It recently occurred to me that sometimes, there are advantages to being a child. For one thing, you don’t have to worry about taxes or fighting for a pay rise. When you fly, even an economy seat feels like it’s business class. And when it snows, it’s a completely magical experience and you can’t understand why the adults keep complaining about the icky slush and the airports and public transportation shutting down.
The other advantage to being a child is that when Chinese New Year swings around, it’s a sudden financial windfall. No one begrudges handing over a red packet. No one shouts out, “Hey, this is the last year I give you ang pow, hor! Next you better get married, ok?” and then laughs as if it’s the funniest thing anyone has ever said.
“Eat dirt and die, Sharyn!” Saffy said last year after Sharyn gave her a red packet.
“Choy! Chinese New Year cannot talk like that, one!” Sharyn said good naturedly. “Is bad luck, OK?”
“It’ll be bad luck if we’re still friends at the end of the year!” Saffy muttered. She was even more mortified when she opened the envelope to find $50.
“That’s ridiculous!” she shouted back at home. “You don’t give your single friends a $50 red packet! You can’t tip the power balance like that! That’s not fair!”
“I don’t think we should keep this kind of money!” Amanda said. “It’s just reminding us we’re still not married. I know! Let’s blow it all on a singlet at Gucci!” Amanda said.
“Really?” I asked. “That’s how much a singlet costs at Gucci?”
Amanda leaned in. “I’m not even sure $50 would get us a button!” she whispered.
A few weeks before this year’s celebrations, Saffy said we had to get out of town. “Let’s go to Bali or something, away from all this gongxi gongxi crap! I am so over it!”
I personally don’t like the idea of the Year of the Snake. I’ve never liked snakes. Even typing out the word gives me the heebie-jeebies. I remember once going to a zoo in Australia and I told the tour guide firmly that under no circumstances were we to go anywhere near the snake enclosure. And what was the first thing we saw approaching us at the ticket counter? A zoo official with a big fat shiny yellow python wrapped around her neck.
I leaped back into the tour bus and pulled all the curtains shut and refused to come out till the woman had gone away.
“You’re being silly!” Martha, our tour guide, said. “They’re harmless creatures!”
“Harmless? If they’re so harmless, why did they make a movie called ‘Snakes on a Plane’ and everyone died these horrible deaths?”
“Uhm, it’s a movie?”
I was not to be deflected. “I told you when we left the hotel this morning, no snakes!” I yelled.
“It’s an Australian zoo! And this one is harmless!”
A few months later, I read that some numb nut in America forgot to feed his pet boa constrictor for a few days and the snake eventually got so hungry, it wrapped itself around its owner, squeezed him to death and then swallowed him up for lunch.
I emailed the article to Martha.
Anyway, my point is that I don’t like snakes and I think it will behoove me to lie low this year and not attract too much attention.
“It’s the only animal in the whole list that will kill you just because you looked at it sideways,” I said to Amanda. “I mean, whoever heard of a rabbit or a goat or a mouse killing anyone? Or a rooster! Or a pig or a monkey? But a snake? They’re killing people all the time!”
“Aiyoh, dragons can also kill what!” Sharyn said. “You got watch ‘Sleeping Beauty’, or not? And those monkeys in ‘Planet of the Apes’, leh? They all kill and kill, right or not? And that time on National Geographic, I saw tigers also kill!”
“Seriously, Sharyn,” I said sternly. “I am not getting all warm and cuddly about a snake!”
The other day in Chinatown, I happened to look up at the decorations and saw a cartoon of a round-faced creature smiling happily at me. It took me a while to understand that I was looking at a very cuddly and cute snake, except this one looked more like a stuffed human baby than your average Slytherin reptile.
But I wasn’t buying it. Snakes don’t look like that. Just ask all those people screaming away on ‘Snakes on a Plane’.