Whether you love firecrackers is also a good litmus test for the classic “are you an introvert or extrovert” question.
I’ll come clean. I am a textbook example of a classic extrovert. I get my energy from other people. I can happily move from conversation to conversation, and I find talking to random strangers mostly enjoyable. Oh, and I love firecrackers.
My fascination with introverts began more than a decade ago, when I married one, and then three years later, when I gave birth to another! I began to appreciate how a lot of the world is skewed towards extroverts - just check out any mall in Singapore on a weekend, and do a tally of the number of roadshows or special atrium events involving loud hailers for an idea of what I’m talking about.
By the way, the two introverts in my life? Firmly in the “no thank you” camp for firecrackers.
Helping the Introverts in your life get through Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year, with its manic night markets, raucous family reunions and endless visitations went from my favourite time of the year, to a long stretch of potential minefields that had to be navigated subtly.
This survival guide is dedicated to readers who are comfortable spending time alone, and whose ideal celebration is a small get-together rather than a massive party. It also goes out to your extroverted loved ones who probably have no idea about all the thoughts that go on behind your composed exterior.
1. Factor in down time.
My seven-year-old son needs alone time to re-energise if he’s been socialising. The more noisy and stimulating the environment, the longer the alone time he needs. I’ve learnt this the hard way, trust me.
So now I know to schedule some quiet “zone out” time and not try to squeeze in back-to-back visits or parties. Two new years’ ago, we actually went for a long walk along the beach in between our morning and evening festivities on day two of Chinese New Year.
2. Guide them towards a familiar face.
If you have a large family, you probably only see some of your relatives a handful of times a year. For me, Chinese New Year was always a good time to get a sense of where everyone was at in their lives, and just generally have a fun catch-up.
Putting myself in my son’s shoes, I could see he didn’t really enjoy small talk, especially with people he didn’t know well. So I would try my best to guide him towards a familiar face (bonus if that person was sitting on his or her own or in a small group!) and make sure he was settled before I did my rounds.
3. Give them fair warning if they might be the centre of attention at any point.
I come from a musical family, and gatherings are always punctuated with singing and ukelele-playing. If, at any point, you think the introvert in your life may be asked to sing a song, or be part of a Charades team, or do a cheer, let them know in advance. They will appreciate it.
4. Warn them if it’s going to get really noisy.
And by really noisy I mean 50 people doing lo hei (aka the Singaporean “prosperity toss” of Teochew-style raw fish salad) at the same time, shouting blessings and “huat ah!”
The last time my son did it, he ended up getting salad and sauce on him. It was a funny sight and a few of my relatives laughed loudly, which I thought was a perfectly normal reaction, but which he perceived as being singled out for attention. The poor kid felt so embarrassed, he cried, but soon came right when I brought him to the garden to look at the night sky.
Interestingly, now that we live half a world away in Dunedin, New Zealand, that same boy will be the first to say that he misses the atmosphere of Chinese New Year in Singapore.
He says this from the pure quiet of an evening in our suburban home, just before shushing his younger brother, who is walking around the house in underpants banging a drum and singing “gong xi, gong xi, gong xi ni”.