Road trip, reunion and renewal: Part 1

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The thought of this year's trip home brings me much trepidation instead of joy. My in-laws will be coming along with us. We have always wanted to give them a treat by planning a holiday for them as my in-laws work very hard without any vacation time. Therefore, to my surprise, when I casually suggested that they spend Chinese New Year in Malaysia with us, they agreed!

This is it! The time has come again for my husband and I to embark on our yearly road trip back to Malaysia with our kids for the Chinese New Year holidays.

I wish we can make the trip to visit my parents more than just once a year but sadly, we let our work commitments and hectic schedules take precedent and prevent us from heading home.

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That’s why the trips that we make each Chinese New Year are very precious to me. I will gladly wake up at 4am in the morning just to avoid the long queues at the checkpoint and the crazy traffic jams on the North South Highway.

I remember the long hours on the dark windy roads, trying my best to keep my husband awake as he drives and silently praying that our then infant son will sleep for at least 4 hours without realizing that his comfortable cot bed has been unpleasantly transformed into a car seat in a stuffy little car!

However, the thought of this year’s trip home brings me much trepidation instead of joy. My in-laws will be coming along with us. We have always wanted to give them a treat by planning a holiday for them as my in-laws work very hard without any vacation time. Therefore, to my surprise, when I casually suggested that they spend Chinese New Year in Malaysia with us, they agreed!

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My parents and my in-laws have always been politely cordial with each other. Neither sets of parents have ever vocally expressed their differences as expected of people of their generation. However, both my father and father-in-law’s personalities are so disparate that I often wonder if it’s God’s whimsical idea to link the lives of these 2 men together!

The last time my parents and in-laws were under the same roof for more than a few days was during our wedding 7 years ago! There were unresolved issues then which were swept under the carpet…. until today. Now, they will be spending time together for 10 days! What have I gotten myself into?

I called Mum 2 weeks ago to let her know the news. Mum was very positive and asked me if they have any preference to the type of bedsheets in the guest bedroom!

“Mum, that’s not important!” I said frantically, “How do you think Pa will react? Will he be okay with this?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll speak to him. It’s Chinese New Year. Everything will be fine,” my Mum said reassuringly.

I’m still worried. My father is a man of few words, even to those closest to him. My father-in-law, on the other hand, is an expert conversationalist!

I know that my father-in-law wishes to engage my father in more meaningful conversations other than “How was your trip to Singapore?” or “When will you visit again?” but my father often refrains from saying more. Both men have very strong views of each other which resulted from their first time impressions that stuck over the years. Needless to say, there is much need for improvement in their relationship.

As all of you know and experience, the festive season often gives us a lot of stress! Each family has their own traditions which they observe and protect scrupulously. Hence, when the traditions of 2 families are brought together due to marriage, both families have to adapt and compromise.

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It is a fine balancing act and if not handled delicately, the happy scene of a reunion dinner would be replaced with perceived disrespect and inappropriateness. It is during such gatherings that the smallest of things will spark the greatest of misunderstandings. For example, I know my father-in-law loves to say a long prayer before every meal whereas my father would just silently say grace before eating his meal.

What will happen during this year’s reunion dinner? Will my father be annoyed if we let my father-in-law say a long prayer? Alternatively, will my father-in-law be insulted if we don’t say grace before dinner? Will we be able to enjoy our food amidst a cold air of unresolved tension? Am I worrying too much?!! Sigh.

We will make this trip home. My son is eagerly counting the days. He misses his Kong Kong and Poh Poh very much. I can’t bring myself to disappoint him by coming up with a lame excuse to cancel the trip. Maybe this trip will do all of us good. Maybe this is the trip that will restore and renew my parents’ relationship with my in-laws. Maybe I am just worrying myself silly by conjuring up worst case scenarios!

I will fill you in on the outcome of our stay in the second part of this article to be published at the end of this month. Wishing you and your family a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! May there be many happy reunion dinners and joyful family gatherings in everyone’s homes!

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