Chinese New Year is barely a month away, and although there are more shopping centres and shops all over Singapore, there is nothing like a touch of the Chinese New Year festive atmosphere in the Chinatown. Chinese New Year this year falls on 14 Feb 2010. Light up of the decorations in Chinatown will happen next week, 23 Jan 2010. While this adds to the gaiety of Chinatown, many local visitors to Chinatown have other objectives in mind.
I did a quick recce this evening to measure the "barometer" of the atmosphere. The crowd was certainly there but not to the huge surge yet. Cars were waiting bumper to bumper for the nearest carpark at Chinatown Complex. It is a Sunday and many of the mainland Chinese were also gathered in the small but growing eateries that cater to the northern Chinese cuisines.
The place is certainly getting redder with all the things related to Chinese New Year, ranging from angpow (red packets in Hokkien) to lanterns to all kinds of decorations for the home. New stuff Tigers to greet the year of the Tiger were there, and some lion dance toys became tiger dance toys.
At the huge tentage, setup each year specifically for pre-Chinese New Year sales, along South Bridge Road facing the Maxwell Food Centre, the early-bird vendors were calling for business. At two diagonal corners, the interesting sales by auction were already in progress. Calling prices started as small as one Singapore dollar!
The all important kamquats and greenery were in place. This year's specialty seems to be this particular cactus plant (which the Chinese believe could ward away negative entities) with a flower-like part on top of it. They did not look like parts of the same plant. The popular Guanyin bamboos now come in arranged in the shape of a boat.
I could only spot one stall offering couplets, with the hand written Chinese calligraphy. What happened to the "Dui-Lian" 对联 (the longer couplets) that was the tradition for the Chinese to paste on both sides of the doorway? Ah, with most people living in HDB (housing development board) flats, there's hardly any space at the doorway to paste these couplets. In the old days, the letter writers, who wrote letters for the Chinese migrant workers or immigrants to be sent back to China, would also write these Dui-Lian. And there would be single characters being written on a diagonal paper, with words such as "Man" 满, meaning full on the important rice jars. Of course, there is the all popular "Fu" 福, meaning prosperity, which many would paste it upsidedown, where one could read as Fu Dao, which has similar sounding as Prosperity having arrived. Ever since the old days, and still is so with many mainland Chinese and Singapore Chinese, many are still on the journey to become prosperous. These days, there's more hope for material prosperity than the all encompassing belief of prosperity which includes a big happy family.
Would there be more people going to buy the traditional Chinese clothes to wear during Chinese New Year? For sure, the parents would buy the cute samfoos or qipao for their little kids. Ah, what about the adults? Ladies are more apt to wear the beautiful Chinese clothings and perhaps, men would also go for the traditional Chinese shirts with the cloth knotted fasteners. We will see. Ah, but what about the youngsters? Would red be the trend or black, much to the horrors of the grannies. But these days, many of the grannies are the baby-boomers who might not be very particular. Still, won't it be fun to paint the town red?
Time to stock up the Chinese delicacies and sweets for family reunions and for visiting guests. The typical kueh-chi 瓜子 (melon seeds) and groundnuts have yet to make their appearance. The waxed ducks, Yunnan Ham and Chinese sausages in various sizes are already available, but I could only spot one stall at the traditional spot, outside CK Departmental Store of Chinatown Complex.
Along the main New Bridge Road, a small queue was already formed getting the first batch of the famed Lim Chee Guan bak-kwa 肉乾 (BBQ sweet meat).