SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The large pork leg and whole fish are ready for cooking, together with the Chinese fermented mustard greens that I like for my pata tim.

Also ready are the cellophane noodles for long life (made of mung beans and pea starch, which don’t break easily unlike sotanghon made of potato starch), to be braised with more pork leg, mushrooms and XO sauce.

For sweets, we have pineapples, kiat-kiat or clementines and tikoy. While it’s a shame to destroy the intricately molded red dragon adorning the top, it’s a bigger shame to let the tikoy become moldy and go to waste.

These are the safest stuff to prepare for the Lunar New Year – meaning there’s little disagreement on their luck-drawing power. There are many warnings about luck flying away if fowls are served at the New Year table, so no duck, goose, turkey or chicken. No crabs either; luck supposedly moves sideways instead of advancing. So pork it is.

Who knows if there’s basis for all that mumbo jumbo for attaining prosperity?

The Catholic Church, which frowns on such practices, knows how to compromise, and merely asks its flock to please don’t make chop suey of Christian and Chinese beliefs, practices and images.

Filipinos have embraced the practice of offering round fruits on the regular New Year’s Eve (plus pineapples preferably with elaborate crowns). The usual offering is 12 types of fruits, but my Tsinoy mother has always offered 13 types. She was born on the 13th so she doesn’t consider the number unlucky. My other Tsinoy relatives who don’t observe this tradition tell me it must have been started by canny Chinese fruit merchants. Surely it’s worked great for their business.

Believing in luck is akin to prayer; it’s a matter of faith. What’s there to lose in trying to attract prosperity through “lucky” dishes, fruits, charms? A dragon charm for this Year of the Wood Dragon, including “blessing” by the vendor, cost me P700 last Tuesday.

The vendors of Lunar New Year charms were blessed, indeed, with brisk business at the mall where I bought my golden dragon. It’s yet another manifestation of the pervasiveness of Chinese influence in our culture.

*     *      *

President Marcos has declared both the eve and the day itself of the Lunar New Year as holidays. Meanwhile, the anniversary of the 1986 people power revolt, which falls on a Sunday, or any date between Feb. 22 to 25, the duration of the uprising, has not been declared a holiday.

Oh well, the unity theme of the winning tandem of 2022 is now undeniably kaput, so why bother keeping up any pretense of national unity? And anyway, where’s the EDSA-connected traditional opposition these days? (This doesn’t include the Left, which boycotted people power.)

What Marcos 2.0 can still try to salvage is the country’s frayed relationship with Beijing. This becomes harder with each move by the Chinese to trespass and block activities of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Those Chinese moves cast a shadow on Lunar New Year celebrations in the Philippines. Although I have maternal relatives in Fujian and used to visit various places in China almost every year, I stopped the visits since the standoff in Panatag (Scarborough Shoal).

And while I’ve enjoyed exquisite, heartbreaking Chinese-made movies such as “The Road Home,” “Farewell My Concubine” and “Coming Home,” I’ve stayed away from Chinese movies since the maritime conflict intensified.

These days I’m perfectly happy with hallyu on Netflix; the South Koreans are terrific entertainers, and they’re not greedily grabbing their neighbors’ maritime domain and blasting Filipinos with water cannons and ramming our boats.

I agree with the perfectly sensible idea that bilateral ties with China go way beyond the WPS conflict, especially considering our shared history predating the Spanish colonial era and the ancestral ties of many Filipinos with the mainland Chinese.

Still, the sustained aggressive actions of Chinese forces in Philippine sovereign waters keep intruding into all the positive aspects of the bilateral relationship.

*     *      *

Despite the maritime conflict, my house and office continue to be adorned with Chinese artwork and good luck charms – Buddhas and dragons of all shapes and sizes, phoenix and my Chinese zodiac animal. And I’m still a believer in feng shui.

I still sing a Chinese childhood ditty starting with “Wa cha kiii….”  in Chinese singsong voice. My cousins who are fluent in both Hokkien and Mandarin tell me, from their understanding of my mangled pronunciation of the lyrics, that the kiddie song warns children not to eat too much lest they become obese.

Considering the message of the ditty, I shall sing it again before stuffing my face with my Year of the Wood Dragon pata tim and noisily slurping the strands of XO sotanghon.

At least I’m not conflicted about Chinese food.

Kong hei fat choi!

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