Chinese New Year and Mr. James

I love the arrival of a brand new year marked by the Chinese Lunar calendar. It not only brought the anticipation of lucky money in a small red envelope, but also brought really good food. (As in, additional-Asian-food-that-wasn’t-from-my-culture-and-that-I-would-actually-eat good food.)

I didn’t celebrate Chinese New Year on a regular basis. For one thing, I’m not Chinese. For another, we would only celebrate it when my Chinese “auntie” was in town (think of Joy Luck Club). It was such a rare thing that I couldn’t help but make it magical, like Christmas.

Except Christmas didn’t require me to eat two bowls of rice.

I still enjoy the Chinese New Year, even though it’s now got a bit of wistful nostalgia attached. And that’s because for three years in a row, I got to celebrate Chinese New Year’s in a basement office of my former place of employment. Just short of lighting the firecrackers to scare away evil spirits was how traditional it would get in that space.

Mr. James was our Beverage manager and would arrange the whole event himself. He’d order a roast pig, roast duck, dim sum, and other treats and spread it out over two banquet tables. For the rest of the day he’d invite people he liked to come down and partake of the food he’d bought. And this invite was about as exclusive as you or me trying to wing an invite for a good after-Oscar party. Mr. James was such a peculiar man that it was hard for practically anyone to get on his good side.

I was one of the lucky ones. If I didn’t make it down the first time he called to say the food was ready, he’d make a point to go up to my desk and ask me why I hadn’t started eating. It didn’t matter that I had a ton of work stacked on my desk – it wouldn’t do if the food got cold.

Mr. James retired in 2007 and then passed away not even six months later. The first Chinese New Year that rolled around without him left me feeling out of sorts. Not only did I no longer have a quirky old Chinese man constantly after me for banquet bartending, but I also had no one to really celebrate the New Year with. The basement office where he’d have the annual feast felt even colder and more empty when the holiday rolled around.

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