My brother from New York phoned me on the first day of 2011 to wish me a happy new year. I said: “It’s already 2011 here. What year are you phoning from?” He replied: “It’s still 2010 here.”
I told my kids: “Your Uncle Stalky is calling from last year.” Their eyes widened. It didn’t seem possible to them. I explained it was due to time zone differences.
When the phone rang an hour later, I told them: “It’s your great-great-grandma. She’s phoning from 1776.” They’re still trying to work that one out.
Later that week, I bumped into a Scottish friend who was still hung over three days after his New Year’s Eve party. If you like wild parties, you should join Islam, I told him. Muslims celebrate Western New Year and the Islamic New Year, which sometimes happens twice in 12 months.
“Three New Year’s Eve parties in a year?” he marveled. “Who’d survive?” I told him that the Western view of Asians as uncool people good for nothing but maths was wrong. We’re the party kings of the world.
Proof. This week I’m cosying up to my Tamil friends, whose New Year is Jan. 14. Next month I become Chinese, since Lunar New Year is in February. In March, I declare myself Balinese, and in April, I swear allegiance to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In June, the Kutchi people of Pakistan celebrate New Year and the Nepalese have theirs in October. “This year, my life is going to be just one long, wild party,” I told him.
The Scotsman told me Western guys always kiss their girlfriends at midnight so that one kiss stretches across two calendar years. I told him to take a deep breath if he wants to do that in Asia. In Sri Lanka, time stops between one year and the next for a period determined by astrologers.
Last year the gap was 12 hours, 48 minutes. He told me that Westerners also have a totally blank period between one year and the next, but the precise duration is determined by how much you worship the great green god Carlsberg.
Some Asians fear Western New Year’s Eve parties, since our authorities deliberately paint a negative picture of them. Last week Xinhua, China’s news agency, put out the following report: “Fewer cars were set on fire on the 2011 New Year’s Eve, French police said on Monday without giving any specific figures. The total number will not be announced as Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux decided to blur the figure so as not to encourage vicious competition among lawless hooligans.”
I said: “The government of China likes to imply that Western nations are populated entirely by lawless hooligans.” My Scottish friend shrugged, saying: “Seems pretty accurate to me.”
The next time the phone rang, I told the kids it was someone calling from the year 5771. I wasn’t joking. The caller was Jewish and that’s this year in the Hebrew calendar.
The kids used to think they understood the whole time zone thing, but not any more.
Nury Vittachi,The writer is a columnist and journalist.
Opini The Jakarta Post 10 Januari 2011