Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Xiang Lin Musical Association's New Year Party

I had the good fortune of being invited to the New Year party of the Xiang Lin Musical Association on the 8th Day of Chinese New Year.

Nested in a very cosy attic of this restored house along Bukit Pasoh, it was almost like a family gathering with the elders sitting and enjoying the Nan Yin songs and musics sung by the elder and young. The orchestra was made up of mainly youngsters! It was certainly heartening to see so many youngsters playing the Chinese musical instruments, some of which are distinctly Nan Yin. And that they were also singing the Nan Yin songs in the ancient Hokkien dialect.

Xiang Lin is no stranger to many in the arts circle as could be demonstrated by the number of awards and momentos that they have received.

Many friends at the party enjoyed the music and songs, while enjoying the food as well.

If you have yet to see or hear Nan Yin, go to Tian Hock Keng (Tian Fu Gong) at Telok Ayer St on 15th Day of Chinese New Year (4 Mar 07) at 7.30pm to enjoy the music and songs in the wonderful atmosphere of the temple. And if you do spot some bats flying around, you have the additional luck too!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Preparing for a Prosperous New Year

Each new year brings fresh hopes for a better year. To the ancient Chinese, Cai 财, which means prosperity, has a multitude of meanings, unlike today when Cai is mentioned, it is about money. But in the traditional means, Cai could mean rice - plenty to eat. Cai could means a big healthy family and a good life.

And so, each year, each in his/her own way, looks towards Cai Shen 财神 (The Deity of Wealth or Prosperity) for something better. And here in Chinatown, the residents and visitors alike hope to get a blessing - be it rice, chocolate in the form of golden ingots or angpows (red packets) - from the Cai Shen.

Chinatown Lights up with a Bang!

Chinese New Year must be accompanied with lots of noise and certainly, there must be lions and dragons. And so, Chinatown continues with this tradition.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chinatown with a light touch

Now, if only Chinatown will have such light show on a daily basis. It would add lights, colour and certainly crowd. It was a great idea to show Hotel 81 in a different light. This grand old building was once a school, and then, it was a home to many residents, and now a hotel.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The long queue

Preparing for Chinese Lunar New Year could well mean queues these days. In Chinatown, there is one notable queue that has been going on for years. Established since 1938, the Lim Chee Guan Bak-kwa (BBQ dried meat in Hokkien/Teochew) shop has been the target of the Lunar New Year shoppers.

This morning, barely past 8.30am, and the queues of both side of the two streets were forming, one at the old shop along South Bridge Road, and the other in People's Park Complex. Barely a stone's throw away, the other Bak-kwa shops were still waiting for customers.

According to what I heard from the Bak-kwa lovers, they said that on the survey on the taste of Bak-kwa, Lim Chee Guan's Bak-kwa did not rank amongst the top, but from the queue, it looks like it does. Reminds me of the blind tasting of the caviar, where the reputed to be best and most expensive ones did not come up top. Ah, the taste of people.

I guess, for many, Chinese New Year will not be the same without some Lim Chee Guan Bak-kwa. (^^) And certainly, many would have made their parents-in-law, or potential ones very happy.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ang Ku Kueh

Ask someone who knows about Ang Ku Kueh (literally translated from Hokkien as Red Tortoise Cake), and what is conjured in his/her mind could be someone's baby has reached one-month old (that's the month old celebrations, and angkukueh is one of the spread of goodies given to relatives and friends who have given gifts - jo gueh lai in Hokkien, meaning, giving something within the one month of the baby's birth), or there's a temple celebrations, where angkukueh is a must, or some celebrations in the home, especially for prayers to the Deities.

Ang means red, Ku means tortoise, and these two are important ingredients of the Chinese tradition, red meaning prosperity and tortoise meaning long life.
Angkukeuh is a rice-flour cake (I think) typically filled with bean paste or chunky groundnuts. They are covered with cooking oil and steamed. The taste would be in the bean paste or the groundnuts. But the texture of the fillings and the flour is important.

In Everton Park, Ji Xiang is probably one of the best, if not the best Angkukueh in town. To me, this is the best angkukueh what I would go all the way to buy. For my two kids' month old celebrations, I buy them to give to relatives and wellwishers.
The way they make the angkukueh in Ji Xiang is still very traditional and laborious. And so when you eat, you are also enjoying the patience and love put in by the an-ums (old aunties). There are other fillings available, such as corn and coconut.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Chinese New Year Rush

If there is anything to look for (or dread), it's the two weeks before the Chinese Lunar New Year. This is the time when most Chinese, and visitors (many Malaysians are also flocking in) would come to Chinatown, to shop, eat or just enjoy the gaiety of the atmosphere.

In the old days, the number of stalls must have exceeded more than the 500 stalls said to be set up this year. In those days, they are in all shapes and sizes, noises and all, and during those days, there were more stalls selling clothes (especially for children) and shoes. Yes, in those days, for most of us, this was the time when we would get to have a new set of clothings, complete with shoes. Our parents would try their best to buy them. We never asked how they got the money, probably through sheer savings or loan. No 13th month then, and bonuses weren't much.

At the risk of being trampled on, we kids would hold our hands tight, one sibling to the other, and the youngest probably with Mum. And we waded through the crowd to get what we wanted and could afford. These days, one does not need Chinese New Year to get new clothes .. and so the thrill is gone.

While the contents might have changed, the atmosphere was still there today. Many traditional things such as red packets, decorations in bright red, kuachi (melon seeds), groundnuts, sweets, pussy willows, kamquats, nian-gao (sweet cake) and mandarin oranges are there. Traditional dried food used for cooking for Chinese New Year, or as gifts for the in-laws and potential ones, such as Chinese sausages, waxed duck, and yunnan ham are on grand display. This year, there are even waxed piglets!

The shopping frenzy will continue unabated right till the Chinese New Year Eve (17 Feb this year), certainly much to the delight of the stall holders of Chinatown. With the various groups in Chinatown organising events, despite many satellite towns having their own Chinese New Year bazaars, Chinatown will still attract.

My only hope is that Niu Che Sui (Bullockcartwater or what we all call Chinatown) will continue to hold dear to the hearts of the Singapore Chinese. Many who have their parents or grandparents who grew up in Chinatown will treasure the memories here, no matter how dirty, crowded or poor it was then. It must strive to stay as it is, was, so as to serve as a living museum for future Singaporeans.