“Stories Yun Told Me” is a new series of illustrated stories created by Tenement Museum Educators Jason Eisner and Ya Yun Teng. The series will highlight celebrations within the Chinese Lunar Calendar and explore themes of language, interpretation, memory, and community through the adventurous eyes of Yun, a fictitious Chinese American immigrant born in the year of the Pig. At twenty-two, Yun immigrates to New York City from her native Taiwan. She loves to share stories about her experiences—stay tuned for further installments!
Part 1 of this story was published on our blog on February 7.
I moved to New York in 2005. My friends in America still call me Yun. Some of them know that I was born in the year of Pig. In fact, I was born on the second day of the Chinese New Year; that is my lunar birthday. Many Chinese in America have abandoned the celebration of lunar calendar birthdays. I was lucky, however, and my family maintained this tradition. Double happiness, they called it. I haven’t spent the holiday with my family since I moved here. One year, I celebrated the double happiness by having a double shot espresso before going to work.
It was New Year again, and I found myself standing with a crowd in the freezing cold. We were all waiting for the big Chinatown firecracker celebration. At midnight there were no firecrackers so I felt a great weight on my shoulders. The Year Monster had followed me to New York; I don’t know how, but it did. Since midnight, the Year Monster has been with me, staring at me. It came in through the door. Its body upset the pile of shoes and its tail swept the bowls and the pots to the floor. After making some circles, it eventually settled into the corner of my room. Both of us stretched our ears and listened. It was a very quiet night.
The Monster stared at me from the corner until the sun came up. It followed me to Chinatown.
There were strings and strings of red ribbons and firecrackers (extra-long!) hanging from a cable wire wound between two trees in the park. The winding wires and wicks were arranged carefully for a major performance. Firefighters were there, too, as a precaution, but looking like performers themselves. The explosions happened quickly without much ceremony or warning. The power of the explosion was dizzying and disorienting, almost like drug overdose. A cloud of gun powder rambled toward us. The thick cloud robbed us of our sight, but I could just make out the tail of the Year Monster. It followed the script and dutifully ran away.
Each year since, the Year Monster visits me, and each year it arrives a bit earlier. It comes to observe how I celebrate the holiday. Sometimes, it becomes a bit judgmental or disapproving, making a point to remind me of some traditions that slipped through my fingers. One year, I realized that I might need help making dumplings. Without a protest, the Year Monster helped me chop the cabbage. Like one of those inquisitive children back home, I thought, “Isn’t Year Monster supposed to be afraid of the chopping sound? Wasn’t the chopping sound its death knell? Had it changed since it came here? Maybe there are different rules here?”
It looked up from the chopping board. I saw the Year Monsters eyes. They were deep, gentle, and filled with pity.
I see the Monster every year. When the firecrackers are set, it runs away and disappears into the cloud. I have to admit, I always feel somewhat melancholy seeing it go.