I am a ball of anxiety as 2018 gets underway. We are headed into the Year of the Dog, which is my zodiac year. Chinese superstition governs that you have to be very careful during your “本命年” because you’re more likely to have bad luck or accidents. You’re supposed to avoid negative people and life transitions like getting married or starting a business during the year.
There are countermeasures, like a lot of wearing-of-red. I think.
The last time this came up, when I was 24, was actually awesome! It was the year I miraculously got a dream job to cover the state capitol in Texas, which let me move out of South Carolina and reunite with my surly long-distance boyfriend. It also led to friendships that have endured and some of the most fun, most memorable reporting years of my life. TBH I wouldn’t be here, posting this from my sweetass employer-provided high-rise overlooking Seoul but for that key life change during my zodiac year.
But this time around I happen to be scheduled for unemployment by summer, because my contract will end. Where will I live? What will I do for a living? There are many factors that make a gal feel … unsettled.
Today is what my friend Anna calls “The Day After The Day Of The Shining Star,” because my birthday follows former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il’s. (Kim’s birthday is the “Day of the Shining Star,” so I get “The Day After,” naturally. Along with Michael Jordan, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Paris Hilton and my birthday besties John and April.)
I can’t believe I’ve never written about my family’s birthday tradition! I guess now’s a good time. The tradition is the egg roll, or an egg rolling, to be precise. Not the fried appetizer, but an actual rolling of a hard-boiled egg down the birthday girl’s body, from head to toe and down each limb, to roll away any negativity or bad vibes from the year before. Then you crack open the egg and eat it for birthday breakfast.
Here’s my mom doing it for me in Taipei a couple years ago. While rolling the egg, the elder talks the whole time, wishing away all the sadness or badness. I always get emotional when I happen to be with my mom and she can actually roll the egg for me like when I was little.
In my adulthood, sometimes I’m not with mom or dad or grandma on my birthday, and so my husband has to roll the egg for me, which causes him great anxiety. On my 28th birthday, his egg-rolling-anxiety caused a GIANT FIGHT between us that lasted for two or three days.
There is a lot of superstition tied to egg rolling, too. On my 19th birthday, everyone forgot to roll my egg for me. It was then one of the worst years of my life, to this day. Before my 32nd birthday, I happened to be in Taipei a few weeks ahead of Feb 17 so my mom planned to roll my egg for me before I headed to the airport. But the eggs didn’t boil in time, so we had to go downstairs to the 7-11 and improvise with a tea-egg (the shells of which are already cracked, since they’re braising in tea). Mom rolled me with the tea egg, but tea eggs don’t work! I went home and had a miscarriage and my au pair quit in some high drama involving her OK Cupid boyfriend and it was just Not. A. Great. Start. To. My. Year. So my dad came to DC and re-rolled my egg, and instantly things turned a corner.
That is the power of the egg roll.
If I’m REALLY lucky, I happen to be with my 94-year old grandma around my birthday, and SHE can do the egg roll, which is the luckiest egg roll of all. But her primary egg roll responsibilities are her own kids: Aunt Linda, Uncle Steve and my momma.
This year Matty had my egg ready for rolling first thing in the morning, and my daughter Eva was so psyched to see this weird thing happening that she insisted on being lifted up so she, too, could help roll the egg. Later my Seoul girlfriends joined me for a day at the spa, since I’m a little limited in my partying this year due to being eight-months preggo. Buy my sweet friend Sarah flew her ass in from Singapore to spend the day and weekend with me, which means a whole lot. I missed our times together and we’re doing some quality catching-up.
NOTE: I have no idea where this tradition comes from. It’s just been passed down my mom’s side of the family. I have yet to start doing it for my daughters, but I think I will this fall when Eva turns five.
We’re near Washington, DC, for a massive family reunion. My maternal grandma flew all the way in from Taiwan to take part, so our one layover in Houston really doesn’t count as much travel. Grandma has five brothers and sisters and she’s the oldest surviving one. The fact there are six siblings in that generation mean that by the time you get to my generation, there are about 68 cousins and second cousins and cousins-in-law-once-removed. Or something. I still don’t know them all.
We’ve shared some moving moments – like the survival stories grandma told about triumphing over war (WWII), revolution (the Cultural one) and separation (time and distance).
But mostly this gathering has been about the lighter moments — eating way too much food in order to please our elders (a Chinese thing that feels like being slowly fed to death), joking about perhaps incorporating our family into some sort of LLC, and cousins connecting over which ‘realm’ or ‘guild’ they are in in the addictive computer game, World of Warcraft.
Which reminds me: Cousins Calvin and Cary, both grown-ups with families of their own, decided a few years ago to go out into the woods and fully embrace who they are as men. They choreographed an extensive Star Wars-themed kung fu light saber battle that my other cousin, Clarence, caught on tape. See below.