New Year’s Day
This year, Chinese New Year falls on the 1st February. Here is an early post.
Happy Chinese New Year of the Tiger!
According to the Chinese tradition, every new year is represented by a zodiac animal. There are a total of twelve zodiac animals, as seen in the diagram below. The Rat is the first animal followed by the Ox, the Tiger and other animals in a clockwise direction. After twelve years, the whole cycle repeats. According to the Chinese calendar, this year 2022 is the year of the Tiger. This year is a special year for me because my Chinese zodiac happens to be the Tiger animal as I was born in the year of 1998.
I came across the following New Year poem on the Internet and I would like to share it with everyone. It is a poem written by Wang Anshi 王安石. The english interpretation is written by me (after some efforts in trying to understand the chinese version).
bào zhú shēng zhōng yí suì chú
The loud cracking noise of the fire crackers signals the end of a year.
chūn fēng sòng nuǎn rù tú sū
One drinks the Tusu wine in embracement of the warmth brought by the breeze of the New Spring.
qiān mén wàn hù tóng tóng rì
The rising sun shines down brilliantly on thousands of households.
zǒng bǎ xīn táo huàn jiù fú
It’s time to replace the Peach Fu charms hanging by the door with new ones.
I personally felt that the poem gives me a glimpse of how CNY was celebrated by the Chinese in the past. Through trying to understand the meaning behind it, I uncovered many other interesting websites and interpretations/explanations of the things described in the poem.
I hope you liked the poem and maybe even the photos above :)
How I usually celebrate CNY
Chinese New Year can be said to be one of the most important event in the Chinese calendar. It is a time for wanderers or migrants to return home, reunite with their families and worship their ancestors. While a lot of the original meanings to the customs and traditions have slowly been lost, it is still celebrated by Chinese all around the world.
However, because of Covid-19, I have not been back to Malaysia for about two years since early 2020. Chinese New Year is usually a time for me to return to Malaysia and catch up with my relatives whom I haven’t met for a long time. Most of my relatives live in Ipoh, which is the capital of Perak state. Ipoh is located in the north west side of Malaysia, located near Penang. By air flight, the journey to Ipoh from Singapore takes around 1 hour.
Due to the more costly flight fare during the new year and the inconvenience of not having our own car upon reaching Ipoh, my father will insist on driving all the way from Singapore. My family of five usually will spend almost an entire day to travel as the entire car drive usually takes around 8-10 hours. Usually in the journey, we will have rest stops at various parts of Malaysia to have our meals or for toilet breaks.
I personally detest having to be stuck in my family car for long hours because I feel really bored and my legs and back usually aches. Usually, there will be a lot of other vehicles on the highway as well, with other families driving back to their hometown for Chinese New Year. Hence, the traffic conditions can be really terrible, with cars only crawling a few centimeters every few minutes. I sincerely salute everyone on the highway for their patience. The only entertainment I have is listening to the car radio and enjoying the scenery from my car windows. Usually, I will occupy myself by sleeping, eating snacks and spend some time daydreaming on how my life in Malaysia would be if my parents hadn’t migrated to Singapore.
When we reach my grandfather’s house in Ipoh to stay for the night and the following nights to come, the first thing we will do is to greet my grandfather who is usually awake to wait for our arrival. Afterwards, my siblings and I will dash to find our cousins to play or chat with them. Especially when we were younger, the first night is usually the hardest for us to fall asleep because we are usually full of excitement and anticipation for the next day.
Apart from catching up with my relatives, I also look forward to the delicious food delights awaiting me in Ipoh! One of my favourite food in Ipoh is Chee Cheong Fun. Chee Cheong Fun is a rice noodle roll originating from the Guangdong province in China. It usually contains fillings such as pork or shrimp. The Chee Cheong Fun in Ipoh is very very different from the ones found in Singapore and even other parts of Malaysia. They are much tastier and have a much smoother texture. I really enjoy eating them and I can start drooling just at the thought of them! Usually the Chee Cheong Fun in Ipoh are paired with a wide variety of gravy such as Curry, Black soy sauce and others that I don’t know the names of. The reason why the Chee Cheong Fun in Ipoh have a smoother texture is because Ipoh has a lot of limestone caves. It is said that the water originating from those caves that is used in the manufacture of the Chee Cheong Fun is a factor in its’ smoothness. I usually like to go to a food stall with long standing history at the Ipoh sport stadium or Simee market. Apart from Chee Cheong Fun, I also enjoy eating Assam Laksa at a place called Big tree foot. The laksa noodle is smooth and the soup is really spicy and delicious! Usually we will order some extra fried snacks to go along with the noodles. Though it is unhealthy, i do like it a lot! I also love eating Dim Sum, Java Mee, Wanton noodles, Kaya puff, Egg tarts and many other dishes….In my opinion, Ipoh is the ultimate food heaven on earth.
Chinese New Year Eve
On the eve of Chinese New Year, all my relatives will usually gather at my grandfather’s house. The house will be packed with people and we will have dinner together. All the “adults” would be seated together while all the “children” will be seated separately at another table. Common dishes served at dinner include fish, prawns, chicken, pork, abalone and of course, yu sheng.
