Special thanks to my mentor, Zhuoran Shen, for providing this elegant translation.

Today is January 28, 2019, Layue 23, the Year of Earth and Dog, and the Preliminary Eve.

Before saying anything else, I wish you and your family a happy Chinese New Year.

I am not a festival person. However, since I crossed the International Date Line to the other side of the globe, I started wondering when I should celebrate each holiday or birthday. Probably, my obsession for clear-cut decisions and sense of ceremony defeated my tiredness of holidays. Well, the question of when to celebrate is actually quite dull, but every time it gets me for a while. When should I say happy birthday to my friends? When should I post my cherry-picked holiday photos to social media? When should I say happy birthday to myself with my inner speech? It doesn’t feel so right to follow Beijing Time, but it does feel a bit late if I wait for the clock tick in Pacific Time. Luckily, the days in the two time zones do still have several hours of overlap which let me eschew the questions.

I remember in my childhood, the New-Year atmosphere would come with the Preliminary Eve. By then, there would have been snow outside my window. The dirty snow, dry and dead branches, and the gloomy sky were all integral to a New Year in my memory. A dumpling meal would mark the start of the New Year. My parents would be more lenient to me, and I would get the freedom to be excessively childish and playful. Next up would be to purchase New Year’s Goods. I didn’t bother worrying about most of them, but the firework stores did really excite me. My parents would dress me in thick clothes and take me to the temporary tent built on the square before the large shopping mall, where the army green door curtain would be hiding the warmth of the crowd, the unique smell of Red Earths (belts of 50,000 firecrackers each), and the festive holiday atmosphere. I wouldn’t have the chance to decide what courses to serve at the Meal of the New Year Eve. But here, it would be my call. Fricative crackers, collisional crackers, Splashy Cylinders, Flashy Spinning Tops, and Little Bees were all my favorites. In the tent in a frozen city, before shelves full of assortments of fireworks, I would have been starting to look forward to the night with thick smoke, deafening explosions, and the smell of fireworks spread in the air.

The memories are so fresh that I can almost still smell the fireworks. Nonetheless, it’s been long since I last had such an experience. Did I turn numb after getting into middle or high school? Did the ban on fireworks dissolve the holiday atmosphere? Or did my parents become too old to have a proper celebration? …

Having moved to the US, the atmosphere of the traditional holidays started to feel increasingly distant. Currently, more and more Chinese are migrating here. I can even hear the familiar language here and there. However, social and cultural environments are still constantly taking us away from the traditions. I didn’t realize the Preliminary Eve was around the corner until Mom reminded me yesterday during our chat on WeChat. I now feel fortunate that the time zone difference saved me from missing the holiday. I’m actually not sure whether the King of Cookers understands time zones and is willing to accept my excuse for forgetting it. Anyways, the North and the South (of China) once again have a disagreement on when we should celebrate the Preliminary Eve, just as they disagree on the name of Yuanxiao/Tangyuan and whether rice dumplings should be sweet or not. The North celebrates it on the 23rd, while the South on the 24th. I’m not the kind of person that would dwell on this issue. However, it does give me an extra excuse to make up for the celebration today.

Right now, I am having fast dumplings in T-shirts and shorts, in the warm and pleasant weather in California. The dumplings are fulfilling the last bits of the sense of ceremony left in my memory. Well, let’s just make this my Preliminary Eve.

Today is January 28, 2019 and Layue 23, the Year of Earth and Dog, Pacific Standard Time; and January 29, 2019 and Layue 24, the Year of Earth and Dog, Beijing Time. Both are the Preliminary Eve.