Being Singaporean,  Bitching

Top 5 Bad Chinese New Year Conversation Starters (and How To Deal with Them)

Ah, the Lunar New Year. It’s like the Chinese version of Christmas, except you get ang pows instead of presents, pussy willows instead of pine trees, and reunion dinners instead of turkey and ham. But one tradition remains constant despite the East-West contrast: bad conversation starters.

The Blogfather’s had his fair share, and has put together a collection of 5 of his favourite ones — and with them, ways to deal with the offenders.


1. “So when your turn to get married ah?”

There is no escape from this question as long as you’re single, and it doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, castrated or 4 years old. But do realise the ulterior motive to the question your relatives so urgently want an answer to — pursuant to rule 1 of the red packet giving tradition, they are really pining for the day when they no longer have to include you in their list of ang pow recipients.

Possible retorts:

a. “But I need your ang pow money!”

b. “Why? Is your husband/wife/son/daughter/grandchild available?” (Start smacking your lips, rubbing your hands and twitching one eye.”

c. “When Section 377A is repealed.” (Gasp!)

What doesn’t work any more:

“When the Pope resigns.” (One friend actually used this one; six hours later the Pope’s resignation was all over the news.)

2. “So when are you going to pop yourself a child?”

This question, usually asked by a parent, actually goes against the motives stated in the marriage question, but speaking from a parent’s position, I would say having a bundle of joy to share among family and friends would supersede having to come up with the cost of an extra red packet. Besides, your offending friend or relative is probably only planning to see the cute little tike once a year; the rest of the year, you have to bear the responsibility of raising your mini-demon.

And the worst thing about this question is, they don’t stop even after you’ve already had one. “So, when are you going to have your second?” “When’s your third?” “Why are you stopping? Government give you good money you know?”

Possible retorts:

a. (Pointing at your husband’s belly, or if you are the husband, your own belly) “Neh! Already!”

b. “Oh. Well, why did you stop having any more?”

c. (My wife’s favourite) “You think what? Requisite stock ah?”

What doesn’t work any more:

“This country doesn’t need any more citizens.” (The government begs to differ.)

3. “Wah, you very fat already hor?”

I really hate it when people say that to me. It’s like every year, they look at me and think I can’t grow any bigger, and then the following year, I seem to have gained even more.

It’s even more unfortunate that they only see me the day after I had my reunion dinner(s) (see bad conversation starter no. 5).

Possible retorts:

a. “Wah, you very old already hor?”

b. (Respond with a shocked expression, then feign holding back of tears, and dramatically turn away and run away crying)

c. “Ya, this year I learnt how to make my own bak kwa, and went a bit overboard with the testing.”

What doesn’t work any more:

“Okay what. People will offer me reserve seat on buses and trains leh…” (These days, you’d be lucky to even get on a bus or train.)

4. “So what are you working as now?”

For those who have been at their jobs for more than a few Chinese New Years now, getting asked this question only shows how much the person asking actually cares, seeing as you’d give the same reply year after year.

And then there’s the rest of us. I know a couple of dads who try hard to avoid this line of questioning. Some of us may be retrenched, some of us may be experimenting with coming out on our own, some of us may not like our job enough to want to talk about it, and I know one of u has a hard time telling people he’s a stay-at-home dad. Me? I prefer to leave a good impression, so I usually use the following:

Possible retorts:

a. “I’m a prostitute.” (Works really well if you’re a guy.)

b. “Up until a few weeks ago, I was working at Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council. The Punggol East branch office.” (note: I wrote this when the PAP lost the ward during the 2011 elections.)

c. “I’m retrenched. Which reminds me, can I get your children’s ang pows back? I need the money.”

What doesn’t work any more:

“If I tell you, I’d have to kill you.” (Because they’d forget anyway after you told them.)

5. “Eh, come, come! Eat some more leh.”

Food torture was an entertainment option for some ancient Roman tyrants, and a fave World War II pastime among the Japanese invaders. Seems it’s also quite common among some Chinese households during Lunar New Year dinners (reunion dinners included).

I understand the practice is deeply entrenched in meaning (plentiful food on the table as a symbol of prosperity), but reunion dinners should not be treated as stock clearance events. There is a limit to how much the human body can hold in its digestive system, and we want to enjoy your company, not die from it. So have mercy on your guests, I beg you.

Possible retorts (and I have used them all):

a. “Seriously, are you trying to kill me?”

b. “Sorry, I can’t help you any more. (To everyone else at the table) You all take care, okay?” (then stand up, unbuckle your belt, pop your pants button, unzip a
little and waddle to the sofa.)

c. “If I take one more razor clam, whatever happens to me will be entirely your responsibility.” (Update: This has since become a real threat for me.)

What doesn’t work any more:

“Wait people say I fat how?”

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