Yu sheng is a dish consisting of raw fish and vegetables. Its’ eating practice involves using chopsticks to toss the ingredients high and calling out well wishes for an auspicious coming year. It is a dish that is mainly consumed by Chinese Overseas in Malaysia and Singapore, with origins from Southern China. However, just as with many other Chinese dishes such as Bah Kut Teh that is popular in both Singapore and Malaysia, the origin of Yu Sheng is contentious. There is a lot of debate about who actually invented and popularised this dish. As seen from this wiki link, Singaporeans tend to think that it is a dish invented by four chefs in Singapore. On the other hand, Malaysians are adamant that it was invented in a restaurant called Loke Ching Kee, run by a man called Loke Ching Fatt in Seremban. Personally, I am not a food historian and I don’t have a clue who is right. But I am more comfortable and inclined to believe in the Malaysia’s version. My reason being that the Chinese population in Malaysia was much bigger than in Singapore in the past. There is a much higher probability that the dish was “invented” by a Malaysian than a Singaporean. I am also currently a Malaysian ;)
After dinner, some of us will gather at the living room to watch television. Others will head out to the garden and set up a table to play mahjong or card games. In those games, money betting is usually involved and from young primary school children to the adults, we will all participate with the hopes of winning a few dollars for the night. More snacking and drinking of mildly alcoholic drinks follows.
It is common practice for Chinese families to stay up late till midnight on the eve of Chinese New Year as it is believed that doing so will bring longevity to one’s parents. My family is not exception to this practice of staying up late on New Year Eve.
At around 10/11 pm, we will then set out to a nearby temple, 怡保斗母宫. Usually by the time we arrive, there will be a huge crowd present and lots of cars scattered in the driveway and nearby roads. Most visitors will first head inside the temple to offer their prayers and make donations. Afterwards, they can choose to fill their bellies with more food at a dining area located at the side of the temple. There will be a long table with volunteers serving a wide variety of vegetarian noodles and Chinese desserts such as red bean soup to visitors. All the food offered at the temple is free of charge and we can take as many as we want.
The main highlight of the night at the temple would be the performance of the lion and dragon dance to welcome the new year.
The lion dance is performed by two dancers per lion. One dancer will be in charge of controlling the lion’s head while the other will manage its’ tail. It is an art that requires a great deal of synchronisation between the two dancers to behave as one lion. It also requires the dancers to have impressive acrobatic skills as the dance moves usually consists of jumping from one pole to another and balancing one dancer on top of one another.
On the other hand, the dragon dance requires around a dozen dancers who will hold long poles to control the body of the dragon. It requires good coordination and fast footwork.
Both the lion and dragon dances are both choreographed to the beat of drums and cymbals, which are performed loudly to ward off evil spirits.
The lion and dragon dance will then be followed by the lighting of red fire crackers and fireworks. Red fire crackers are banned in Singapore and hence it is only during Chinese New Year that I get to see them in Malaysia. Loud clouds of smoke and noises will be emitted when the crackers are set on fires. To young children and some adults, it might not be a pleasant experience. I personally don’t mind the loud noise but I will usually stand far away so that the red pieces that are flying in random directions from the burning crackers do not hit me. (Although there was a year that i was actually hit by one and it was quite painful ><)
At the end of all the performances, the organisers of the event would walk around to give out red packets with real money to the crowd. By then, it would be midnight and the crowd will disperse. We will then head home with a happy heart and full belly.
Chinese New Year
On the first day of Chinese New Year, I will spend most of my time visiting and non stop eating. On this day, I will also receive red packets from the older generations. However, usually my siblings and I will hand the red packets to our mother for safe keeping. Honestly, I have not heard of what has become of the red packets’ money we have collected over the years HAHAA I presume they ended up in my mother’s pocket (as a return for the amount of red packet money she had to give out to other children). Anyway, the currency of the red packets we receive are in Malaysia Ringgit and as residents of Singapore, we hardly have the opportunity to spend them anyway :(
My top 3 favourite snacks to chomp on during this period are pineapple tart, egg rolls and dried meat 肉干!
During pockets of spare time, whenever there aren’t any visitors in the house, I will also spend time working on my homework, studying for my tests or watching recorded zoom lectures which I missed. I admit, it’s not easy to pull myself out of the festive atmosphere and work while everyone is relaxing… However, in the practical world of Singapore, school deadlines makes no exceptions for CNY….
In between visits or waiting for visitors to arrive, my family will also spend some time visiting temples and caves in Ipoh. The cave which I visit the most often is the Kek Lok Tong Cave Temple [極樂洞]. There are lots of other beautiful caves in Ipoh and you can visit this link to find out more. Sometimes my family will make time to travel to different places in Ipoh or to nearby towns such as Kampar to do sightseeing, shopping and to fill our bellies with more food.
I personally see Chinese New Year as a time for me to return to the place where my parents grew up in and understand more about my own family heritage. It’s also a time for me to connect with my relatives, see how they are doing after a year of missing them, and enjoy myself as I travel from the Southern tip of Malaysia to the North.
While the entire celebration of the Chinese New Year lasts for a total of 15 days, I usually “end my celebration” by the third or fourth day (depending on the calendar) and head back to Singapore where the public holidays would have ended. (Read this link to find out more about the special meaning and traditions to honour on each day). I usually feel a little sad when I have to leave Malaysia for Singapore. Over the years, I have come to associate Singapore with living in a high pressure cooker whereas Malaysia is a place that I can truly relax and enjoy myself. However, for the betterment of myself and for me to reach my potential in terms of education and even career, I cannot remain in Malaysia.