Christmas Lights

For years, we have been practicing this holiday routine of driving in the surrounding neighborhoods in search of the house with the best Christmas lights. In order to do that, you have to have several friends in one car, driving around to comment, evaluate, praise the arrangement, the variation, the scale of the lights on different houses. Due to the pandemic, it would be hard to ask friends to get into one car for such an outing now, but I still remember some of our conversations from the past.

“Look, this is my favorite. The front law is a fantasy land.” I said.
“The color combination is great.” T said.
“Oh, you like it because there are so many red bulbs. You are like a bull in a bullfight, going crazy when something red is flashing in front of you.” T’s wife said.
“Wait. Let me calculate the electricity cost. Let’s say each LED mini light is 0.07 watts. I think here there are at least 2000 mini lights, which will be 140 watts. Electricity cost in New Jersey is 16.14 ¢/kWh. Let’s say 8 hours a day.” L calculated like a true electrical engineer.

L is too nerdy. Everywhere he goes he would calculate. Mortgages, retirement accounts, the worthiness of a home improvement when calculated against the prospect of selling at a higher value, attrition cost of a car. Everything in life is priced by him in his otherworldly attitude, completely unaware that other people are not too keen on his numbers. He was kicked out of the Buddhist group he went regularly due to his number crunching antics.

This might sound strange but the Christmas lights remind me when I was little many years ago–the unforgettable Spring Lantern Festival, fifteen days after the Lunar New year. The whole street was suddenly all red with lanterns everywhere. That’s the resumption of the festival after more than a decade of hiatus of civil activities due to political madness. Since that’s the first year I experienced it, I was practically in tears, shocked that people could celebrate in such a high spirit. We were living in the living quarter for staff members of a college campus surrounded by farmlands. Farmers all came will their homemade lanterns and homemade goods to sell. I was at first attracted by popcorn and maltose candies, but soon my attention was drawn to all the games and riddles posted on the surface of lanterns, some of which mysteriously spin just by themselves. One of girls, my next door neighbor, was very good at those word games, but I was horrible. I couldn’t come up with any answer–I was never any good at games or competitions or crosswords. However I was the most determined admirer. I stood by this clever farmer for hours, my feet turning into icicles, just to watch how he administered his riddle to kids passing by. In the end, he noticed me as his loyal fan and gave me a candy on a stick.

“How can he be so clever? How can he create so many riddles? Why is he a farmer? How come he’s not a professor?” I asked incessantly but the adults I asked these questions were not interested in giving me an answer.

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