New Years at Tenten’s parents’ house:
Her grandmother, uncle, aunt, and two youngest children come from a village about fifteen kilometers away. Their oldest daughter, Yunling, calls the kids “Thing 1” and “Thing 2.” It started when her mother popped out yet another of the creatures in the space of a year. The name still fits the now seven-year-old girl and six-year-old boy, and at this rate, will never stop fitting them. Tenten’s just grateful Thing 2 was a boy, or there would have been more. Nowadays, Yunling comes down from the capital and this year, brings special guest Boyfriend Takeshi.
Lee’s parents come from across the village. Technically, they’re not related to her, but they’re the next closest thing. Thing 1 and Thing 2 certainly think so, and they shriek out, “Lee ge-ge!” and jump on each of his legs the moment they arrive and insist on him carrying them around. He is tickled pink that they call him big brother and of course obliges.
Tenten stands awkwardly in front of Lee’s parents. “Uncle, Auntie, 恭喜發財.” She mumbles out the basic phrase and blushes automatically, hoping she got the intonation right. They beam at her as if she hasn’t butchered the language, and Lee’s dad pulls out a red packet from his pocket. “恭喜發財,” he says, and gives it to her. Lee’s mother says, “You look prettier and prettier every time I see you,” and Tenten says, “Er, thank you,” in reply. As always, she wonders if she’s supposed to open the packet in front of them to see how much money they gave.
She hears Thing 1 and Thing 2 chorus to her parents, “恭喜發財, 紅包拿來,” and sees them hold their palms out expectantly. Her parents don’t seem offended by their cheek, and happily give them their red packets.
Her uncle and aunt are too busy being enchanted by Lee to scold the Things. “Don’t you dare get any ideas,” Tenten furiously thinks at them. She has enough of her parents telling her, “What a nice boy Lee is,” at every chance.
Yunling introduces her “friend” to her grandmother: “奶奶好, 萬事如意! 這是我的朋友 Takeshi.” The Boyfriend says, “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Huang. Yui has told me so much about you.” Her grandmother glares at him and starts ranting at Yunling. Tenten can’t understand what she’s saying, but she’s sure it’s not pleasant.
Gai let his team off of training at noon so that Tenten and Lee could help their parents prepare. She’s lucky to have a teacher like him. Tenten plans on bringing him some food tomorrow as thanks.
Tenten actually spends the afternoon sweeping out the house and scrubbing the floor until it shines. She leaves the food preparation to her parents, because it would be a tragedy if she ruined something.
Lee’s family brings nian gao and turnip cake. Her uncle’s family brings his wife’s special bagua and also jongzhi, because they know Tenten likes it. Yunling brings a bag of sweets and gives Tenten instructions to make sure the Things don’t get at it. She hides it on the top shelf of the pantry.
Her grandmother continues to lecture Yunling throughout the dinner. Tenten looks on with a kind of fascination. Yunling notices her and translates, “Despite having not been born at the time, apparently Takeshi is responsible for the many – and I mean she’s been listing them for an hour, many – atrocities committed over fifty years ago.” She turns to the Boyfriend and asks, “Have you ever run a stake through a pregnant woman’s stomach?” The Boyfriend turns green. “Yeah, didn’t think so.”
Their parents are gossiping. Tenten’s fairly sure it’s about their kids, given that their names are the only things she understands. The Things frantically shove food in their mouths, but they occasionally pause to interject in a wronged tone, so Tenten assumes that some of it is embarrassing. Lee complements the food, and even Tenten can tell that he’s butchering the language, but the parents continue to be enchanted by him, mores the pity.
The Boyfriend looks bewildered. “Nod and smile,” Tenten advises, “At least they don’t expect you to understand.”
In the end
Tenten wouldn’t miss New Years with her family for the world.