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Bud Grossmann’s
Words of the Week
for the Week of
February 21, 2016

Published as Family History
in a Gramma Letter
dated February 20, 1996

© 1996, 2016 by Bud Grossmann.
All Rights Reserved.

Candidate for a Haircut (1982)
  Candidate for a Haircut (1982)
© 1982 by Bud Grossmann


Tuesday, February 20, 1996

Dear Gramma,

      To you I say, GUNG HEE FAT CHOY! Happy Chinese New Year! Yesterday, here in Hawaii, we celebrated a double holiday, with Presidents’ Day occurring on the same day as the beginning of the lunar year.

      To get off to a good start in this Year of the Rat, our family ate for breakfast a strong-flavored soup called jai, which Fran’s mom prepared. Another name for it is “Monks’ Food.” There is no meat in jai. No rat meat, no chicken, no boar, no horse, ... No animal of the Chinese zodiac must surrender its life for a Chinese family’s first meal of the year. Jai is made of long rice, mushrooms, other funguses, and sundry pungent vegetable matter—but no meat because the idea is to start the year nonviolently. In China, as another act symbolic of peace and nonviolence, families hide all their knives on the eve of each new year and throughout New Year’s Day. No cutting, slicing, or chopping occurs in the preparation of jai.

      Later this week, however, it will be business as usual, and animals would be well advised to be on their guard. Family and neighbors will gather at Popo’s (Mama Wong’s) home for a New Year’s feast that will include pork, chicken, duck, beef, fish, oysters, shrimp—all sorts of creatures to accompany the vegetables.

      Telling you about Chinese traditions, Gram, reminds me of a story. The summer our son David was going on two years old, Frances and I took him to Denver, Colorado, to visit friends who had moved there from Honolulu. Late in the afternoon of the first day of our visit, I took David around the neighborhood in his stroller. We were in a community of brick and stucco houses with tree-shaded yards. Lots of kids were out, playing on lawns and sidewalks, waiting to be called in for supper.

      After a while, I began to notice something: practically all the kids we were seeing were white kids. Caucasians. That was very different from what we would be seeing on a similar stroll at home.

      As Dave and I passed by one house where several kids were playing, a little white boy—maybe six or seven years old—stopped what he was doing and ran to us and exclaimed, “Oh, what a cute baby!” He kneeled down beside David and put out a finger for the baby to grasp. Then the boy looked up at me and asked, “Is your son Chinese?”

      The question jarred me, puzzled me, and pleased me. “Why, yes,” I said. “David is part Chinese. But I wish you would tell me, what makes you ask that?”

      “I could tell by his haircut,” the Colorado boy explained.

      I laughed with delight, but then I remembered, it just so happens I am my son’s barber; so I couldn’t really take the remark as a compliment. I was new at my craft, and David was wearing what we call in Hawaii a chau wong, or “rice bowl” haircut. You have seen the same style on Moe Howard, the dark-haired fellow, the brightest of The Three Stooges.

      Now that I think about it, I wonder if Moe is Chinese, too. If I see him today, I’ll be sure to say GUNG HEE FAT CHOY! And I’ll probably add, Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! because I know Moe knows what that means.

      All good wishes to you, Gramma, in this New Year of the Rat.


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