A year passed away: A personal essay

Chi Park/Staff

In the moments of limbo before dusk meets dawn, sobriety invades inebriation, and the last and the first days intertwine, we feel infinite. A refresh button we all mutually press resets the ticking timer. It’s here: another chance at a new you, a new life, a new change. This year, we promise ourselves, will be the year we finalize our divorce from our own toxic behaviors and start anew with the idealized, 2.0 versions of the selves we’ve always wanted to be.

At the height of the hype for the upcoming year and for all that comes with it, strangers coalesce to celebrate the birth of 2019.

Amid warm bodies and familiar faces, I find myself swaying to the thumping music and dim, blinking lights in a Midtown Manhattan nightclub, the epicenter of it all. I could feel it in the crisp air — a ubiquitous tingle of excitement and giddiness from men and women dressed to the nines in glimmering attire that shimmers against the glistening skyline. Balloons and confetti float above our heads as champagne bottles pop and cheers ensue. At the one-minute mark announcing the new year, I hold my breath, keen to squeeze the last drops of 2018 into my consciousness. In collective cohesion we count: “10… nine… eight… seven… six…” — I feel a flurry of emotions — “five… four… three… two… one!” We erupt in celebratory shouts. When I can hear my own thoughts again, I am left with the sweet sadness of a death unnoticed.

It’s here: another chance at a new you, a new life, a new change.

We die all the time without realizing it. And yet, all around the world, we have come to a silent agreement to kill off the ugly parts of ourselves at the strike of a new year. Jan. 1 marks a massive wave of metaphorical deaths as we all strive to be rid of our current selves through resolutions and promises. The echoing sentiment of “new year, new me,” never questions where exactly the “old me” will reside.

As a society of upgrades and updates, we have an insatiable predilection for novelty and newness. As a nostalgic stickler for the good old days, I am unwilling to let go of the people and places from my memories.

I love Manhattan’s Chinatown. As a child, it was the only reason my parents had to venture out of Queens. It was a distinctly familiar enclave where they could speak their mother tongue with confidence. The food was just like the food back home — roasted duck and pork hung on hooks at the display window, showing off crispy, golden skin. Vendors flashed raw, freshly chopped servings of meat at the locals and yelled out daily specials of seafood splattered into buckets spilling onto the bustling streets. My grandpa would buy fresh cherries from street vendors’ carts without uttering a single word of English. In my small, childish hands, the cherries were large droplets of sweetness.

As an adolescent, Chinatown was the place my friends and I would share meals and bubble tea after school. It was a convenient meetup spot, as our various houses were located all around the city. We were city kids, deftly navigating the subway system and gridded streets.

As an adult, Chinatown is no longer the place of my memories. Sprouting up in place of Chinese herbal medicine shops and traditional Chinese bakeries are overpriced matcha cafés for the Insta-hungry and hipster swag shops hawking expensive figurines alongside abstract art pieces. Imagining my grandpa sipping matcha and taking selfies, the picture to me seems tragically comical. Where are the rest of the first-generation grandmas and grandpas of Chinatown? I don’t hear the distinct cries of intermingling Chinese dialects selling fruits and fish. Instead, I hear the shutter clicks of a tourist’s camera. The cherries I buy from sidewalk carts don’t taste as sweet.

The echoing sentiment of “new year, new me,” never questions where exactly the “old me” will reside.

The city’s constant movements overwhelm my overstimulated senses. The subway now resembles a tangled web before my eyes, as I no longer remember where its threads lead. My friends and I have claimed homes in other places across the country, displacing New York as the city we call our own. Once a year, flying from all corners of America, we converge. We lament the changing scenes of a once-familiar city.

We address the imperative concerns of rising socioeconomic, racial, gender and class divisions in a diverse city undergoing rapid transformations, from the construction of Amazon’s new headquarters to the issue of Specialized High Schools Admissions Test cancellations. The consequences of these issues will determine the next generation’s windows of opportunity — as well as just who will receive those opportunities.

Although home, for us, may now be elsewhere, the past “windows” provided by the city had allowed my old friends and I to find opportunities outside the five boroughs, to advance beyond the restaurants of Chinatown and seek newer and greater adventures. Like the passing of New Year’s Day, we are powerless to stop the city’s imminent transformations and yet are nonetheless touched by it in our own singular ways.

So, I’ll mourn for all the selves left within the no-longer-existent Chinese fish markets and bakeries but also pay my respects to the city that allows my current self to thrive. I can never truly let go of my past, but with each version update, with each new year that passes in cheers, I’ll resolve to upgrade the systems around me.

Contact Nelly Lin at [email protected].