The Student News Site of Taipei American School




OPINION | The Year of the Dog is new—sexism is not


My grandpa ran a grocery and tofu stall for 50 years, named “Mountain Water Tofu.” He worked morning to night, every single day of the year, except one: ??, the first day of the Lunar calendar. To Hong Kongers, the first day of Chinese New Year is no small event. This was the holiday—like Christmas, Thanksgiving, July Fourth and all those other holidays compacted into 24 short hours.
This year’s Chinese New Year is right around the corner, and that means many otherwise strange traditions will be socially acceptable for a week. People will walk around handing out red envelopes full of money, each meal will be a feast to rival that of most Americans’ Thanksgiving dinner, and sweeping the floor will (of course) be forbidden. Yet one ancient practice persists both on this holiday and year-round: the patriarchy.
Receiving red envelopes is a curious practice: You walk around, find each of your older relatives, and use exclusively four-letter phrases to wish them a happy new year. There is a plethora of phrases that you can choose from, but being “The American School Kids” in our family, my brother and I have a significantly smaller word bank than all our other relatives. The relative will then give you an envelope filled with money and respond with several more auspicious sayings.
Over the years, I noticed a pattern in what my relatives were saying to my brother and me. To my brother, the oldest boy in an extended family of 10 children, they said in Chinese to “improve step by step and get A’s in all your classes!”
Starting his freshman year, my great uncle had already begun asking my brother where he wanted to go to college. Perhaps he had forgotten that he was only 14, but that did not deter his enthusiastic questioning. “America? Harvard?” he said, letting out a hearty laugh and clapping him on the back aggressively.
Instead of asking about school, my relatives would tell me and my other female cousins to “get prettier.” Aside from my great aunt, who worked as a elementary school principal and sometimes asked how I was doing in classes, people in my family simply did not care as much about my scholastic future as they did my brother’s.
And it was not just me: empty comments about the younger girls’ pretty dresses defined a clear limit to the conversation concerning the eight girls in our family. At best, my great uncle would joke about how to pronounce my English name.
Maybe not everyone in Hong Kong is so outwardly biased towards males. My dad, for example, intentionally avoids the auspicious sayings entirely. “The words don’t mean anything—it’s a formality. I hate it, it’s like there are strings attached.” He explains that Chinese culture has always cared more about how males can thrive in society, but he is convinced that people will change their perspectives—slowly.
It is no secret that my brother has always been the smarter child in the family. But since we have been living overseas for 12 years, these relatives that we see once a year know little to nothing about either of us. Still, they find it easy to talk to my brother about his bright future and squeeze out what little energy they have left to tell me and my mother how we are starting look more and more like sisters.
My third uncle’s oldest daughter is similar to what Julian was when he was also in the fifth grade: He wears plastic blue glasses and always has her nose buried in a book. She likes plaid shirts, cars, and is already better than me at reading Chinese. You practically have to rip her book away from her to get her to the dinner table
But visiting relatives fail to mention her love for reading. Instead, they make jokes about how one day, they hope she will outgrow her boyishness.
As a sophomore this year, when I go back to Hong Kong in the upcoming holiday, my turn for the college small talk will be long overdue. But I am almost sure that this conversation will never arrive.

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