don’t feel so lonely. Or empty.

However, I’ve also come to realise that meanings are ascribed. Meanings, like symbols, take on significance when people believe in it. Some believe that the snake is a symbol of Evil since Biblical times, but the Year of the (Water) Snake in the lunar calendar in 2013 is considered a baby dragon, a powerful symbol of physical and material wealth. The water snake is influential and insightful. For me, I am not particularly interested in zodiac signs or horoscopes. But Chinese New Year, as a date, is more than a symbol. It is part of my culture and upbringing intricately tied to my ethnic Chinese roots. It is paradoxical — the farther I am from home, the more “Chinese” I become. I remember hanging out in Manhattan’s Chinatown quite regularly, making friends with the shopkeepers and the Chinese physician of a medical hall when I lived in New York years ago. Then, I had had a desire to re-learn Cantonese, my mother tongue.

Now that I am in Kabul, I feel quite “Malay”. In part, it’s due to the Muslim practices; one cannot avoid seeing colleagues kneel in prayer at the workplace, or hear the Muslim azan call to prayer on some days. In part, the Malay culture of shaking hands and touching the heart has become affectionately ingrained in me as an intimate way of greeting. In part, sitting on the carpeted floor with a group of friends over a cup of tea, and/or eating with hands, is a “kampung” lifestyle I am very used to. It’s rather ironic since I’ve not lived in a kampung, but there’s something I have inherited — don’t know why or how — somewhere deep within me. Even as I am typing this, I am sitting on the cold floor with my back leaned against a comfortable cushioned armchair.

Back to “Chinese New Year”. Why should I allow the absence of a Chinese subculture deprive me of my own happiness? Instead of lamenting the absence of festivities, I decided to inject my own cheer by involving my Afghan friends, who have occasionally teased me about how Afghan “Hazara” I look. (P.S. Hazaras are the ethnic minorities who look like Chinese.)

This iMovie is made specially to wish all my loved ones at home a HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR, made possible by the generosity of my Afghan friends. Fun is to be had — and when I re-watch this incredible video, I am thankful for friends who have become my family (see previous blog on the notion of family-ness).

Here’s wishing one and all, Chinese and non-Chinese alike, a healthy and prosperous New Year. Gong Hei Fatt Choy!

“From Afghanistan With Love”