The Tiger is on his way out. The fun rabbits are waiting to hop in. Tonight, Singapore Chinatown, better known as Niu Che Shui 牛车水 or Ngau Chair Sui (Cantonese) or Gu Chia Chwee (Hokkien) or Kreta Ayer (Malay), and probably more names to it, was lighted up, preparing for the welcome of yet another Lunar New Year.
With my wife, we decided to do an 'inspection' of Chinatown this afternoon to see what's new in preparing for the new year. We probably have been pounding the streets of Chinatown - particularly Smith Street, Temple Street and Trengganu St - for more than 50 years. Each year before the Spring Festival (met an old guy at the Heritage Exhibition who advised me that in China, we should say Chun Jie 春节 and not Xin Nian 新年), we would eagerly join in the jostle to see what's new. In the old days, we were probably hoping to get our new clothes. These days, it is not so much about clothes but about what to buy for the family and to add more colours to the house.
Upon entering Temple Street, despite the touristy atmosphere (imagine the Olde Cuban in Chinatown!), we could sense more colours of red. Many usual stalls seemed to have made way for the once-a-year stalls selling goodies for the Chinese New Year.
"Come and try it, it's free," yelled the guys across the street. "Just arrived from Taiwan, " they added. There was quite a selections of sweets from jelly like (Konyaku?) to mochi. And there were also the melon seeds, disguised in many forms such as green tea melon sweets. And there were the black groundnuts!! It would be quite a challenge to look for the traditional black and red melon seeds and the boiled groundnuts. But of course, they are there, displayed in better forms.
Despite all the free ang-pows (red packets) from the banks, retail stores and even petrol kiosks, we were attracted to the beautifully designed ones. Offers were at S$1 to S$2 for a pack of 6 to 10. There were also cute paper bags for one to put two mandarin oranges when one goes visiting or paying the Chinese New Year respects to the elders. And stickers of all kinds for one to paste on the walls in the house, including nice ones of Shen Cai (the God of Wealth). Electronic fire crackers that would 'explode' upon being touched was a delight amongst some, scaring the wits out of the unsuspecting shoppers.
To the more serious Chinese New Year shoppers, the "lap-ark" (waxed duck), "lap-cheong" (Chinese sausages) and other delicious ones like the famous Yunnan Ham, were their targets. It's the time when I longed to have just hot steamed rice with the steamed lap-ark.
Walking through the lane to Sago St, there were already the flowers of the Chinese New Year being offered. There were also some pots of bare branches .. the plum flowers that bloom in winter. The pomelos were also in abundance, and Pakistani mandarin oranges were being offered at S$1 for four. Across the street, our Austrian friend was kept busy with orders for his Bratwurst and other wursts.
At the Chinatown Square, the usual draughts (dum) players were oblivious to the noises around them. This lady busker was singing karaoke with participation from the old men. Apparently, she was familiar to many of them, and they she. She encouraged the onlookers to take the seats (the chairs were arranged for performance in the evening) telling them that they sit facing her in the day and could stay on to turn to face the main stage in the night. With a great voice, she certainly did attract a number of guys to go and sing duets with her, be it Mandarin or Hokkien songs.
At one corner, a little exhibition was being set up. It was a small mobile display on the Chinese New Year - the stories about the Rabbit and also the Reunion Dinner. Wife noticed a bottle of Champagne in the picture. Wow, these people had seen better lives in the days when we weren't that fortunate.
The mobile exhibition from the National Heritage Board and that of the paper cuttings depicting Singapore scenes were certainly great opportunities for strangers to chat. One old guy thought that I was a reporter, but I told him these days, it doesn't matter as we could report in our blog. (^^). He was saying that the exhibition was a good idea to share with the tourists. I added in that it was too for some of our kids and even ourselves. Another was showing his young daughter or niece the pictures and was sharing with me that these kids did not know about the scenes of the 50s. I heartily agreed with him. The young lady must have heard more from him after my encouragement. (^^)
Cai Shen must be one of the attractions of the Lunar New Year. And so, there must be an icon of him. I found him facing the confluence of the Maxwell and South Bridge Rd with Neil Rd. Yes, I think we are ready for Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival.