Lao is everyone’s wise and wizened Chinese auntie. Our
tiny auntie is big on advice, tight with her purse-strings, and
not to be crossed. On the outside, she’s tough like Chinese
beef jerky with a glare that burns like a Sichuan peppercorn.
But on the inside, she’s all heart.
Auntie Lao says:
If a Chinese New Year’s dinner isn’t shared, a family’s
love will grow cold.
Washing your hair on Chinese New Year’s Eve will wash your
new year’s luck away.
Life’s happiness comes in pairs…especially when
getting two for the price of one.
• Money wrapped in red will multiply.
Jade bridges heaven and earth. It’s a symbol of protection
• Never stand your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice.
• Spend a little to reap plenty.
• Five is the number of completeness. Many things come in fives:
the five loves,
the five colors, five directions, five elements,
five metals, five fingers, and five toes.
Have you a gnawing question on something Chinese for wise Auntie
Lao? Send your inquiries to her and she’ll answer them
between tai-chi, yum cha, and shopping for jade.
Here are some recent questions posed to Auntie
Lao along with
her sage advice.
1) During the Year of the Pig,
are you supposed to celebrate by eating pork?
Or, are you supposed
to avoid eating it?
During the Year of the Boar/Pig the Chinese
will likely be eating even more pork in celebration of the
new lunar year. Crackling skin roast pig is a popular Chinese
banquet dish. And, the meat eating (and loving) Chinese would
not abstain from this delicacy. Thus, the Chinese will celebrate
this year by assuming some common astrological boar (or pig)
personality characteristics of bountiful abundance, plenty
of pleasure, and a bit of indulgence.
the old superstition about eating chicken wing tips?
It’s said that young maidens who
eat chicken wing tips will become old maids.
I suggest leaving
3) Is there anything wrong with
lamb? Can eating it cause ill health or bad luck?
In old Southern China, pregnant women
were told not to eat lamb because of the old Cantonese
saying of Faat Yeung Deu.
mean breaking out in acne or measles. Yeung is the
Cantonese word for lamb. Deu means craziness or having seizures.
4) Is it
appropriate to “tap” my fingers on
the dinner table to thank a friend sitting
next to me
No. The tapping custom is reserved for the waitstaff only.
The practice stems from when the old emperor traveled outside
Forbidden City in disguise. Finger tapping was a method
devised to imitate bowing or kowtowing to express appreciation
humility in a subtle way.
5) What is
the significance of giving money to the deceased family? How
much is appropriate?
What color envelope should it be in or should
it be with a card?
The Chinese will give money to the family of a decedent
in lieu of flowers as an expression of sympathy. If your family
flowers to the decedent, giving a white envelope of money is
In Cantonese, the white envelope is known as, “baak
gum” or “white
gold.” Today, Chinese Americans often include the money
inside a sympathy card so it can be acknowledged. Always
use a white envelope because white is the color of mourning
the Chinese. Some people forgo the sympathy card and will
monetary gift inside a white envelope with a piece of paper
containing the name of the family or person it’s from.
Others will go even simpler by putting the cash inside a
white envelope and
write on the envelope to who it’s intended (the name
of the deceased and related title, i.e. great aunt, great
uncle, etc.) and who it’s from (your name and relationship
to the deceased, i.e. grandniece, grandnephew etc.)
is no set denomination to give. It depends on your
relationship to the deceased. After giving the white
envelope, a red envelope
typically containing a dime will be given to you in return.
6) Should I attend a funeral
service that lands
on my birthday?
It is considered unlucky to attend a funeral
on your birthday. The Chinese do not.
If you are planning a
service, plan around
it. Otherwise, politely decline with regrets.
is the typical mourning period for the passing of an
Typically one month, or 30 days, is observed today as the
official mourning period by Chinese Americans. But, traditionalists
opt to remain home for 49 days, the number of days for a soul
to reach the otherworld, before venturing out for social visits
after the loss of a loved one.
8) How do
is the immediate family?
The traditional Chinese method
of identifying a person’s
immediate family is following your father’s
family line. It consists of the decedent’s
agnate or paternal grandparents, parents, spouse,
siblings and spouses,
children and spouses,
and agnate grandchildren and spouses.
9) When attending
a longevity dinner following a burial service,
is it appropriate
home the leftovers?
It is acceptable for immediate
family members to take home leftovers. They will be taking
misfortune. For attending
guests, it’s something you want to
leave behind. The exception to this rule
is when the
80 years old
or older and
the age of longevity is achieved. This is
when death is no longer considered unfortunate.
is the significance of a jade butterfly?
jade butterfly was once worn by single women as an invitation
for love. When love was found, the union would be sealed
with a piece of jade. This is why many Chinese husbands wear
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