In America, it’s easy to forget that Chinese New Year is even happening. Akin to Christmas in China, no one in America gives a flying crap about a holiday based on an outdated calendar.
My boyfriend was no exception. Although he’s Chinese, he was way more excited about the super bowl.
“Am I allowed to watch super bowl?” he pleaded.
“What about Chinese New Year?” I frowned. “I thought we could make jiao zi (dumplings) together and watch a Chinese movie or something. You know, get in the spirit.”
His face scrunched up. He paused. His mind went into the how-to-correctly-answer-girlfriend zone of concentration.
“Yeah…we can, uh, do that,” he replied after one full minute of silence.
“Oh, just watch the football game,” I rolled my eyes. “I’ll go celebrate with some real Asian people.”
Sadly, boyfriend couldn’t do either. He got called into the hospital. But instead of wish everyone a “Xin Nian Kuai Le,” I can assure you he checked the score on his mobile for the play-by-play of the super bowl as he rounded the hospital.
Luckily, my fellow international friends invited me to a simple Chinese New Year gathering at their home. I had a chance to spend the holiday with my Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese-American friends.
The Egg Rolls and the Incident
After picking up groceries from the ol’ Ranch 99 Chinese Supermarket near my house, I rolled up my sleeves, put on my apron and got to work. I was going to make Vietnamese egg rolls.
Vietnamese egg rolls are similar to Chinese egg rolls, but way better. Just sayin’.
There are two kinds of Vietnamese egg rolls: those made with won ton (egg & flour) skin that are usually stuffed with meat and vermicelli rice noodles, and the other kind made with meat stuffing and rice paper wrapping, which my mom and aunt usually made for me growing up.
I helped my mom fold and roll up the rice paper egg rolls countless times throughout my life, but I never actually made the stuffing or fried them myself. So, I gave myself a challenge.
It was the awaited moment young daughters everywhere face in their life: the moment to cook like their mother.
…..so I found a recipe online.
After rolling over 20 egg rolls and sweating over a deep fryer, I towered over my finished creation. Face caked in oil and hair in tatters, I had did it. I made Vietnamese rice paper egg rolls–and they tasted mighty fine.
Then I looked at the clock and realized: Shit. I’m 10 minutes late.
Without even looking in the mirror, I packed up the egg rolls, threw a package of tang yuan (sweet mochi) in my car and sped off.
Everything was going fine. There was no traffic. I drove with some Chinese music blasting, me totally singing along. I was about ten minutes away. I could smell the egg rolls in the trunk.
Then I made a right turn and there it was.
Debris. All over the road.
There was no avoiding it. It was to the left, to the right, to the front. I braced for impact.
CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK.
My stomach sunk with the noise. I pulled over and jumped out of the driver’s seat, inspecting the outside of my car. It was dark, but from the looks of it there was no heavy damage. I pressed on the tires to check the air pressure and they seemed alright.
I sighed a breath of relief and hopped back in the car. I somehow managed to get away clean.
Or so I thought.
Dinner With a Surprise
My friends and I gathered at their humble abode for some Asian cuisine.
My Chinese friend from Sichuan province made spicy noodles. In China, eating noodles = long life.
My Korean friend made tteokguk, a traditional mochi (rice) soup with beef and eggs. It supposedly ages you one more year for the new year.
My Vietnamese-American friend brought a shit ton of fruits. Cause Asian people love, love fruit.
And my Japanese friend, who doesn’t celebrate Chinese new year, came along anyway for a good time and brought booze. Woo-hoo.
And, of course, there were my egg rolls.
Anyway, we feast like it’s Thanksgiving and roll on the floor in gluttony. It was a joyous evening of talking, laughing, and good food. We finished it up with tang yuan.
I said my farewells and hopped in my car. As soon as I put the car in drive and hit the gas pedal, however, I knew something was wrong. The tire symbol on my dashboard lit up. My stomach lurched as I inspected my Prius’ front wheel and confirmed the worst.
I had a flat tire.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I called the friends I had just left. “But do any of you happen to know how to change a flat tire?”
“Hold on one minute Mary,” my friend assured me. “We got it covered. We’ll be right out.”
My four friends rushed out to the parking lot in worry.
“I called my friends who know how to change a flat tire,” my Korean friend said. “They’ll be coming soo—“
Before she could even finish her sentence, a car came wheeling up behind us and parked. Out hopped three young Korean men, one smoking a cigarette.
“They’re faster than 911!” my Chinese friend cried.
Before I even realized what was happening, the boys put the jack under my car and started to inspect my tire. I was barraged with Korean. I had no idea what was going on. One boy kicked my rim, another one started loading up a “how to change a flat tire” video on youtube.
“I thought they knew how to do this!?” I started panicking and reached for my insurance card.
“They know, they know” my Korean friend patted me on the shoulder. “Relax?”
I was assaulted with Korean once more and one of the boys, cigarette in one hand and wrench in the other, began to jump on the wrench attached to the bolts of my tire in an attempt to unscrew them. My car slid forward off the jack. The two other boys rushed to hold my car up. I grimaced.
As I began to dial my insurance provider, the Korean boys somehow managed to take off my old tire and put on the spare donut. I figured, if they put this much effort into it and then I called the insurance roadside assistance, it would be a slap in the face. I mean, who cares if the donut maybe rolls off later as I try to drive back home? It was all about good manners and showing my appreciation.
And as fast as they came, the Korean boys lit up one last cigarette as they put the final screw on the donut. They gave me the thumbs up, smiled, and sped away in their car. Although they had saved me from impending doom, I didn’t even know their names. Hell, we didn’t even communicate. I merely muttered a thank you as they drove into the night.
So last night sucked. But somehow, I was saved by a magical Korean-boy-band-mechanic-trio.
This morning I took my car into the shop and spent a ton of money buying a new tire and fixing the alignment of my vehicle. The paint job was ruined from the debris as well. Ah, cars. You expensive death machines. How I wish I could live without you.
So Happy Chinese New Year everyone!
And don’t forget the very important lesson we learned from Mary’s Chinese New Year 2016:
Make sure you know how to change a flat tire.