CHINESE NEW YEAR: CLEANING
When I cocked an inquisitive eye-brow, she went on to explain "all stinky lah, should wash every day!"
She was referring to the well-known (but entirely incorrect!) fact that Caucasians smell more robust than Chinese people. Somewhere twixt wet dog and day-old meat.
Or, in my case, tar, asphalt, and burning leaves.
Like many Chinese females, she wrinkled her nose whenever I lit up. Apparently fine English pipe-tobacco just stank a lot worse than the cartons of State Express 555 cigarettes her dad and uncles chain-smoked. Why, you could hardly even tell that they were around - anycase that's how the inside of a house is supposed to smell! Clean! Lah!
And that brings me to two points about Chinese New Year, namely that both your body and your dwelling should be thoroughly scrubbed when it starts, because you will not attend to cleanliness for another few days - running water causes wealth to drain away, washing yourself is tantamount to rinsing off good luck, and sweeping dust and dirt out of the house sweeps fortune out too.
While most people nevertheless pay attention to personal cleanliness, there are some people who won't shower till the second day, and gamblers might even avoid it for three days longer.
[Some gambling addicts also habitually wear a women's briefs underneath their clothing to 'reverse' the powerful energy of their opponents..... or have their very own pair of lucky underpants which they never launder for fear of washing out the winning streak..... All in all, you are probably better off not knowing any gamblers.]
Whatever your custom, you aren't supposed to wash your hair at all on the first day, or have it cut for the entire fifteen days of the festival. Or thirty days. Opinions differ.
And while you can perform minor necessary cleaning after New Year's Day itself, you aren't supposed to sweep anything out of the house for five days.
If dirt needs to be disposed of, sweep it to the corners till the fifth, then pan it up and take it out the back door on the sixth.
To be on the safe side, many people will hide or lock away the brooms till they can be used again
[One unusual superstition holds that you should prop a broom upside-down against the handle of the front door for the first day....... either to invite good luck in by 'reversing' the item normally used to chase dust out, OR to discourage thieves and robbers by reversing the direction that fortune leaves the house.]
What this means in my case is that I have a perfect excuse to be somewhat slovenly for the next few days.
In the past, when Savage Kitten and I were still a couple, I would adhere to some of the rules - an attempt to get rid of the previous year's karmic detritus before the new year started, oranges and tangerines in every room, some flowering branches or daffodils on top of the teevee, fresh red decorations, even a new copy of the almanac (通勝) hung near the front door - but this year, about the only things I intend to do for the new year are take out the trash and have a bath before midnight, walk around the block so that I am the first one entering the house on the first day of the year, and wear new socks tomorrow in lieu of a full set of bright new clothes.
That's it. That's precisely the level of ritual I'm comfortable with.
While oranges and tangerines are visually appealing, I don't really have a taste for them, and would always end up disposing of mummified citrus months later. The two bright red tins of egg-roll cookies drove her up the wall, as there would always be a few left that we didn't want to finish.
Neither of us ever consulted the almanac.
And the house is as clean as it needs to be.
Oh, and I may try out a brand new pipe-tobacco tomorrow.
Virginia and Perique twists in a bright red tin.
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