Gong xi fa cai, you’ve made it to the Year of the Monkey!
While many people are indulging in New Year’s festivities and reveling in cash money from their red envelopes, I’m sitting here pondering whether or not it’s even worth making an effort in regards to anything this year since the new year is about to bring bad luck.
A Chinese limerick taught to me by my mother when I was two (which I can still recite) reminds me every year that Chinese zodiac signs repeat themselves every 12 years in a set order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. And every 12th year starting from the year you were born is your ben ming nian (bad luck year). As luck would have it, the Year of the Monkey is my ben ming nian.
Growing up surrounded by Asian culture, it’s hard not to be a little superstitious. So when my mom booked me a flight from San Diego to San Francisco so that I, along with other typically rational people, can flock to Ma-Tsu Temple and energetic practitioners to reverse my luck, I made no objections.
Immediately after I stepped off the airplane at SJC, my mom took me to the mall as her eyelash lady told her that during your ben ming nian it is good luck to wear red underwear gifted to you from another person. Luckily, with it being so close to Valentine’s Day, there was no shortage of red panties at Victoria’s Secret. The real question is how I’m supposed to rotate between 7 pairs of red underwear for the rest of the year.
Spending the weekend in the City was another demon in and of itself as it was Super Bowl weekend and the place was packed with tourists. (I later found out we were offered FREE tickets to the Super Bowl but my mom who doesn’t “sports” turned them down but that’s a heartbreaking story for another time.)
On New Year’s Eve, my sister, my mom and I made the trek from the BART Station to Chinatown to worship at Ma-Tsu Temple. I prayed to the same Gods I worshipped 12 years ago and was fed many “lucky” pastries by the elderly Taiwanese people who ran the temple. I was given various red trinkets to keep on my person and instructed to wear new jade and 24k gold talismans (which my mom is currently on the market for).
I admit, I had reservations prior to this trip as someone who was baptized and raised into Catholicism (my parents’ way of making me more American) and wasn’t sure how to approach traditions so deeply rooted in Buddhism and Taoism. But the whole experience was strangely comforting. Like a flashback to my childhood.
Praying to Tai Sui may or may not change my luck for the year. But what it did do was allow me to re-connect with the culture and traditions my parents, my ancestors, grew up on. I walked away feeling affirmation on my identity as a Taiwanese American.
Next year is the Year of the Rooster. Of course, that means that my mom is already planning a trip for my very white husband to worship at Temple as it will be his ben ming nian. We’ll see how that goes.