Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's Chinese New Year again!

How time flies, and when such festivities arrive, it triggers a flood of memories. One could help looking at the present and comparing with the past. Nostalgic memories came flooding, and these days with social media and more heritage gatherings, there were more sharing. I realise how little I know about the Chinese New Year (CNY) festivities.

In the Cakap Heritage organised by the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) and Urban Renewal Authority (URA) on 25 Jan 14 at the URA Centre, many participants shared their experiences, as well as what they heard from their parents and grandparents. We all know that buying flowers was always part of CNY, but I never gave it a thought about the symbolism of different flowers, of which some soothe sayings could be found. And it might differ from say, Cantonese to Hokkien. If the older folks could be persuaded to such events, it would be a great gathering, but then, even four hours would not be enough as torrents of memories flowed as each participant began sharing their younger days.

What what has changed? For sure, to me, getting the traditional Chinese New Year cards is quite challenging, In the old days (say in the 60s, and even later), one could find the Chinese New Year cards in almost every other stalls lined along Pagoda St and the other streets. Many came glittering with the golden specks. Cards of 15 cents to 30 cents are now more than a dollar. Yes, there are still cheaper ones if you look hard enough. What has replaced them? There was the SMS (short messages) that came with words being formed to give some pictures. Then, it was pictures over MMS. Now with new mobile apps, it would be animations over the likes of whats app. The trickle of such messages would start early on CNY eve and breaks into a rush as the clock reaches midnight.

Chinatown, to many would mean the "inner or Cantonese part of China" is still very much alive comes Chinese New Year. This year, it seems to me that the streets were especially crowded. The Taiwanese mochi probably took the main stage with their offerings. The sackfull of kuah-chi (melon seeds) and peanuts were found in different stalls with similar set up, a franchise or chain? The Farmer brand peanuts are still there, my favourite as I like the boiled nuts.

Surprisingly, amongst the stalls were those offering Wedding packages and yes, mobile phone package promotions! From the look of it, they were getting interested customers.

There are the traditional "waxed" products, meaning the Chinese sausages, waxed ducks & chicken, Yunnan Ham and an assortment of the salted pork. There are so many kinds of Chinese sausages that one can find. You can find them at Smith St where there are two. In the old days, not sure if it is still being practised widely, some of these products could be bought as gifts to the in-laws or well, the future in-laws. Apart from these would be the popular canned abalones, dried Shitake (mushrooms) and deep fried fish maw. And for sweets, for many tee-kueh (or Nian Gao in Mandarin although they could mean other things) is a must. For the traditional Chinese, tee-kueh (sweet cake) is a must to offer to the Kitchen when sending him off to the Heavens for his annual reporting - 24th day of the 12 lunar month. The tee-kueh is sweet and sticky and so you can imagine what effect it has. (^^) For the traditionalists, they would look for tee-kueh (lin koh in Cantonese) in Tai Chong Kok and Tong Heng. Authentic tee-kueh should become hardened after a couple of days. And later, they make great desserts, be it being sliced and deep fried with batter or steamed and eat with freshly grated coconut.

Probably a decade or so ago, lohei became very popular (the tossing of various types of vegetables symbolising all the great things in life with fish, which is also a symbol) and it has become a must, first in the restaurants, and then, takeaways to do it at home. And then, because of time (or is it because of kiasuism?) lohei starts way before the start of the new year! This year, in Chinatown there is a new addition in special offer - German sausages! Won't the kids love it. I suppose you can still toss them, but label them with some special meanings first. (^^)

Chinatown only becomes crowded and bright in the month before the CNY day. The two weeks would probably be the start of the rush with the crescendo reaching on the eve of the eve. Of course, on CNY eve, after reunion dinner, many would flock to Chinatown to look for cheap sales. On the morning of the CNY eve, the wet market would be a place of chaos as many would be shopping all the fresh stuff for the cooking on CNY Eve Reunion dinner and the days to come. In the old days, the town would be dead from CNY Day to as long as fourth or fifth day. For some longer, for others shorter. Some might consult their fengshui book (Tong Shu) to see which day is good to open the door of the shop or office. Many Chinese would tell you that they start CNY with Chinese food and then follow with Malay or Indian food because many Chinese stalls would be closed. Not today!. Many reunion dinners are held in the restaurants and said to be in the Food Centres too. Besides, there are so many kind of restaurants available these days.

With the active participation of the community organisations more events are organised in Chinatown. There is the lights-up, the crossing into the CNY and the Cap-Goh-Meh (15th Night of the CNY). And so, crowds wanting to have fun and see the sights and sounds would be going to Chinatown for it. There's nightly getai at Chinatown Square. It was always crowded with the people, mainly the middle-age ones, who would sit and enjoy the Chinese songs, that could be in various dialects and Mandarin. There are also Chinese dance performances.

This year's decorations on the streets of Chinatown - along Eu Tong Sen St with New Bridge Rd and along South Bridge Rd - can be said the best collectively. This probably also brings in crowds who want to capture them with their cameras or phones, both in the daytime and at night. A great atmosphere as we are ushered into the year of the Horse. But what will it bring? We don't know but for sure, we cannot afford to be horsing around. :)